Church presents development plans (2/4/10)

Feb. 4, 2010

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

With the help of a virtual walking tour, planners and designers for Essex Alliance Church gave the Development Review Board its first look inside what could become Williston’s largest church.


    Image courtesy of Essex Alliance Church
A virtual image of a new church proposed for Williston shows the design of the facility’s worship hall.

Church officials went before the board last week to present plans for the 54-acre site. While certain details still need modifications, the board appeared impressed by the overall scope and design of the church.

“It’s looking like a good project,” board member Cathy O’Brien said. “I think it’ll be a good addition to Williston.”

The church made the presentation on Jan. 26, with hopes of obtaining a discretionary permit from the town so the project can begin its permitting process with the state. The Development Review Board will hear more plan updates at its March 9 meeting.

Essex Alliance Church is currently located off Old Stage Road in Essex. Church officials say a sharp rise in attendance forced them to expand and design a larger facility. To accommodate the increase in worshippers, the church rents theater space at Essex Cinemas to simulcast its services on Sundays.

The church’s Williston property, located off Vermont 2A near Taft Corners, would include a 1,200-seat worship hall, children and adult ministry centers and administrative offices. Building plans show an extensive lobby and a café. Altogether, the church and its facilities total 119,000 square feet.

Church representatives explained the structure would be built with sustainable materials and hope the project might earn an environmental building certification.

Much of the design plans, including artist renderings, blueprints and a “walking tour,” can be found online at

Outside the church, plans include a road system connecting Vermont 2A and Chelsea Place, recreation fields and paths, and parking for up to 650 vehicles. Board members, however, believed the number of spaces might not be enough for peak Sunday worship times. Church representative Jeff Kolok said the parking would be “adequate,” but told the board it could add more spaces around the church’s exterior.

Plans call for a maximum church height of 52 feet — higher than regulations allow within the Taft Corners Zoning District. Kolok told the board that the height will accommodate seating and improved acoustics in the church’s 69,000 square-foot worship hall. To earn an exemption from the height regulations, the church will build eight housing units off Beaudry Lane, six of which will be perpetually affordable.

The church presented its housing plans to the Williston Planning Department last year and will therefore compete in the town’s growth management system next month. Planning and Zoning Director Ken Belliveau has said the church shouldn’t have a problem receiving building allocation since a major development in Taft Corners fell through in 2009. More than 50 units became available for construction after the Brandywine housing project fell through.

According to Belliveau, the houses would need to be built before the church could construct its 52-foot tall facility. If the residential units receive building allocation in March, construction on the homes could begin later this year, Kolok said.

As for other changes, board member Scott Rieley wondered if the church would be called the Williston Alliance Church.

“A name change will be forthcoming,” Lead Pastor Scott Slocum said. “It certainly won’t be the Essex Alliance Church anymore.”

Slocum did not return multiple calls from the Observer seeking further comment on the church plans.