By Rachel Gill
The Williston Planning Commission tossed around a handful of ideas on Tuesday to serve as potential parameters for activity and site use as part of Maple Leaf Farm’s application to open a rehabilitation center in Williston.
Maple Leaf Farm, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center based in Underhill, submitted a specific plan application to the Planning and Zoning Department last June. It is seeking a zoning change to open a facility at the former Pine Ridge School property.
At two contentious public meetings, residents raised concerns over security, proximity of neighbors and Williston Central School and traffic impacts, while others cited the need for a more centrally located addiction treatment option for Chittenden County.
The commission’s May 21 meeting addressed two areas—preservation of open space and the scope of Maple Leaf Farm’s activities.
The commission reviewed a letter sent from Maple Leaf Farm Executive Director Bill Young that addressed a request for more information regarding certain components of Maple Leaf Farm’s specific plan application.
According to Maple Leaf Farm officials, a zoning change is justifiable because the organization would provide a substantial public benefit through the preservation of open space.
The Planning Commission requested that Maple Leaf Farm conduct a survey identifying the boundary between possible future development and open space—though Maple Leaf Farm’s current plan is to only use existing structures.
“We will need to nail down what part of the property could be developed and what part would not and that’s really where the survey comes in,” said Ken Belliveau, planning and zoning director.
While Young’s letter provided a map of possible boundaries, the actual survey and boundary marking could be done after an approval for a zoning change as part of the Development Review Board review process.
Young also checked with the Vermont Land Trust, as the commission requested, to explore options for a conservation easement that would help designate and maintain the open space.
Vermont Land Trust will not manage a property without control over the easement, Young wrote. The easement would need to be transferred to the Vermont Land Trust first, which could cost $12,000 to $14,000, according to estimates provided in the letter. The Land Trust would first need to determine if it is interested in the property.
“Just because you want the Vermont Land Trust to hold a conservation easement doesn’t necessarily mean they accept it,” Belliveau said. “How this particular one would rank for them, it’s hard to know.”
Another option is to designate the open space on a site plan.
“This option provides the least amount of protection because it’s not being managed,” Belliveau said.
In the letter, Young suggested finding a cost-effective option to manage the easement.
“It should be both simple, effective and not expensive,” Young wrote in the letter.
The commission entertained the idea of crafting a management plan agreement for the easement with joint involvement between the Conservation Commission, the Planning Commission and the Selectboard.
Larry Williams of commercial real estate firm Redstone, who is assisting Maple Leaf Farm in its potential relocation, said if a management plan helps move the process forward, it has his support.
“One idea would be to have Maple Leaf commit to providing a management plan and even filing an annual report to show how we are complying, that would be the more straightforward way,” Williams said at the meeting.
Belliveau said the method is an option, but it would be a slight deviation from the Conservation Commission’s regular role.
“We can certainly ask them to see to what extent to which they are willing to take some sort of active role in the monitoring of the open space,” Belliveau said.
Young’s letter also included detail of the activity to occur at the facility. The letter proposed no more than two outpatient programs or groups — such as Alcoholics Anonymous or support group meetings — per day, not to exceed 15 people at a time.
“Because of the location of this property and where the points of access are on Williston Road, we previously discussed wanting to minimize traffic,” Belliveau said. “During the public meetings, concerns were also expressed about the program having residential and outpatient components and we want to make sure we address those concerns.”
Leah Orsky, program director at Maple Leaf Farm, said outpatient programs are new in terms of treatment services offered by the center.
“There is significant change in substance abuse treatment with insurance reform and other factors, so it’s prudent for us to offer different types of treatment,” Orsky said. “It typically means meeting three days a week. So a group of 15 people would come for three or four hours, so it’s two of those groups a week.”
Belliveau said creating some parameters is smart move.
“We need to consider how people who are not involved in it are going to perceive how it’s operating,” Belliveau said. “For some, anxieties and concerns are elevated right now because it’s fear of the unknown. So rather than shooting for the moon here, my recommendation is to allow for some parameters to help alleviate people’s anxieties.”
After discussion, commission members agreed they’d like to see the outpatient numbers reduced to one group meeting per day or include a limit for group meetings per week, plus a weekly limit of vehicles visiting the facility.
The commission plans to continue hashing out its recommendations for specific parameters to include in conjunction with any possible changes to the zoning of the Pine Ridge property. A draft of that language is expected at a Planning Commission meeting in mid-June.