By Ben Moger-Williams
After months of discussion and a two-week-long public hearing, the Selectboard on Monday finally adopted the Comprehensive Plan of Development for the town of Williston. The plan, which is revised every five years, provides a blueprint for the development of the town.
Several residents attended the hearing Monday, which had been recessed at the previous meeting two weeks ago to give Town Planner Lee Nellis time to respond to residents’ concerns.
Most of the concerns voiced were in regards to a proposed bike path on North Williston Road. However, the concern was over the path’s placement and width, neither of which is specifically laid out in the plan. Residents will have a chance to discuss the plans with town officials when a specific plan is proposed for the path, Nellis said.
The Selectboard voted unanimously to approve the plan, although Selectman Jeff Fehrs voiced his concerns about certain sections. Fehrs worried that giving developers at Taft Corners “flexibility and intensity” as stated in the plan, could have “negative consequences.” But ultimately he accepted the plan.
“Although I have some concerns, I can vote for the town plan to adopt it,” Fehrs said.
Park and Ride alternatives proposed
Representatives from the state Agency of Transportation and an engineering consulting firm presented to the board a list of potential sites for a proposed Park and Ride facility in Williston.
Greg Edwards of Dufresne-Henry and Wayne Davis of Vtrans told the board they had identified and researched nine properties as possible sites for the Park and Ride, where commuters could park and carpool or catch a bus.
The team rated the sites based on economic considerations, location criteria and site considerations. The site that scored highest was a piece of property across from Hurricane Lane, off Vermont Route 2A south of Interstate 89. Nellis had some concerns about the site, which is owned by Raymond Ramsey of York Beach, Maine, because use of that site would require extensive grading, stormwater installations and also a re-zoning of the area. Nellis said in an e-mail that the site lies in the town’s Ridgeline/ Wooded Hillside Protection Zoning Overlay District. This zoning district was designed to protect the visual character of the town, and so under the current regulations only 1/2 acre of space may be cleared, not enough for the 120-lot Park-and-Ride proposed by the state. However, Nellis said the area could be re-zoned to allow the facility, and Davis noted that under state statutes the Park-and-Ride might be exempt from town zoning laws anyway.
Other possible sites are a piece of property off Hurricane Lane owned by Bill Dunn; and the site of the State Police Barracks, which may be moved in the next few years.
Planning Commission Chairwoman Judy Sassarossi expressed concern for the safety of women going to their cars after dark if the parking area were located south of the Interstate.
Meredith Burkett of the Chittenden County Transportation Authority said the public transit organization would support the Park-and-Ride.
“We would love to see one built in Williston,” Burkett said. “To the extent possible we would make adjustments to serve (the Park-and-Ride).”
The board will discuss the alternatives and is scheduled to meet again with Davis and Edwards on Feb. 27.
Local Option Tax revenue Task Force
The board also heard from the Local Option Tax Revenue Task Force, which delivered its final report Monday. The task force was charged with researching alternatives to the 1 percent local option sales tax on rooms, meals and alcoholic beverages. The tax is currently scheduled to expire in 2008.
The tax was adopted at town meeting in 2003, and was designed to augment property taxes. The task force’s report states that municipal services to businesses in Williston cost more than the businesses generate in property tax, so without the 1 percent tax, property taxes would rise.
The group recommended that Williston should try to make the local option tax permanent. Barring that, the task force said the next best alternative is a tax classification system to equalize the tax burden among residents and businesses. Other alternatives are increased user fees for services, additional impact fees, and forming tax increment finance districts.
The board will consider the options and will likely schedule public hearings on the matter in the future.