September 21, 2019

NETS eyes former Pine Ridge School property

The former Pine Ridge School property has been empty since the school closed in 2009, after 40 years in operation. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate)

The former Pine Ridge School property has been empty since the school closed in 2009, after 40 years in operation. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate)

By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff
The former Pine Ridge School campus, which has stood empty since the school closed in 2009, may soon see life again.
Representatives from the NETS Institute for Church Planting, which established the Christ Memorial Church in Williston, met informally with the Williston Planning Commission on Dec. 16.
Dave Appenzellar, NETS executive director, said NETS is working with People’s United Bank on a deal, but has not signed a purchase and sales agreement or submitted any paperwork to the town.
Appenzellar said the organization would use the property as a religious school, “nothing too far out of the ordinary from how the buildings were used,” but preferred to hold off on elaborating until they are sure they are purchasing the property.
The NETS website, netsinstitute.org, defines NETS as a “comprehensive training and sending center for church planters and their wives. Our mission is to plant and establish gospel-driven churches in New England and beyond.”
Williston Planning Director Ken Belliveau said that during the meeting, NETS discussed using classrooms, housing students in some of the former dormitories and moving training operations to the property.
Belliveau said he told NETS—as he has told other applicants—that the process would be somewhat lengthy. The property is located in the agricultural and rural zoning district, and NETS’ intended use would require a bylaw change.
Only certain uses are partially exempt from some of the town’s regulations, including certain state uses, hospitals, churches and schools certified by the Agency of Education, which NETS currently is not.
“The Planning Commission sees this as being potentially workable,” Belliveau said on Wednesday. “The big caveat staff had shared with NETS and the Planning Commission is we’ll see what the neighbors say.”
In 2011, Underhill-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation center Maple Leaf Farm signed a purchase and sales agreement for the property, intending to open a facility to expand its operations.
After approximately a year of talks—largely regarding the zoning change that would have been required—Maple Leaf Farm withdrew its plans. Some neighbors vociferously opposed the location, citing concerns about the facility’s prospective residents, while others spoke in favor of it.
Since Maple Leaf Farm withdrew, Belliveau said two organizations have come in to the planning office to speak with staff about the property—another drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization and a training institute associated with Vermont Technical College.
To change the bylaw, allowing a use like the one NETS floated, the Planning Commission must make a recommendation to the Selectboard. Then, the Selectboard must hold a public meeting and vote to change the bylaw.
“That underscores how important the reaction of the neighbors is going to be,” Belliveau said. “It’s always going to be much more difficult to get a vote of approval if you have people showing up at public meetings saying ‘I’m against it.’”

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