By Luke Baynes
After the polling booths at the Williston Armory closed Tuesday evening, the action shifted one door down to the Town Hall Annex, where the Williston Planning Commission met with Maple Leaf Farm representatives.
Maple Leaf Farm, an Underhill-based alcohol and drug rehabilitation clinic, is seeking a zoning change to relocate its facility to the former Pine Ridge School property on Williston Road.
During a Sept. 4 meeting hosted by the Planning Commission, some residents of the adjacent Sunrise Drive neighborhood expressed concern that Maple Leaf Farm doesn’t plan to employ any security staff at a facility that would treat patients with opiate-based addictions. Residents also questioned whether Maple Leaf Farm’s proposal to preserve existing open space qualifies as a required “substantial public benefit” under the town’s specific plan process for zoning changes.
On Tuesday, Maple Leaf Farm Executive Director Bill Young responded to Sunrise Drive resident Bruce Allen’s letter to the editor which ran in the Nov. 1 edition of the Observer. Allen, who opposes the project, noted that the South Burlington School Board has objected to a proposed methadone clinic near Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School.
“It’s apples and oranges. We’re not running a methadone clinic and never want to,” Young said.
Young added that he is prepared to make more detailed information about the proposal available at the next public meeting with the Planning Commission. No residents attended Tuesday’s meeting.
“Folks are legitimately interested in exactly how this program is going to run and how it’s going to be staffed and what’s the traffic going to be and who do we serve,” Young said. “That information can be made available very quickly.”
Planning Commission member Meghan Cope suggested that the Williston Conservation Commission be brought into the discussion, due to the question of the substantial public benefit of Maple Leaf Farm’s preservation of open space proposal.
“From the Conservation Commission, I’d particularly like to know their read on how significant is the piece of land that would be designated for Williston,” Cope said.
Williston Director of Planning and Zoning Ken Belliveau agreed with Cope’s suggestion.
“It would be right on target to have the Conservation Commission, or some people from the Conservation Commission, weigh in on that,” Belliveau said.
Planning Commission members also debated whether an ad hoc task force should be assembled to examine Maple Leaf Farm’s specific plan proposal. They decided against such a measure, noting that it might unnecessarily drag out the process.
Instead, Belliveau proposed that Planning and Zoning staff work with Maple Leaf Farm to obtain answers to some of the questions raised by the Planning Commission and local residents. Belliveau said he could also request written comments on the Maple Leaf Farm proposal from Police Chief Todd Shepard, Fire Chief Ken Morton and Director of Public Works Bruce Hoar.
“At least, we can collect that information, get the input from the Conservation Commission, have a meeting and discuss it in public so that all the neighbors in particular who had some anxieties would be able to participate and ask questions if they want to,” Belliveau said.
The four Planning Commission members in attendance unanimously supported Belliveau’s proposed course of action.
The next public meeting concerning Maple Leaf Farm’s specific plan proposal has been tentatively scheduled for Dec. 18.