Business expansion plans rest on rare zoning trick


Observer staff

New England Chimney Supply’s expansion plans at the corner of Commerce Street and Williston Road require a complex, seldom-used process to change the Williston Town Plan and zoning map.

If town planners don’t approve the plan, the company says it will leave town and consolidate operations at its sister facility in Virginia. New England Chimney Supply opened the Williston facility in 2016 and manufactures chimney products there. 

“This fast growing company has outgrown this location,” the company’s filings with the planning department say. “The goal of this project is to expand the existing footprint of the industrial building and provide additional parking for new and existing employees to give New England Chimney Supply the room they need to stay comfortably in Williston.”

To expand, WSW Investments LLC has purchased two adjoining residential lots on behalf of the company. The lots are behind homes on Kirby Lane. Taken together, the business’ existing lot and the two newly acquired lots straddle three different zoning districts — industrial, residential and gateway.

The nature of the proposal is to create a specific plan to unify the three parcels under industrial zoning. 

“The specific plan avoids claims of ‘spot’ zoning because it is not a ‘deal’ between a community and an individual landowner,” Planning Director Matt Boulanger wrote in filings with the planning commission. “… While it will serve private interests, it will also provide substantial public benefits.”

Neil Hogan, vice president of operations at New England Chimney Supply, did not return calls seeking comment.

The planning commission gave preliminary approval to the proposal on Feb. 2. The approval triggers a requirement for a public meeting and the potential to create a neighborhood advisory committee to consult on the zoning change. If the planning commission issues a final approval, it would then consider formal adoption of the zoning change. The Williston Selectboard would have to ratify the zoning change. Only then could the business submit a site plan for expansion to the Development Review Board.

The planning commission’s preliminary approval was based on the idea that the zoning change would benefit both the company and the community. In addition to the potential to bring new jobs to Williston, the proposal includes the construction of a bus pulloff and concrete pad for a future bus stop shelter on the eastbound side of Williston Road. Currently only a bus stop exists there.

The pulloff will improve traffic and pedestrian safety, the company states in filings with the planning commission. Green Mountain Transit (GMT) General Manager Josh Moore offered his support for the idea in a letter to the planning commission. 

“The proposed improvements will benefit GMT and the community through improved access to transit for New England Chimney Supply employees and neighbors as well as reduced traffic congestion along Williston Road,” he wrote. “GMT is fully supportive of these improvements.”

However, Boulanger noted that the bus pulloff would not be controlled by the Town of Williston.

“Though Williston employees and residents benefit from services provided by GMT, it is ultimately a public service beyond the jurisdiction of Williston,” he wrote. “GMT could abandon this bus route. Though that outcome is unlikely, it is a possibility and a decision beyond the selectboard’s control.”