September 18, 2014

Commission delays decision on rezoning case

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By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The Williston Planning Commission on Tuesday tabled a controversial rezoning request that would allow a growing high-tech company to expand.

The commission voted 3-2 to delay a vote after Bill Dunn, the developer who sought the rezoning, asked for a chance to present more information. Dunn, who did not attend the meeting, relayed the request through Town Planner Lee Nellis.

Nellis said Dunn wanted to give a representative of Qimonda, the technology company that hopes to move to a bigger building on Dunn’s land, an opportunity to speak about the case.

The commission had appeared ready to deny the rezoning request. Consulting with commissioners via e-mail in the days before this week’s meeting, town planning staff had prepared a document called a record of decision that rejected the rezoning and explained why. More than 30 residents attended the commission’s previous session, most arguing against the rezoning.

But Nellis told the commission that it has been common practice to allow any citizen a chance to speak. Commissioners debated the request for about 30 minutes before narrowly approving the delay.

“I think it would be rude to Qimonda to just say no,” said commissioner Kevin Batson.

Other commission members wanted to immediately make a decision. George Osol and Ron Herath voted against the delay.

“I can’t think of anything they would present that would change our position,” Herath said.

“I think the same thing, but I also think we owe it to him to listen,” said commissioner Steve Bradish.

Dunn owns the Hillside East business park on Hurricane Lane, where Qimonda has outgrown its existing research and development facility. The company produces memory chips for consumer applications.

But Dunn has said there is no room in Hillside East for Qimonda to expand, so he wants the town to rezone a 55-acre parcel of land he owns just south of the business park. That would allow Dunn to construct a new 50,000-square-foot facility for the company.

Nearby residents are adamantly opposed to the rezoning, which would change Dunn’s parcel and most likely the surrounding land from agricultural-rural to a commercial designation. They raised issues ranging from traffic problems to decreased property values during an Oct. 3 public hearing.

Only one person attended Tuesday’s meeting. The unidentified woman watched the proceedings but did not speak.

The request presents a dilemma for the town, which has a disconnect between employment and housing that creates traffic congestion and impacts the environment. And town officials have in the past expressed a desire to attract more high-paying jobs.

Most Williston residents work elsewhere. Meanwhile, thousands of workers commute to Williston, many if not most to retail jobs that don’t pay enough to cover the cost of the town’s relatively high-priced housing.

A draft of the record of decision acknowledged the risk that Qimonda could move elsewhere if the commission denies the rezoning request.

“The commission recognizes the potential economic impact of this decision and urges the Town to take a proactive role in helping Qimonda stay in Williston,” the document said.

But the record of decision concluded that the rezoning “would not be consistent with the public interest at this time.” The document noted that commercial development would increase traffic in the already congested area south of Interstate 89 and noted that alternate sites in Williston are available for the company’s expansion.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to again discuss the rezoning and perhaps take testimony from Qimonda at its Nov. 7 meeting.

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