DRB clarifies growth management confusion (2/11/10)

Churchview regains building allocation

Feb. 11, 2010

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Thanks to a Development Review Board decision, Williston’s growth management system became a little clearer Tuesday night.

In a 5-1 vote, the board overturned a planning department decision dealing with building allocation expirations. Developer Rene Thibault argued before the board that the town’s growth management system contradicted itself as to when construction on units could begin.

In Williston’s growth management system, developers compete to earn building allocation for a limited number of units within town. In the current bylaws, developers must pull the necessary building permits within four years of earning allocation. Rules in the older bylaws aren’t so specific.

Thibault is developing Churchview Estates, a senior-housing community in Williston Village. Under the old bylaws, he believed he had four years to pull construction permits once the town gave him building allocation.

Planning Director Ken Belliveau believed Thibault lost his chance to build when his growth management certificates expired. The town handed Thibault the certificates, which had a life of one to two years, when he earned allocation.

Based on the certificates, Belliveau said Thibault lost his right to build 10 units, some of which received allocation in 2006 and 2007.

With the board overturning Belliveau’s decision, Thibault keeps his allocation. But by July of this year, Thibault must get building permits for five of his units or lose allocation.

Belliveau said the board’s decision would make town planners’ jobs “much easier” and help several local developers. He said at the meeting he hoped the board would give planning staff clarity on a confusing issue.

“I don’t take this personally at all,” Belliveau said Wednesday morning. “(The board) seemed to understand the disconnection there between the certificates and the bylaws.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, the board sifted through the facts to determine what would be most fair for developers and town planners. Thibault’s lawyer, Guy Babb, said the old bylaws specifically state developers have four years to get building permits after receiving allocation. He said the new bylaws enforce his belief.

“The basic part of your statute and regulations has a four-year rule in it,” Babb said. “I don’t think those certificates were artfully worded.”

Though former Town Planner Lee Nellis wrote up the certificates, it appears he didn’t check them when giving Thibault building permits for four units in 2008. According Thibault, he received the permits two years ago even though he later discovered his allocation certificates expired in 2007.

“Based on that info, I shouldn’t have gotten any of these permits,” Thibault said.

Board member Cathy O’Brien said Nellis’ decision to grant the building permits set the four-year precedent at that point.

“It shows me it was always his intent, to have the four-year (rule),” O’Brien said.

The board’s decision also benefits landowners and developers in Williston. Two residents will probably regain their allocation once Belliveau reviews their projects, he said. He also said he would inform other developers who are in similar predicaments as Thibault of the decision.

Belliveau said the decision goes a long way in streamlining growth management for projects approved under the old bylaws.

“This makes things so much simpler, and in a fair and even-handed way,” he said.