Former Pine Ridge School property at stake
Dec. 22, 2011
By Luke Baynes
The former Pine Ridge School property took another step toward changing its namesake from the coniferous to the broad-leafed tree variety when Maple Leaf Farm Executive Director Bill Young met Tuesday with the Williston Planning Commission.
Maple Leaf Farm, an Underhill-based alcohol and drug rehabilitation center, entered into a $2.85 million purchase and sale agreement with People’s United Bank in November to purchase the 127-acre property that formerly housed a private school for students with learning differences.
Young’s meeting with the Planning Commission marked the first of what will likely be a series of discussions in a lengthy town approval process.
In order for Maple Leaf to locate a portion of its operations in Williston, it will first need to get a specific plan approved to operate a community care center in a district that Williston Senior Planner Matt Boulanger explained is zoned strictly for agricultural or rural residential use.
“In this zone, you can live there in a one- or two-family dwelling, and you can farm,” Boulanger said.
Boulanger further explained that the specific plan process is primarily concerned with how a proposed zoning exception will benefit the public.
“The biggest thing about a specific plan is to allow the Commission and the Selectboard to make an assessment of what’s being asked to be done on the site, how it’s different from what’s allowed from the base zoning, how much it’s different and what’s going to be provided as a public benefit to balance the relief that’s being asked for from the base zoning,” said Boulanger.
While Pine Ridge School had a partial exemption from local zoning regulations because of its status as a state-approved school, Maple Leaf Farm doesn’t meet the technical definition of a hospital to enjoy a similar exemption.
It will therefore need to prove to the Planning Commission — and ultimately the Williston Selectboard — that it offers a discernable public benefit to the town.
Young addressed the public benefit question by identifying two potential benefits: conservation of open space and jobs.
“We certainly would have no problem with some kind of a conservation easement,” Young said in regard to preserving undeveloped land. “We like having open spaces around us.”
In terms of employment, Young said that as many as 85 jobs could be created as part of Maple Leaf’s expansion, due to the fact that more than 90 patients could eventually be accommodated at the Williston facility.
If the Planning Commission were to recommend approval of the proposed use of the site — and if the Selectboard were to subsequently approve the zoning exception — a discretionary permit would then need to be approved by the Williston Development Review Board to allow Maple Leaf to convert the site into its intended use as an alcohol and drug rehabilitation clinic.
Planning Commission Chairman Jake Mathon addressed that potential DRB concern, asking: “Do you foresee any growth that would require future building on the site?”
Young replied: “I can’t envision more dorms. People say, ‘never say never,’ but I just don’t see it. Certainly in terms of the dorms, I can’t see building more dormitory space or classroom space (for rehabilitation services).”
Williston Planning and Zoning Director Ken Belliveau summed up the evening’s proceedings by suggesting that Maple Leaf’s potential relocation to the former Pine Ridge property warrants further discussion.
“It certainly seems to me that this property, in terms of how it’s zoned, where it’s located and the way that it’s been developed currently presents a pretty unique set of circumstances,” Belliveau said. “Where we are as a starting point today for this particular property … seems like it has potential.”