Way off Target
Jan. 19, 2012
By Fred “Chico” Lager
Folks who occasionally — and only — come to Williston to shop may find it amusing or ironic that there are residents opposed to a Target department store coming to town because the proposed location isn’t the right place to put a big-box store.
But those of us who live here and are familiar with the Town’s Comprehensive Plan, zoning ordinances, the history of development at Taft Corners and the capacity of our roads, know that the site Target has chosen is completely inappropriate for what would be the largest retail store in our community.
You have to start with the fact that the property is located in a mixed-use residential zone, which requires development that is predominantly residential and pedestrian-friendly. Target’s three-acre monolithic single-story structure fails on all counts, and is exactly the opposite of what the plan envisions for a parcel of land that is intended to provide a transition between the intensive commercial development at Taft Corners and the residential neighborhoods and historic village to the east.
One of the most significant impacts of Target would be traffic, particularly the cars and trucks diverted through the village. The rush-hour congestion at the North Williston Road/U.S. 2 intersection is well documented. Residents also know that left turns onto Williston Rd. (U.S. 2) from the Central School, Old Stage Rd., Tower Lane, Southridge, and Timothy Way are an increasing challenge and safety risk. Traffic in and around Taft Corners is also an issue. An October 2006 study confirmed that the Marshall Ave./Vermont 2A intersection was a “high accident location” that fails during peak travel periods. In the last five years, it has only gotten worse. That intersection, and others, require reconfiguration to handle existing traffic and pending projects such as Finney Crossing and the Essex Alliance Church.
But even if key intersections are improved, there is still no way to accommodate the increased traffic from Target without the Circumferential Highway and revamping Interstate 89’s Exit 12 with dedicated turning lanes on 2A. In our post-Irene reality, however, those projects are effectively dead because the State’s highway funding priorities are appropriately focused elsewhere.
It is self evident that Williston has already accommodated a significant amount of commercial development. Some, including those infatuated with Target’s mystique as a retailer, have begun to argue that the town is already a lost cause and there is no harm in adding another big-box store. But the view that most Williston residents have of our community is very different from those who never get beyond Taft Corners. As you drive east on U.S. 2, the terrain quickly changes to feature distant views of the Green Mountains, tree-lined suburban neighborhoods, working farms, open space and a historic village.
Maintaining a clear demarcation between Taft Corners and the village has been a focal point of Williston’s Town Plan for more than 30 years, going back to a time when mostly hay fields surrounded what was then the town’s singular traffic light. The importance of protecting the historic village from encroaching development was the one thing that everyone who sat through years of hearings on Pyramid Mall and Wal-Mart readily agreed upon.
The affordable housing on the eastern edge of Maple Tree Place already provides the beginning of a transition to less intensive, mostly residential uses. Allowing regional retail sprawl to jump past those residents and move further east would be a huge mistake that would adversely impact the quality of life of most of the town’s residents. If we say yes to Target now, how much longer before the next adjacent open parcel of land succumbs to the same argument?
The clearly defined line as to where the core commercial district ends was reaffirmed just last year when our town’s Comprehensive Plan was updated and approved. It should not take two years of hearings to reach the undeniable conclusion that the location Target has proposed is not appropriate. We would all be well served if the Planning Commission and Selectboard communicated that clearly and directly to Target now, so we can all move on to more productive matters.
Fred “Chico” Lager has lived in Williston for more than 30 years.