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Catamount expansion plans reviewed

Transportation impact fees also discussed

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

It was a full house at Tuesday’s Williston Planning Commission, with appearances by interested parties in the planned construction of grid streets off Vermont 2A, plus Catamount Outdoor Family Center owners Jim and Lucy McCullough.

The McCulloughs last appeared before the Planning Commission on Feb. 7, when they unveiled their expansion plans for the Catamount property, which is located in the Agricultural/Rural Residential Zoning District and would require the town to adopt a specific plan to change the area’s zoning.

On Tuesday, the McCulloughs came armed with responses to the commission’s request for greater specificity involving the substantial public benefits the project could offer the town.

The project’s proposed public benefits include:

Several miles of trail easements

The availability of two “designated country parks” for the community

Traditional land and habitat conservation

Housing

Private schools

Jobs

A health and wellness campus

Although Jim McCullough didn’t provide specifics regarding some of the public benefit categories, he did indicate that jobs would be created in the “light manufacturing” industry and that the proposed housing includes apartments, townhouses and single-family homes.

Should the town decide against adopting a specific plan for the expansion of the Catamount property, Jim McCullough cautioned that a potential alternative could involve the sale of the entire property, which would likely result in the closure of Catamount and the loss of community access and educational opportunities.

Planning Commission Chairman Jake Mathon recommended that the McCulloughs proceed with submitting a formal application to the town for the project, as it is too difficult in its present conceptual state for the commission to rule on the viability of the project.

“At this point, I’m almost ready to recommend that if you want to go forward with an application, please do so, because we can’t really make a decision without actually seeing the specifics of what you’re going to do,” Mathon said.

Mathon added that the McCulloughs should be cognizant of the substantial public benefit criteria that are outlined in chapter 9 of the town’s Unified Development Bylaw.

“A lot of these (benefits) on the list sound great, but they wouldn’t qualify under our bylaws,” said Mathon.

Commission member Kevin Batson said that while trail easements and public parks would qualify as a public benefit, the housing component of the plan would need to include “perpetually affordable” housing in order to be considered.

Williston Director of Planning and Zoning Ken Belliveau warned that traffic considerations will likely be one of the biggest sticking points with the proposal.

“The big bugaboo is going to be traffic,” Belliveau said. “That’s going to come up, and it’s going to come up big, and it’s going to come up fast.”

The Catamount center is located on Governor Chittenden Road and is accessible from North Williston Road at an intersection that has come under considerable public scrutiny as a crash-prone area.

Jim McCullough proposed that a phased build-out of the Catamount expansion could coincide with phased transportation improvements, while also acknowledging that the project will require the town to think outside the box.

“It’s a concept that does fly in the face of conventional zoning,” McCullough said. “I also think that because of the self-contained nature of it, it actually creates more opportunities (for the town).”

TRANSPORTATION IMPACT FEE UPDATE

In other business, the Planning Commission reopened a public hearing from April 3, in which the commission fielded a request from Taft Corners Health Center owners Marie and Albert St. Amand to amend the town’s bylaws to allow a transportation impact fee “credit” to be issued as a form of compensation for the construction of a public street, which could then be recouped at a later date should the health center decide to develop its existing property.

The Planning Commission decided against their proposal, on the basis that it would set a precedent that is not in the town’s best interest.

“Although you’re doing the right thing and we’d like to see that there is some compensation for the expense you’re doing,” Batson told the St. Amands regarding the public street construction, “we can’t put that language into here. We can’t do a credit for future development because this bylaw has to get used for years to come in many other situations.”