April 16, 2014

Town takes U-turn on public works plan

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New proposal moves complex to 

Industrial Avenue area

By Greg Elias

Observer correspondent

August 15th, 2013

The new public works facility would locate to a more welcoming neighborhood under a plan that received tentative Selectboard approval on Monday.

The board said Town Manager Rick McGuire could negotiate a deal for land on Avenue A, one of the letter-named side streets off Industrial Avenue. S.D. Ireland, a construction company known for its colorfully painted cement trucks, owns the property.

The decision marks a change of course for the town, which in May signed a $265,500 purchase agreement with Warren Lyon for his property on Oak Hill Road. Amid opposition from neighbors, the town shelved that plan and sought another location.

About 20 people attended the meeting, most apparently from the group that fought the Oak Hill Road location. They looked on as Public Works Director Bruce Hoar pointed to the new site on an oversized map of Williston.

Public Works Department vehicles entering and exiting Avenue A would have to contend with heavy traffic, as they already do at the existing facility near congested Vermont 2A, Hoar explained. But unlike the rural and residential Oak Hill Road site, industrial uses dominate the new location.

“Obviously, no neighbors to complain,” he wryly noted, drawing laughs from the crowd. “Don’t take that as anything personal.”

McGuire said land at the property is priced much higher than the Oak Hill Road site. But because the town previously granted a permit to S.D. Ireland for a similar-sized structure, he explained, permitting costs will be lower and could offset the extra expense.

Multiple sites have been considered over the years to replace the existing facility on James Brown Drive that town officials have long complained is undersized and outdated.

But the latest proposal drew opposition from a group of residents living in the nearby Partridge Hill section of Williston. They formed a group named RightPlace Williston and gathered nearly 500 signatures on a petition urging the town to reconsider.

The group argued in a July report to the Selectboard that the process of selecting the Oak Hill Road location was secretive, completed without public input and ran counter to the goals of Williston’s Comprehensive Plan.

The group also asserted that Oak Hill Road was a poor place from which to dispatch snowplows and other public works equipment because of its location in an agricultural/rural zoning district, noting trucks would travel through Williston’s historic village center.

The Selectboard put the purchase on hold and formed a task force that sought requests for new proposals. Other proposals came from property owners on Vermont 2A, Redmond Road, Leroy Road, Boyer Circle and a different location on Oak Hill Road. The task force unanimously recommended the Avenue A site.

Stuart Meyer, a Partridge Hill resident, spoke on behalf of the RightPlace group at Monday’s meeting. Meyer said the group was “extremely appreciative” that the Selectboard put the original plan on hold and allowed public debate.

Selectboard member Debbie Ingram said such community involvement keeps public officials accountable.

“It’s really great when the people are engaged,” she said. “We took some flak for this, but that’s what we sign on for.”

The current public works complex on James Brown Drive houses the town’s highway, water and sewer operations in a pair of buildings and includes a dilapidated salt shed. When the highway department moved to the site in 1975, farmland surrounded Taft Corners and the town maintained 43 miles of roads. Now, one of Vermont’s largest shopping districts occupies Taft Corners and the town maintains more than 70 miles of roads.

Williston voters in March approved $5.9 million to fund a new public works facility. The Selectboard authorized sale of the James Brown Drive property for $1.1 million. The town is allowed to stay there until a new public works facility is built under the purchase agreement with Thomas Hirchak.

The town has cancelled the purchase agreement on the Lyon property and paid a $5,000 penalty, McGuire said. S.D. Ireland proposes to charge $1 million for the 7-acre parcel on Avenue A.

McGuire said on Tuesday that he will soon start negotiations with the company and hopes to have a proposed purchase agreement for the Selectboard to consider at its Sept. 3 meeting.

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