November 27, 2014

Water, sewer, affordable housing initiatives approved

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By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

After cancelling its Oct. 1 meeting for lack of agenda items, the Williston Selectboard made up for lost time Monday with the approval of a variety of initiatives, including the selection of a preferred set of alternatives for stormwater mitigation in the Lamplite Acres neighborhood, the chartering of an affordable housing task force and the authorization of a three-year sewer allocation extension for Cottonwood Crossing.

The Cottonwood project—a mixed-use subdivision proposal that calls for 55,200 square feet of retail space, 26,000 square feet of office space and 118 dwelling units on the site of the former driving range on Williston Road—has been in a holding pattern since September 2011, when Target Corp. revealed its interest in building a store at the same location.

Al Senecal of Omega Real Estate Associates Inc., who previously received site plan approval from the Williston Development Review Board for Cottonwood Crossing, told the Selectboard on Monday that the Cottonwood project represents plan B if the “large retailer” (i.e., Target) decides to abandon its pursuit of the driving range parcel.

“There has been no decision on that large retailer, but we do intend if that does fall through to continue our Cottonwood Crossing project—that being the reason why we’re looking for an extension of the sewer allocation,” Senecal said. “We’re waiting to hear what that large retailer plans to do.”

Before moving to approve the sewer allocation extension, Selectboard member Debbie Ingram put in a plug for the Cottonwood concept.

“Cottonwood Crossing has always been one of my favorite projects that has come to the town,” Ingram said. “I think it’s a wonderful model of mixed-use dwelling and retail and commercial.”

LAMPLITE ACRES

At the Sept. 24 Selectboard meeting, there was general agreement on a plan to alleviate stormwater flooding in the Lamplite Acres neighborhood by installing infiltration trenches and roadside rain gardens in flood-prone areas of the neighborhood.

However, Deputy Chairman Jeff Fehrs requested that a decision on the matter be deferred, in case residents wanted to weigh in. On Monday, Fehrs said he received no feedback from residents.

“I got no ecstatic phone calls supporting it, no angry calls opposing it and I haven’t come up with any reasons why not to move forward with it,” Fehrs said.

The proposal was unanimously approved.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING TASK FORCE

The idea of creating a task force to address Williston’s lack of affordable housing was first raised by Kenn Sassorossi of Housing Vermont during the Selectboard’s annual retreat on June 25.

On Monday, Williston Director of Planning and Zoning Ken Belliveau proposed that the task force should have between six and 10 members, including one representative from the Selectboard, one or more representatives from either the Williston Planning Commission or Development Review Board and one or more representatives from a nonprofit agency that specializes in affordable housing.

Belliveau said the charge of the task force should be broken into two phases: a detailed assessment of current housing conditions, and the development of a set of policy recommendations.

Fehrs proposed that the task force should also examine the concept of the town acting in a fiduciary capacity to ensure the perpetual affordability of housing units.

“What is it that the town ought to be doing, and what is our role? That’s really what I want the task force to focus on,” Fehrs said.

The board ultimately approved the chartering of the task force as outlined by Belliveau, with the additional language suggested by Fehrs.

BYLAW AMENDMENTS

Belliveau stuck around for the evening’s last order of business: a consideration of a set of amendments to the town’s Unified Development Bylaw.

The more than 60 changes—many of which were housekeeping items involving typographical fixes—previously received the blessing of the Planning Commission on Oct. 2.

The one sticking point at the Selectboard meeting involved permitted uses in the Industrial Zoning District East, which includes the Williston portion of the IBM campus.

While the Selectboard agreed with Belliveau and the Planning Commission’s assessment that the use of “computer systems design and related services” should be added to the bylaw to reflect the current scope of IBM’s Williston operations, a permit application that Belliveau received Monday morning added an unforeseen wrinkle to the matter.

Belliveau told the Selectboard that he was forced to deny an application by People’s United Bank for an estimated $1.25 million renovation to an existing office space on the IBM campus, due to the fact that banking related services are not included in the permitted uses of the IZDE.

“There’s nothing in the range of uses today for this zoning district that would allow that,” Belliveau said.

Selectboard member Chris Roy suggested that it might be prudent to do a wholesale revision of the zoning district’s bylaws, rather than selectively add a permitted use as the need arises.

“Why wouldn’t we throw everything and the kitchen sink in there as far as commercial and industrial uses, so that we have maximum flexibility?” Roy asked.

On a motion by Roy, the board agreed to remand the IZDE zoning question back to the Planning Commission for further analysis.

The Planning Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 6.

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