Past growth limits future developments3/12/09

Most small projects won’t start for two years

March 12, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

During its annual growth management review on Tuesday night, the Development Review Board granted construction allocation for six development projects in town. But due to the number of units allocated in the past, most projects won’t be able to break ground until 2011.

Only one project was allocated for construction this year. The Shepard family on Oak Hill Road received permission to build a unit on their property, which has been split into two lots. There were no projects allocated for 2010 and only three units for 2011. Only 29 units total were available for allocation through 2015, with 14 receiving the go ahead.

The low numbers are indicative of the large number of projects approved in the past by the Development Review Board. As the years go on, it is harder for developers to get construction rights, Planning and Zoning Director Ken Belliveau said.

Growth management “goes back to a period of time when the town was experiencing rapid growth,” he explained at the meeting.

After the meeting, Belliveau indicated that Williston’s growth management might need an overhaul in the future, since there is little space available for builders in the coming years and overall growth has slowed in town.

None of the projects up for discussion this year were within the town’s growth center. Three projects were up for allocation outside the growth center, but inside the sewer district. Six projects were listed outside the sewer district.

Landowners and developers compete with each other on a point system — the higher score, the better chance for allocation. Projects are scored in several areas, including energy efficiency, affordable housing and easements for paths and trails. Projects outside the sewer district could also earn points for open space.

Developers that went before the Development Review Board in 2008 for pre-application permits attended the Tuesday night meeting. Among them were Jeff Atwood and Dana Hood, co-applicants for a six-lot, affordable housing subdivision located between North Williston Road and Lefebvre Lane. The project has rallied residents on Lefebvre Lane to oppose its size and proximity to their property boundaries during meetings with various town boards.

Board member Richard Asch, a homeowner on Lefebvre Lane, recused himself from the entire meeting to avoid conflict of interest.

Atwood and Hood’s project scored highest with the town. It earned points in affordable housing, energy efficiency and housing choices. As a result, the project received allocation for two units beginning in 2011. The other four units will have phased construction through 2015.

While Atwood expressed satisfaction in receiving the all clear on construction, he said he was unhappy he’d have to wait for a few years and could not build all at once.

“I’m a little dispirited it’s six years out,” Atwood told the board.

Atwood and Hood’s engineer, Debra Bell of Trudell Consulting, said it would be difficult for the applicants to develop affordable housing with a staggered construction schedule. The upfront cost of building the subdivision’s road would also pose a challenge, Bell said.

Nevertheless, Bell said the project would be submitted to the town Wednesday for a discretionary permit, complete with detailed plans and applications. The project is currently attempting to apply under the town’s current bylaws before new ones take effect. The Selectboard has not approved the new bylaws yet, but could do so before the end of the month (see story on page 5).

Also approved Tuesday was the South Road Land Company’s five-unit subdivision off South Road. Like the Atwood and Hood project, it will have phased construction starting in 2011.

Three one-unit projects were not approved on Tuesday, with some scoring low compared to the larger developments. Many of the smaller projects had limited abilities to receive points for trails, open space, and visual impact.

“It’s very difficult for a project like this to score well under the growth management plan,” Belliveau said of a single family home proposed for Williston Village.

Developers of projects that did not receive allocation would have to reapply with the town, including repayment of all permit fees, to be considered again in the future, Belliveau said.