October 26, 2014

Stern Center move hits bump in road

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DRB hearing raises decades-old construction issue

Sept. 29, 2011

By Adam White

Observer staff

The Stern Center is committed to remaining in Williston, but needs to relocate to do so. The town wants a long-planned street connection completed, and sees a potential opportunity to get it done.

Those two separate interests were at the forefront of a pre-application review before the Development Review Board on Tuesday. John Hausner, the developer behind the current Seven Gables Condominiums location on Talcott Rd. that would serve as the new location for the Stern Center, proposed a reconfiguration of the site aimed at increasing its parking capacity from 62 spaces to 77.

But senior planner Matt Boulanger’s staff report revealed that several existing spaces are situated within a setback area along the site’s westerly edge, and that some proposed additional spaces would be as well.

That issue was later dwarfed by discussions about a private drive — running along the property’s northern boundary — that has been deeded as a right of way for development into a dedicated public road connecting Talcott Rd. to the street network within the Finney Crossing project.

“Who builds the road?” DRB chairman Scott Rieley asked. “It’s got to be built sometime; somebody’s going to have to do it.”

The construction of that road was previously set in 1987 as a condition of approval for development within the Taft Farms subdivision. DRB member Brian Jennings acknowledged that until its construction is resolved, the road will continue to be a roadblock for any future applications for development within Taft Farms.

“At what point do we start saying no to everyone?” Jennings asked.

John Connell, chief operating officer for the Stern Center, said that his company — which operates as a non-profit organization — simply could not take on the financial commitment required to build the road. Previous estimates for that project have been upward of $150,000, according to comments made at the meeting.

“I just have to say, we can’t afford it,” Connell said.

Hausner said he has had conversations with neighboring landowner Chris Snyder about the setback issue, and that both are confident a resolution can be reached. One potential idea discussed by the two was a fence between the properties.

“I understand that good buffers make good neighbors,” Hausner said.

But Boulanger said that while the existing spaces within the setback pre-date corresponding by-laws that prohibit them, the construction of additional spaces there would constitute an intensification of non-conformity and thus could not be recommended for approval by the DRB.

Town planner Ken Belliveau then suggested that another 12 to 14 spaces would be available on either side of the completed connecting road. But Hausner reiterated that a reconfiguration of the parking capacity on the site itself was “the only practical solution, given the financial implications” of building the road.

The DRB ultimately approved the pre-application for the project, after adding further conditions to those suggested by staff. One of those conditions was for the client to at least examine possible completion of the connecting road, according to Boulanger.

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