April 21, 2014

Giant project planned for Taft Corners

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Subdivision could include 200 units of housing

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Continuing a recent rush to develop open land near Taft Corners, a local couple has filed plans for a project that could include more than 200 homes along with retail and office space.

Bur Oak Meadows would be located on an 81-acre parcel off U.S. Route 2, just east of the Williston Driving Range. The project is named for the unusual trees on the property.

The parcel has a small amount of road frontage but runs all the way back to Interstate 89. The landowners are Maurice and Pauline LaPierre of Burlington, who acquired the parcel in 1996. Pauline LaPierre referred questions about the project to her husband, who could not immediately be reached.

Preliminary plans show two alternatives for the development. The first calls for 206 housing units, 45,744 square feet of retail space and 67,900 square feet of office space. The second includes 196 housing units, the same amount of retail space and less office space.

William Chesbrough, vice president of South Burlington-based Dufresne & Associates, the consultant working with the applicant, said the mixed-use project was designed to comply with the town plan, which calls for dense development that includes both residential and commercial space around Taft Corners.

“It will have plenty of parking, a good amount of affordable housing and some light commercial and office space,” he said. “It’s a good fit.”

Both Chesbrough and town officials emphasize that the plans are preliminary and many details remain to be worked out.

Chesbrough said the housing would include townhouses and condominiums, at least 30 percent of which would be affordable.

Town Planner Lee Nellis said the project’s plans “are in the ballpark” for complying with the town plan and zoning rules. “But I’m not saying we will agree with every single aspect of it.”

The town formally received the application last month, but planners and representatives from Dufresne & Associates met in October to discuss the project as part of the pre-application process used for large developments.

Several concerns were raised during the meeting. They included the project’s environmental impact and how housing and commercial spaces would be configured and integrated.

The environmental issues include a handful of small wetland areas at the site and a stand of bur oaks.

The trees are not “endangered or rare, just unique,” said Carrie Deegan, Williston’s environmental planner. Bur oaks grow mainly in the Midwest, and Vermont is on the northern tip of their range, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Chesbrough said the trees would be preserved and the project would minimize the impact on wetlands.

Bur Oak Meadows is one of three developments proposed for the dwindling open land east of Taft Corners.

The biggest project is planned for the Pecor property, site of a now-defunct horse farm across from Maple Tree Place on Route 2. Jeff Davis and the Snyder Companies want to build a development containing more than 350 residential units and commercial space. The project is now navigating the town’s review process.

Another development is planned for the parcel abutting the Bur Oak Meadows site. Al Senecal, owner of the driving range, plans three commercial buildings on the adjacent open land. That project is also still in the review process.

Nellis acknowledged that the projects would place demands on the town’s infrastructure. He said the town can accommodate the new residential developments’ need for water and sewer, and requiring them to include open space for recreation will help avoid crowding at existing parks. With school enrollment dropping the past two years, Nellis said the town will likely have at least a few more years before it has to build a new school.

“The only big question is traffic,” Nellis said. A planned loop road connecting Bur Oak Estates to Maple Tree Place should help, he said.

Nellis also noted that phasing rules require large-scale residential projects to be built over several years. A 10-year timetable has been discussed for completion of Bur Meadows.

He said dense development is exactly what the town envisions for the area.

“The town plan calls for development to be concentrated in the Taft Corners area,” Nellis said. “So there’s going to be a lot of traffic.”

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