December 18, 2014

A new (but slow) way around Taft Corners

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Houses in Finney Crossing are placed closer to the road than in some other Williston subdivions. Their location may make residents frown on speeding motorists using their neighborhood’s main road as a bypass. (Photo courtesy of Snyder Homes)

Houses in Finney Crossing are placed closer to the road than in some other Williston subdivions. Their location may make residents frown on speeding motorists using their neighborhood’s main road as a bypass. (Photo courtesy of Snyder Homes)

Zephyr Road extension will link Routes 2, 2A
By Greg Elias
Observer correspondent

A dead-end road that serves a few dozen homes and businesses will soon morph into the main street for hundreds of new residents – and become a tempting way to bypass Taft Corners traffic for commuters.
The existing piece of Zephyr Road off Vermont 2A will be extended to U.S. 2 at Simon’s convenience store, running in a long arc just east and north of Williston’s best-known intersection. The developer of the Finney Crossing project is constructing the half-mile segment, which is scheduled to be complete this fall.
Though the road will allow motorists traveling between Williston and Essex to skip traffic lights, town officials and the developer say it will be of limited use as a bypass. They note that a low speed limit and other traffic-slowing measures will discourage a quick cut-through.
“I would not use the word mini-Circ,” said Ken Belliveau, Williston’s planning and zoning director, when asked if Zephyr Road might in a limited way substitute for the now-defunct plan to complete the Circumferential Highway, which would have routed traffic around Taft Corners.
Instead, he views its role as a residential route that connects the development’s smaller streets. “This is going to be a collector street as opposed to an artery,” Belliveau said.
The extension now under construction has amped up the roar of heavy equipment at Finney Crossing, the largest residential development ever built in Williston.
Originally proposed as a 356-unit, mixed-use project, updated plans now peg the total at just over 400 units, with a blend of apartments, townhouses, single-family homes and commercial space.
A number of factors will discourage those not living in Finney Crossing and surrounding neighborhoods from using Zephyr Road as a bypass.
First, the road’s curvature increases the distance between its connecting arteries. And an updated traffic ordinance approved by the Selectboard last month sets a 25 mph speed limit for most town roads, which will likely include Zephyr Road and is lower than on Routes 2 and 2A.
Also, speed tables will be installed to slow traffic. They are speed bumps’ bigger brother, rises large enough to avoid a sharp jolt while still producing a roller-coaster effect for fast-moving motorists. Parked cars and crosswalks will present additional obstacles.

Project linchpin
Finney Crossing slowly germinated over about a decade. After years of talk about the project, initial plans were formally filed with the town in 2007 and approved a year later. But waits for federal and state permits delayed construction until 2011, said Chris Snyder, executive vice president for Snyder Homes, the project’s developer.
In fact, by the time Snyder Homes tried to restart construction, its growth management allocation from the town had expired. But the Williston Development Review Board agreed to renew conceptual plans while continuing to review each phase of the project.
Plans have shifted to include more apartments to satisfy booming demand for rentals in Chittenden County. Now there will be four instead of three apartment buildings, with more units in each structure.
Along with a number of single-family homes and townhouses, two of the first three-story apartment buildings have been completed. The third building is under construction.
But Zephyr Road holds the key to occupancy of the newest apartments because the town requires the road to be paved before renters move in.
Infrastructure requirements have been tied to construction throughout the project, Belliveau said, adding that in this case the mandate concerns what is perhaps Finney Crossing’s most important infrastructure.
“Zephyr Road is arguably the linchpin of this whole project,” he said. “It defines it and in a real way it shapes it.”

Schedule shapes up
Fire Chief Ken Morton in particular pushed for completion of the road sooner rather than later. He has said that quick access from the fire station on Route 2 is crucial. Firefighters currently must take a roundabout route through Taft Corners to reach Finney Crossing and an adjacent smaller mixed-use development called The Hamlet.
Belliveau noted that though he expects completion by the fall, the town “does not prescribe the schedule” for Zephyr Road. Public Works Director Bruce Hoar noted that the road merely has to be passable, not a finished product with sidewalks and streetlights, for the apartments to be occupied.
Snyder was vague about the paving schedule. He at first said the road itself would be finished by Dec. 31. But when pressed, he said the project could be done by Dec. 1 or as soon as Nov. 1.
Zephyr Road has to meet town specifications, which will include streetlights and sidewalks. The road also will eventually feature a 10-foot-wide paved bike and pedestrian path, although Snyder emphasized that the bike path and other improvements along the road won’t be completed until spring or early summer 2015.
The cost of the road itself and associated improvements will be roughly $3 million, he said, and Snyder Homes will foot the bill.

On the grid
Slow speeds may discourage through traffic, but some who reside near either end of Zephyr Road will likely still employ it as a regular route, particularly homeowners in The Hamlet and in Taft Farms Village off Talcott Road.
To connect Zephyr and Talcott roads, the town is paving a short stretch starting near Allen Brook Lane. The $140,000 project will be funded by town taxpayers.
Belliveau views Zephyr Road as among the two most important remaining pieces of a long-planned network of grid streets around Taft Corners. The other, Trader Lane, when completed will run roughly parallel to Route 2A from Marshall Avenue to Route 2.
Zephyr Road’s location, if not its role, neatly dovetails with the name Finney Crossing.
The development is built on land that formerly served as a farm and horse stable. Finney was an owner of the land more than a century ago, Snyder said, and the development “is definitely at a crossroads” in Williston.

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