October 2, 2014

Conservation Commission makes case for increased funding

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IBM requests public hearing

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Budget season in Williston marched on this week, with a quartet of Conservation Commission members making a spirited pitch to the Selectboard on Monday for increased funding to the town’s Environmental Reserve Fund.

The fiscal year 2014 operating budget proposed by Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire earmarks $30,000 for the ERF, a set-aside for various conservation and land acquisition measures. That represents an increase from the $10,000 approved for the current and prior fiscal years.

The Conservation Commission is requesting that $55,000 be allocated to the ERF—a figure more in line with the budget practices from fiscal years 1993 to 2010, when the Selectboard allocated between $60,000 and $85,000 annually to the ERF.

“The appropriations were quite generous up until three years ago, and they’ve been really lean in the past three years,” said Conservation Commission member Carl Runge. “We are looking for a way to increase it, and what we are proposing is that we get back up to historic levels.”

Conservation Commission member Jude Hersey pointed to a recent ERF expenditure for a farm easement appraisal of the Bruce Farm—which is being eyed by the Vermont Land Trust for purchase and resale through its Farmland Access Program—as an example of why the ERF is an important budgetary consideration.

“We think Williston has a real opportunity to provide a great setting for these new (farmers) to come in,” Hersey said. “And I think as a taxpayer, too, and a resident who loves this town, I really feel that the identity we’ve had for many, many years and still to this day is that we’re the big-box store location. And that’s very true because of where we’re located, but we also have an amazing opportunity to preserve some of these lands.”

McGuire commented that the reduction from the commission’s ERF budget request is part of an overall effort to scale back expenditures. The proposed operating budget represents a 5.3 percent hike over the current fiscal year, or an estimated 2-cent increase to the current municipal property tax rate of 23.23 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

“I agree with all of the points that were made here,” McGuire said. “The Environmental Reserve Fund is extremely important, so what I’m trying to do is build it back up incrementally to what it was a few years ago. In fact, last year I did the same thing. I think I proposed $20,000 and the board cut it back to $10,000.”

IBM BYLAW AMENDMENT

In non-budget news, the Selectboard agreed to schedule a public hearing for Jan. 22, concerning proposed revisions to the zoning bylaws of the Industrial Zoning District East. The suggested changes were prompted by a request from IBM, whose Williston campus comprises a large portion of the IZDE.

In October, an application to convert an existing office space on the IBM campus into a back office facility for People’s United Bank—at an estimated cost of $1.25 million—was denied by Williston Director of Planning and Zoning Ken Belliveau because those services are not included in the permitted uses of the IZDE. As a stop-gap measure, Belliveau subsequently approved a permit for IBM to renovate the facility—on the condition that it not be occupied by People’s United Bank unless expressly approved by the Selectboard.

An intricate series of discussions between the Williston Planning Commission and Deb McCanna of IBM hinged on the ramifications of permitted zoning uses standardized by the North American Industry Classification System.

On Dec. 4, the Planning Commission recommended the approval of several additional NAIC uses, including “computer systems design and related services,” “data processing, hosting and related services” and “specialized design services.” However, a key caveat was that the additional uses could not involve on-site customer contact or deployment of field service personnel, due to concerns of increased traffic in the Mountain View Road area.

The Jan. 22 meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the Williston Police Department’s community room. The next Selectboard meeting will take place on Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall meeting room.

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