April 21, 2011By Adam White Observer staff
Affordable housing plays a significant role in Williston’s 2011 comprehensive plan, and the issue took center stage several times during the Selectboard’s meeting on April 18.
The Board continued reviewing a draft of the plan, focusing on its growth management and housing section. Planning director Ken Belliveau and planning commission member Jake Mathon were also on hand to help the Board review an analysis of the town’s reserve sewer capacity and proposed amendments to its sewer allocation ordinance.
In its most significant action of the three-hour-plus meeting, the Board voted 3-2 in favor of increasing the wastewater allocation for new commercial and industrial projects from 4,000 to 7,500 gallons per day.
Board members Jeff Fehrs and Debbie Ingram voted against the increase, expressing disappointment at the lack of allocation for affordable housing projects within the proposed amendments. Town manager Rick McGuire said there are simply no such projects “on the horizon” for the town.
Belliveau said that capacity for affordable housing could be obtained, if necessary, under an existing allocation for “encouraging new development,” since those projects would address one of the objectives within the town plan.
Section 5.2 of the plan lays out “objectives aimed at encouraging a wider range of housing types in Williston,” including more affordable options. Belliveau said that inclusionary zoning was one way to encourage such projects.
Fehrs expressed concern that a lack of wastewater allocation might be “a huge barrier” to affordable housing, given that Belliveau had confirmed earlier in the meeting that all of the capacity in the town’s agricultural-residential and residential zoning districts has been allocated through the end of fiscal year 2015.
“There is still ample allocation left in the growth center, and that is an area where we’re trying to target 50 percent of the town’s housing growth over the next 10 years,” Mathon said.
Fehrs countered by asking whether the planning commission had “looked at the benefits of affordable housing occurring in other parts of town, too.” Belliveau explained one way in which the town’s growth center is an ideal location for affordable housing.
“Density is a significant factor in what price point housing is likely to come in at,” Belliveau said. “It affects development costs, and land costs, per housing unit. One of the best ways to incentivize (affordable) housing is to boost density.”
Belliveau also said that market fluctuation can greatly affect whether affordable housing remains so, and suggested that management by a non-profit program or trust was one of the only ways to guard against that.
The Board also voted unanimously in favor of maintaining a 7-percent reserve capacity within the municipal wastewater system, after Belliveau and public works director Bruce Hoar addressed the potential danger of decreasing that reserve.
“The system is not getting any newer,” Hoar said, citing infiltration and inflow problems occurring between Old Stage and North Williston roads. “I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable making that number any lower.”