May 31, 2020

Town Plan reaches 11th hour

July 21, 2011

By Adam White
Observer staff

The final public hearing on the 2011 Comprehensive Plan for the town of Williston will take place at the Selectboard’s regularly scheduled meeting on July 25.

The Board will have the option, immediately following the hearing, to formally approve the plan.

The town’s Planning Commission spent close to three hours making 11th-hour adjustments to the plan at its meeting on Tuesday, and will submit a finalized draft to the Selectboard. Subsequent approval would cap a process that began roughly two years ago, when town planners began compiling a growth report that largely shaped the scope of the 2011 Plan.

“The Town Plan is a long-range vision for Williston, that’s been carefully considered and vetted by the public,” said Matt Boulanger, senior planner for the town. “Williston uses its Town Plan all the time. It becomes a foundation; you’re always asking yourself, with every issue that comes up, whether it is consistent with the Town Plan.”

The Town Plan is updated every five years. The July 25 hearing will be the second of two required opportunities for the public to give its input on the Plan. The entire process began with a pair of public kick-off meetings, in which issues ranging from traffic to residential subdivision were discussed.

“We had a facilitator come in, and invited the public to engage in a very open-ended discussion about what people saw happening, and what they want to happen, in Williston,” Boulanger said.

Another part of the early process was to gauge the progress made on the objectives laid out in the 2006 Plan. Williston town planner Ken Belliveau keeps a color-coded spreadsheet on the wall in his office that categorizes which objectives have been completed, as well as other projects that are in progress or have yet to be undertaken.

“The Town Plan is a policy document as much as anything,” Belliveau said. “Here’s where we are, here’s where we want to go, and here’s what we need to do to get there.”

Belliveau’s progress chart contains plenty of green and yellow lines, which indicate completion or progress on objectives within the ’06 Plan. Boulanger said one of the primary goals accomplished was the implementation of a new, unified development bylaw that addresses a number of issues highlighted within the Plan.

Not surprisingly, the bulk of the exceptions to that pattern of progress have stalled due to funding — a consideration that is mapped out, along with the objectives, in every Town Plan.

“You at least try to identify some kind of cost source,” Boulanger said.

Refining the previous Plan’s language to reflect changes in the town’s developmental landscape over the past five years proved to be a significant task. A rewrite of a two-paragraph section pertaining to the connection between the Circumferential Highway project and potential Chittenden Solid Waste District regional landfill resulted in more than an hour of deliberation by Planning Commission members.

“Town support for the landfill needs to be predicated on the improvements necessary to provide proper access to the site,” Commission member Kevin Batson said. “We’re being irresponsible as a Planning Commission if we don’t put that in there.”

Throughout their reworking of the Plan’s language, Commission members made repeated references to prior comments made about issues by members of the Selectboard — and the need for the town’s governing entities to share a unified philosophy in the town’s best interests.

Belliveau commended the Board for its extensive involvement in the drafting of the Town Plan, saying that in other places he has worked, the task is left almost entirely up to staff — and “the town officials adopting it haven’t even read it.”

“Our Selectboard goes through the Plan chapter-by-chapter,” Belliveau said. “I think that’s a manifestation of how seriously they take it.”

Such a fine-toothed-comb approach does far more than add extra sets of eyes to catch typographical errors, according to Boulanger.

“There is so much benefit to that, because your elected (officials), when you go back and interact with them over the next five years, have a recollection of the Town Plan and what’s in it,” Boulanger said.