July 29, 2010By Greg Duggan Observer staff
Aware that its development bylaws create a complicated set of rules, the town of Williston is considering giving a break to developers whose permits for projects may have expired.
Residential development in Williston occurs through a growth management system, which allows only a limited number of units to be built each year. The Development Review Board grants growth management allocation to proposed projects based on a scoring system that identifies the best developments.
The system has been in place since 1990. Part of the challenge of the system, however, is that growth management allocations only last for a limited number of years; once those years pass, the allocations expire.
Now, the regulations clarify that a project has four years to be built after receiving growth management allocation, but previous regulations were more vague.
“It’s not the norm in the U.S. It’s not the norm in this part of Vermont, either,” Planning Director Ken Belliveau told the Observer. “Our system is a lot more complex than other systems.”
Belliveau said his department asked the Planning Commission about adding flexibility to the system to account for applications that, due to the confusing language of the bylaws, may have expired or are at risk of expiring.
Under the proposed plan, Belliveau and his staff would review projects from the past 10 or 15 years that may have expired. Applicants for those projects would be notified early next year, and given a chance to reapply for growth management allocation. Typically, if a growth management allocation expires the applicant must start anew with the application and hearing process.
Belliveau doesn’t expect to see many projects that qualify for the exemption.
“It could be a couple of handfuls,” he said. “Most are probably likely to be located sort of in the more rural areas of towns.”
Belliveau presented the idea to the Selectboard on July 19.
“This is probably one of the most complicated issues I’ve ever had to deal with,” Belliveau told the board.
He explained that to qualify for an exemption for an expired permit, an applicant would need to demonstrate some effort to start building. Such a demonstration of intent could include the construction of a road or some homes of a subdivision.
“We want to see if we can make the system work for everybody involved,” Belliveau said.
At the meeting, Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs asked how a developer may react upon hearing that an old, expired project may be able to bypass some of the application process.
Belliveau reiterated the complexity and confusing nature of the rules of expiration and allocation in previous years.
“I think someone could raise the argument,” he said, “but we’re trying to make the best of the situation.”
To amend the bylaw, the Selectboard will need to hold a public hearing on the issue. No date has been set for a hearing.