May 28, 2018

Town looks into land use anomaly

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

The area around the South Brownell and Williston roads intersection is one of the more peculiar ones in Williston, at least in terms of the town’s multicolored zoning map.

A narrow peninsula of residential land reaches out into a sea of industrial zoning.

“You’ve got two of the most different zones in town right up against each other,” Senior Planner Matt Boulanger told the Planning Commission Tuesday night.

On Tuesday, Planning Commission members struggled with solutions to the tricky situation, brainstorming a variety of ideas. The town’s Comprehensive Plan identifies the neighborhood as an area where “changes to land use rules should be considered.”

“This is a very, very difficult planning problem to address,” said Ken Belliveau, Williston’s planning director and zoning administrator. “It may take some doing to come up with a good solution.”

An Oct. 16 public meeting—and input from several residents at Tuesday’s meeting—made clear that there is no consensus among residents about what should be done.

Some neighbors are fed up with heavy traffic and changes to the neighborhood, and hope the town will rezone the area to allow commercial uses, giving them more flexibility to sell their property. Other residents want the town to leave their neighborhood alone.

Adding to the area’s issues, a plume of underground pollution has further compromised land use.

“There are definitely mixed opinions,” Planning Commission Chairman Jake Mathon said. “It’s a weird development pattern out there.”

One tool available to the Planning Commission is an overlay district, which would keep residential zoning properties in place, but allow for other uses as well—uses that could be specifically and narrowly defined by the town.

For example, the town might allow certain commercial uses only on properties on Williston Road. Or, it could allow higher-density residential use for apartments.

Like residents of the area, Planning Commission members had different ideas of what could be done.

Member Kevin Batson advocated for leaving the zoning as it is, saying that he felt most residents didn’t want further commercial encroachment on their neighborhood.

“Not only do people have houses there and want to stay there, they have new houses,” he said. “It’s inviting sprawl, that’s how sprawl happens, but the bigger problem is that it’s more encroachment.”

Michael Alvanos said changes could be nuanced, preserving the neighborhood while allowing for limited commercial uses, similar to Williston’s Historic Village.

“If people on Williston Road corridor start to get something more village-like, that’s how I sort of envision this area,” he said.

Commission members asked planning staff to put together several different scenarios for the commission to look at the next time it discusses the issue.

Before any zoning changes can be made, the Planning Commission must hold at least one public hearing before presenting a plan to the Selectboard. Belliveau suggested an additional public meeting to make sure any residents that wish to can weigh in.

“You want to make sure everyone has a fair chance to be heard, and also be able to listen to and think abut any possible scenarios,” he said.

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