November 24, 2014

Year in Review: Looking back at the top stories of 2013

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The corridor between Taft Corners and the Williston Historic Village got some attention in 2013, with a plan put in place to build pedestrian and bicycle facilities. The project is one of many planned as alternatives to the canceled Circ Highway. (Observer file photo by Stephanie Choate)

The corridor between Taft Corners and the Williston Historic Village got some attention in 2013, with a plan put in place to build pedestrian and bicycle facilities. The project is one of many planned as alternatives to the canceled Circ Highway. (Observer file photo by Stephanie Choate)

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

Freezing temperatures, ice and snow ushered in a new year this week.

In 2013, town news was dominated by transportation in planning changes, plus a major milestone for the town.

Here, we look back at Williston’s top stories of 2013.

Getting around town

Transportation issues—many of them tied into the long process of finding alternatives to the canceled Circumferential Highway—took up a large chunk of town boards’ time this year.

The Circ Alternatives Task Force—made up of representatives from the Circ communities Williston, Essex, Essex Junction and Colchester, plus planning groups and interested parties —wrapped up its work in the fall. Altogether, the task force agreed on 34 projects with an estimated total implementation cost of $99 million. The Phase I and II implementation projects were approved for inclusion in the VTrans Capital Program by the Legislature in the 2012 and 2013 sessions.

Williston projects were among the package of improvements sent to the legislature for funding in several phases, though many of Williston’s projects are scheduled for later construction than projects in other towns. Williston projects include:

$1.5 million in improvements to the intersection of Vt. Route 2A and James Brown Drive. Project engineering is underway—Williston’s only Phase I project with construction scheduled to begin in fiscal year 2016.

A four-stage project to rework I-89 Exit 12, managed by VTrans with a new shared-use path under the interstate and a new lane on Route 2A from Marshall Avenue to the I-89 northbound on ramp. Stages 2 to 4—grid streets and intersection improvements, “diverging diamond” interchange improvements and a boulevard-style upgrade to Route 2A —are a decade or more in the future. Altogether, the improvements would cost $41.5 million.

Improvements to the intersection of Route 2A, Industrial Avenue and Mountain View Road.

Widening of Mountain View Road to create shared-use shoulders, costing $3.5 million.

A $2.8 million shared-use pathway between Taft Corners and the Village.

Filling in sidewalk and shared-use path gaps on Harvest Lane and Vt. Route 2A.

New public works facility approved

Voters approved a $5.9 million bond for a new public works facility in March, and the Selectboard settled on a location off Industrial Avenue for the new facility, though it had some direction changes along the way.

After the town signed a purchase and sales agreement for a parcel off Oak Hill Road in May, residents of the nearby Partridge Hill neighborhood objected to the location and the lack of transparency in the Selectboard’s decision.

Based on the residents’ concerns, the board changed the location and purchased a 7-acre plot of land for $1 million on Avenue A off Industrial Avenue.

The land was priced much higher than the Oak Hill parcel, which would have gone for $265,500, and public works vehicles will have to contend with heavy traffic, but the location is surrounded by industrial uses rather than residential properties.

Williston celebrates its 250th anniversary

Williston—along with several other Chittenden County towns—celebrated the 250th anniversary of the signing of its town charter in June.

Historical skits kicked off Town Meeting in March.

The town held a community dessert potluck—including a giant Williston-themed sheet cake—in June, followed by the premiere of local filmmaker Jim Heltz’s updated documentary “Williston Revisited—A Community Portrait.”

Williston residents also took part in a daylong photo project to capture a day in the life of Williston in its 250th year, followed up by a town photo.

The town also sponsored a “Healthy Challenge,” where residents engaged in healthy behavior on a “Williston Moves Passport” to earn deals at local stores.

McGillicuddy’s Irish Ale House even brewed a special Williston beer, and local historian Richard Allen wrote a series of historical articles reflecting on Williston’s past, published monthly in the Observer.

St. George also celebrated its 250th anniversary with the construction of a picnic pavilion in its town center.

Push for turf fields uncertain

A community group of parents, athletes and other residents organized efforts to install two turf fields at Champlain Valley Union High School.

Drainage issues on the school’s fields have rendered them a muddy morasse. A high concentration of clay stops water from draining from the fields when it rains or snows.

A report commissioned by the school board in 2011, known as the Gale report, recommended refurbishing the school’s five fields and installing one synthetic turf field with lights and bleachers.

The committee looked into three options: rehabilitating the school’s grass fields; building one synthetic turf field and rehabilitating two grass fields; and building two synthetic fields.

Rehabilitation of the grass fields would cost between $1.2 and $1.5 million, during which some of the fields would be out of commission and which committee members said is not guaranteed to work. The committee recommended two turf fields, at a total cost of $2.5 million.

Voters, however, in November narrowly rejected a $1.5 million bond proposal for turf fields, which would have been supplemented by $1.2 million raised by the committee.

Committee and school board members initially seemed unfazed by the setback.

But plans for turf fields are uncertain after sobering budget figures were presented to the CVU School Board in December.

Maple Leaf Farm bows out

After approximately a year of talks, Underhill-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation center Maple Leaf Farm announced in July that it was withdrawing from plans to open a facility at the location of the former Pine Ridge School.

Some neighbors vehemently opposed the location, citing safety concerns. Others spoke out in favor of a centrally located option for people seeking help.

“It’s unfortunate,” Executive Director Bill Young told the Observer. “We thought it was a good site for us… it would have been a good fit.”

Maple Leaf Farm officials submitted a specific plan application to the Williston Planning and Zoning Department the previous summer. The location is in the agricultural and rural zoning district, and would have required a zoning change.

The Planning Commission was set to host a public meeting on July 30 before deciding whether to ask the Selectboard to consider changing the zoning.

Other stories

Several other stories made headlines in 2013.

Champlain Valley Union High School principal Sean McMannon left the school to become the principal of Winooski High School. Jeff Evans stepped in as interim principal.

Lynwood “Ozzy” Osborne retired from the Williston Fire Department after 60 years of service to the town.

Voters rejected the Williston School District budget in March, largely due to objections to an initiative to provide iPads for students. The budget was later approved in a drive-thru vote after the iPad initiative was removed.

Holly Rouelle stepped down after seven years on the Williston School Board. Her vacated position was filled by Kevin Brochu.

After his first marathon experience ended in turmoil just short of the finish line when bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon in April—killing three people and injuring hundreds—Williston native Ryan Polly organized Get Moving For Boston, a benefit run on the Burlington Waterfront for victims of the bombings. Nearly 700 people joined Polly, in Vermont or virtually, raising more than $17,000.

A new park, complete with parking lot and trailhead, opened on Route 2A, providing another access point to the popular Five Tree Hill park. Work was also done extending the town’s trail system and improving the existing trails.

After the Observer published an article about a precipitous drop in supplies at the Williston Community Food Shelf, the community responded with an outpouring of support. Students, residents, community groups and businesses stepped up to fill the shelves.

“Your response to the article the Observer ran a few weeks ago has left us in awe of this community’s generosity and support,” Food Shelf President Cathy Michaels wrote in a letter to the editor.

Williston native Sam Johnson captivated the town and the nation on America’s Got Talent with his high-flying deeds of daring. Though he was eventually eliminated, he made it through several rounds of cuts. Williston business owner David Glickman, who operated Vermont Butcher Block & Board, also appeared on national television, pitching his business on “Shark Tank.” Though the judges passed on his proposal, the Flexible Capital Fund later opted to fund an expansion.

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