May 26, 2018

Habitat conservation could tighten development standards

The Williston Comprehensive Plan has identified areas that should be preserved, including wetlands and wildlife habitats. (Map courtesy of Jessica Andreoletti, Williston Planning and Zoning Dept.)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Chapter 1, section 1 of Williston’s Unified Development Bylaw states that its purpose is to “implement the regulatory policies of Williston’s Town Plan.”

With that dictum in mind, the Williston Planning Commission convened Tuesday to develop a corresponding bylaw to chapter 12 of the Williston Comprehensive Plan, which states: “The Town of Williston will protect conservation areas that provide significant benefits for soil conservation, water quality, groundwater recharge, and biological diversity.”

Williston Senior Planner Jessica Andreoletti, who prepared a preliminary draft of a proposed “Conservation Areas” chapter of the Unified Development Bylaw, posed three questions to the Planning Commission:

Should a specific chapter be dedicated to conservation areas, or should it be combined with other likeminded chapters, such as chapter 29 (“Watershed Health”)?

What zoning districts should it cover?

Under what permit processes (discretionary, administrative or both) should it be reviewed?

After an hour and a half of discussion, the Planning Commission concluded that a specific chapter should be devoted to conservation areas, that it should cover all zoning districts and that it should cover both the discretionary permit (subject to Development Review Board approval) and administrative permit (subject to Planning and Zoning director approval) processes.

However, commission members agreed that certain exemptions should be carved out regarding the types of land uses subject to review under the proposed bylaw.

“I want to make sure that we are not heading down a road of just making any sort of development grind to a halt,” said Planning Commission Chairman Jake Mathon.

Potential forms of review for development applications under the proposed bylaw include consideration of scenic viewsheds, unique natural habitat communities, important farmlands, steep slopes and archeologically sensitive areas.

Although the proposal is still in an embryonic state, suggested land use exemptions include previously approved projects, expansions of existing structures not to exceed 100 percent of the existing floor area, accessory structures within 150 feet of an existing permitted structure and projects that promote alternative energy sources.

Williston Director of Planning and Zoning Ken Belliveau assured the Planning Commission that the intention of the proposed bylaw is to protect valuable town resources without unnecessarily complicating the development review process.

“I think there’s a lot of agreement that we want it to be something that’s going to be workable that people are going to understand,” Belliveau said. “What we’re really hoping is if we can craft this in a way where we can get a lot of (habitat) protection out of a fairly easy to understand and to administer process.”

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