Planning Commission OKs zoning change
By Greg Elias
A rezoning request that would permit almost 100 state employees to move from a problem-plagued building in Burlington to a former ski manufacturing facility in Williston won preliminary approval last week.
The Planning Commission recommended approval of a zoning change that would clear the way for the workers to occupy offices in the former Rossignol building on Industrial Avenue. The Selectboard has the final say on the request.
The move involves about 140 Agency of Human Services employees who work at 1193 North Ave. in Burlington. Employees have complained the building makes them sick, with health issues ranging from respiratory infections to asthma.
“We obviously want to pull this off as quickly as possible,” said Tom Sandretto, deputy commissioner of the state Buildings and Grounds Department. “We really need to get out of that building.”
State officials have long promised to move the workers but have struggled to find another location. Now the agency has settled on a plan that would split the employees between the Williston location and another space at 101 Cherry St. in Burlington.
Sandretto said the state will lease the Cherry Street building for a couple of years, possibly with an option to extend the contract for an additional year. He said the lease for the Rossignol building would likely involve a similar arrangement. The state plans to eventually move the workers to a yet-to-be-constructed building.
Rossignol merged with California-based Quiksilver Inc. in 2005. Quiksilver shuttered the building when it consolidated operations the following year.
In February, Burlington architect J. Graham Goldsmith proposed converting the building into a small business incubator that would offer inexpensive office space for fledgling firms. That got the rezoning process started.
It is unclear how or if the state employees’ move would affect the proposed small business incubator. Yves Bradley, a broker working with Goldsmith to lease the space, did not return a phone message.
Williston Town Planner Lee Nellis said there was little debate and no public comment before the Planning Commission unanimously recommended the zoning change.
“Everyone said it seems reasonable to us, and that was the end of the conversation,” Nellis said.
The rezoning involves a small change in the rules governing land use in the industrial district. If approved, offices would be allowed as a primary use for buildings formerly used for industrial purposes. The current rules only permit offices that supplement an industrial use.
Nellis said it is unlikely that any manufacturer will be interested in the building. Vermont, like the rest of the country, has lost manufacturing jobs in recent years as companies move operations overseas.
The state plans to relocate about 95 employees to the Rossignol building, Sandretto said. Most of the remaining workers will remain in Burlington, he said, with most moving to Cherry Street and a few housed in nearby offices on Pearl Street.
One of the major concerns with the move was how it would affect services. The employees will be divided between the two locations so that most of the client services will continue to be available in Burlington, Sandretto said. Many of the workers moving to Williston are employed by the Health Department and travel to clients’ homes. Others have strictly administrative positions.
Sandretto said he was “very optimistic” that the town would grant final approval. The Selectboard is scheduled to hold a public hearing at its June 25 session.