Board doles out building allocations (4/1/10)

Opportunities limited for residential construction

April 1, 2010

By Greg Duggan

Observer staff

With just 65 residential units available in the construction market in Williston through 2015, developers face tough competition when proposing projects in town. The results of that competition came to a head last week, when the Development Review Board decided which projects would receive building allocation.

The so-called growth management process, detailed in Chapter 11 of the Williston Development Bylaw, strives to ensure that growth does not exceed infrastructure, encourages development in the Taft Corners growth center and protects open space. The current system is set to last through 2015.

Most of the available units — 60 of them — exist in the growth center. Through 2015, the town had three units available outside the growth center but inside the sewer service area, and a mere two units up for grabs outside the sewer service area.

Construction projects that completed a pre-application review in 2009 were allowed to participate in the growth management process, as were projects that had been approved earlier but still awaited allocation. To help determine which of those projects can move forward, the Williston Planning Department assigns points in six categories: energy conservation, affordable housing, paths and trails, design for context, open space and visual impact. The maximum score for any project is 100.

At the Development Review Board meeting on March 23, applicants appeared before the board to advocate for their projects. After hearing from applicants, the review board had an opportunity to change the scores designated by the Planning Department; minor changes were made to add points to three projects.

Within the growth center, Essex Alliance Church received permission to build eight housing units. Finney Crossing, a 380-unit, mixed use development, won allocation for six units. The project already had permission to build most of its units. Developer Chris Snyder told the board he hopes to start building in about a year.

Jeff Atwood and Dana Hood, whose nine-unit project on North Williston Road received the highest score of all the projects, won building allocation for two units inside the sewer service area. The project won six units of allocation last year. A 36-unit subdivision off North Williston Road, which sought at least one unit to act as what developer Snyder called a “placeholder” until more units became available, was denied the one remaining unit of building allocation in the sewer service area.

Both units outside the sewer service area were allocated. One went to Brian Brewster; the other went to Peter and Robert Engisch. Four projects were left without units.

The allocations last for four years, with the timeframe beginning in the fiscal year for which the allocation was assigned. Before applicants can begin construction, they must obtain a discretionary permit from the Development Review Board.


Fighting the system

Once allocated, units can become available again if a project falls through or the allocation expires. For the most part, however, available units are in short supply. With the limited number of units available for construction through 2015, several applicants raised concerns about the growth management process.

Jeff Atwood, in particular, complained that the system handicaps development and can prevent projects such as affordable housing.

Yet the Development Review Board stressed at the meeting that it cannot change the allocation process, and urged anyone with complaints to take their concerns to the Selectboard.

“This is a nutty process, but it’s what we work with and what we comply with,” board member Scott Rieley said.

“It is an issue,” Planning Director Ken Belliveau told the Observer. “If you don’t think all that through when you’re buying an undeveloped property, it could be a problem later on.”

Williston recently started the process of updating its Town Plan, which could open the possibility of revamping the growth management process.

“We’d rather not put forth big changes to growth management until the Town Plan is updated,” Belliveau said. “Growth management is an implementation tool for the plan.”