Jan. 28, 2010
By Tim Simard
Williston residents took their first steps toward a new Town Plan last week during two public meetings. According to Planning and Zoning Director Ken Belliveau, both events allowed for informative discussion on the future of Williston.
“I think, in the case of both meetings, we had a good turnout with folks who brought a lot of good ideas and viewpoints,” Belliveau said.
Planners looked to the public last week for input on an updated Town Plan, as well as ideas on the future of the town. During the first meeting on Jan. 20, 30 residents worked in small groups to share their visions. Members of town staff and town boards, such as the Selectboard and Planning Commission, also attended.
Opinions centered on improving traffic patterns, building a more sustainable town and reexamining the town’s growth management system. Belliveau said he heard similar themes during the Jan. 23 meeting.
“There was a tremendous amount of overlap from both meetings,” he said.
In accordance with state law, Williston must update its Town Plan, also known as the Comprehensive Plan of Development, every five years. The Selectboard last ratified a Williston Town Plan in 2006, which was a substantial rewrite of past plans. The 2006 plan detailed visions for Williston and acted as a “blueprint of land use” for town governing officials, Belliveau said at the Wednesday meeting.
“Like any good plan, it should be looking into the future beyond the five years,” Belliveau said.
For many who spoke in the small groups Wednesday, a timely update seemed to be in order rather than a full rewrite. Some said parts of the current Town Plan are still relevant, while other sections need more focus or a different direction.
Resident Mike Isham spoke about the growing awareness of sustainable living and how some people are making a concerted effort to lead a “greener” lifestyle. Translating green living into a town-wide initiative should be a priority for the next five years and beyond, he said.
“We need to ask ourselves, ‘How does the town want to handle green initiatives?’” Isham said.
Another oft-discussed topic centered around growth management and whether the system really works. A few people stated changes might need to be made, such as increased growth possibilities away from Taft Corners and a loosening of the town’s strict development laws. Still others appeared interested in keeping new development around Taft Corners and within Williston’s Growth Center to mitigate sprawl.
Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs, speaking in a small group, said the town’s growth issues and growth management could prove a challenge in future Town Plan meetings. The topic is “very subjective,” he said.
“You might look at (Williston) and say we haven’t grown fast enough, and I might say we’ve grown too fast,” Fehrs said. “The reason we live here is the quality of life, but how do we measure that?”
Other topics frequently brought up included a reexamination of potential lead contamination at the North Country Sportsman’s Club, the creation of a park-and-ride facility after years of talk, and the conservation of more open space.
As Belliveau told attendees, last week’s meetings were only the beginning. Task forces will soon form to research topics further and Belliveau said anyone interested could join once the groups are established.
The task forces will work for one to two months and present findings to the Planning Commission in the spring. The commission will then write a Town Plan draft during the summer, and hold public comment meetings in the fall. The Selectboard will conduct its hearings in December and next January before taking a final vote by February 2011.
For information about the Town Plan or joining a Town Plan task force, contact the Williston Planning Department at 878-6704.