Church obtains preliminary permit (5/7/09)

May 7, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Essex Alliance Church, which hopes to build Williston’s largest place of worship, received a pre-application permit from the Development Review Board last week.

Church officials can now move forward with design plans and a traffic study requested by the board at the meeting on April 28.

In a detailed presentation, church officials explained to the board the new plans for a 96,000-square-foot church, which represents a scaled down version of what was presented to the board in the past. The church received a pre-application permit for a 141,500-square-foot facility two years ago, but major changes in the plans required the process to begin anew.

The massive church, located on 44 acres off Vermont 2A near Taft Corners, would include a 1,000-seat worship hall, children and adult ministry centers and administrative offices. Plans include parking spaces for more than 400 vehicles, an updated road system and recreation fields and paths.

Essex Alliance Church currently has two smaller facilities, one located on Old Stage Road in Essex, the other at Essex Cinemas.

Church officials are hoping to build the structure at a height of 52 feet, which is taller than what is allowed in the Taft Corners Zoning District. Planning Director Ken Belliveau explained that exceptions could be made if the church agrees to build a small number of affordable housing units. Church officials have agreed to such a stipulation, and plans call for four housing units, three of which would be perpetually affordable.

The church would need growth management allocation next year, Belliveau explained. Williston allows only a limited number of new units each year. He said that might not be a problem since a proposed development in the zoning district — the Brandywine housing project — fell through and opened up available units.

If the church received growth management allocation next year, it would be able to start building quickly.

“The church would like to move forward in a fairly expeditious manner,” Belliveau said.

The board asked if the church was open to building more affordable housing units, since housing needs are high in Chittenden County. Church representative Jeff Kolok said it was a possibility, but he didn’t want to make any promises.

“We’d like to stay in the church business and not become a housing developer,” Kolok said.

A handful of neighbors from the Chelsea Commons and Beaudry Lane areas expressed concerns over significant traffic increases near their homes. Plans call for expansion of Beaudry Lane and the construction of a road connecting Route 2A to an access point with Chelsea Commons and the proposed Finney Crossing, a large, mixed-use development.

“The thought of hundreds of cars going through Chelsea Place is mind boggling,” resident Nancy Brown said.

Kolok said traffic studies would be forthcoming in the discretionary permit phase.