October 24, 2014

Planning Commission debates Zephyr Road, gated subdivisions

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By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

There were roughly six dozen amendments to the Williston Unified Development Bylaw that were considered by the Planning Commission on Tuesday.

Just two failed to gain consensus approval.

One of the exceptions was a proposal to add an extension of Zephyr Road to the list of projects eligible for transportation impact fee funding. The other was a proposed addition to the Unified Development Bylaw that would prohibit gated subdivisions.

The Zephyr Road question was first raised at the June 18 Williston Selectboard meeting by Chris Snyder of Snyder Homes, the developer of the residential portion of the in-progress Finney Crossing subdivision north of Maple Tree Place.

Snyder maintained that the Zephyr Road extension—which will connect Vermont 2A to U.S. 2 through a crescent-shaped bypass of Taft Corners—provides a substantial benefit to the town, thus making it eligible for transportation impact fee reimbursement to offset the construction costs of the public road.

Planning Commission member Kevin Batson argued Tuesday that Snyder, the financial benefactor from the project, should be responsible for the construction cost of a road that is essential to the subdivision.

“It’s Snyder’s development. He’s putting in residential there, and he needs a road to get to his houses,” Batson said. “It’s for him, not for us.”

Chairman Jake Mathon disagreed, arguing that the Zephyr Road extension will provide connectivity for both commuters and shoppers as an alternative to the busy Taft Corners intersection.

“What it does is it allows all that traffic to go here (on Zephyr Road) and that means less will go through the very stressed out intersection (at Taft Corners),” Mathon said.

Williston Director of Planning and Zoning Ken Belliveau warned that to require Finney Crossing developers to be fully responsible for both transportation impact fees and public road construction costs would be inconsistent with other recently approved developments. He cited the Lot 30 project on Vermont 2A, for which an agreement was reached to allow Taft Corners Associates to forgo a portion of its transportation impact fees by assuming construction costs for a series of public grid streets.

“It puts you on questionable legal standing if you require someone to make improvements, and you also require them to pay impact fees,” Belliveau said.

GATE DEBATE

The gated subdivision debate also hinged on the question of the town’s role in promoting transportation connectivity.

Batson contended that gated communities are antithetical to the aims of the Williston Comprehensive Plan, which encourages the interconnectedness of neighborhoods.

“What kind of a community do you want?” Batson asked. “Do you want a community that is based on fear and exclusivity? That’s not the community that I want.”

Mathon countered that while he agrees with Batson’s position regarding communities accessed by public roads, he believes neighborhoods with privately owned roads should be allowed to do as they please regarding public access.

“If you’re doing it on private streets and private land, I really have a lot of trouble saying that no, you can’t control access to your property,” Mathon said.

Sensing a deadlock, Michael Alvanos motioned that the commission forward its approval of the bylaw changes to the Selectboard, sans the two matters of contention.

The motion passed, meaning that the Zephyr Road and gated subdivision debates will live to fight another day.

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