Board backtracks on vote against senior subdivision

Planning staff says rationale was flawed

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The Williston Development Review Board voted Tuesday to reconsider its rejection of a controversial senior housing project.

After a brief discussion, the board unanimously decided to hold another public hearing on the 14-unit subdivision in coming weeks and then vote again on whether to grant preliminary approval.

The decision came amid warnings from planning staff that a court would almost certainly overturn the previous vote because the rationale for rejecting the project was flawed. The board voted down the project last month because plans did not include two access roads.

“The decision was based upon a mistaken fact, really,” Zoning Administrator D.K. Johnston told the board. “We have since found that such an emergency road does exist, at least on paper.”

Former Selectboard member Herb Goodrich filed an application for the project in late 2004. He proposes to build senior housing next to his home on U.S. Route 2 between Taft Corners and Williston Village. The project would share an access road with the adjacent Pinecrest Village subdivision.

The Development Review Board rejected the project in January, saying that the proposal failed to provide a second or emergency access road as required under a town ordinance that applies to developments with 50 or more units. The board reasoned that because the project shared the access road off Route 2 with the 81-unit Pinecrest Village it was subject to the requirement.

But immediately after the vote, two members of the seven-member board, who had recused themselves because of potential conflicts of interest, pointed out that Pinecrest Village in fact did have a second road.

Following the decision – which prompted criticism from even opponents of the project – the would-be builder, Russell Barone, requested the vote be reconsidered. Town staff consulted attorney Paul Gillies, who said the board could reconsider the decision as long as new information was presented.

“To put it simply, the fact that the existence of a second access for Pinecrest Village was not considered in your deliberations is sufficient to allow for you to reconsider the decision,” Town Planner Lee Nellis wrote in a memo to the board.

Barone said after Tuesday’s meeting that the board had made the “appropriate” decision. He said because his project did not meet the 50-unit threshold, a second access road should not be a factor in the permitting process.

The proposal for senior house generated opposition from representatives of both Pinecrest Village and The Commons. Pinecrest Village residents complained about the project’s impact on traffic and claimed the drive leading into the development crosses some of its common land. Neighbors from The Commons worried about their views being blocked and about stormwater runoff.

But the opposition did not prompt the board to reject the project. Chairman Kevin McDermott said at the January meeting that the new housing would not generate enough traffic to create significant problems and asserted property disputes were not within the board’s purview.

Meanwhile, Johnston revealed on Tuesday’s meeting that the much-discussed second access road at Pinecrest Village did not meet town standards. The road is actually more of a wide path overgrown with grass.

Johnston said he has issued a zoning violation because the road has not been maintained as required when the town approved the project about 16 years ago.

Barone said that problem should not affect what he and Goodrich have proposed.

“I believe the issue with Pinecrest Village has nothing to do with the project Herb and I are doing,” he said. “I don’t believe Herb should be held hostage because of another subdivision’s problems.”