News

Developers push back on proposed Taft Corners zoning rules

A map presented during the Feb. 1 Williston Planning Commission meeting shows proposed form-based code and natural and green space designations in the growth district.

New code prioritizes pedestrian-focused development

By Karson Petty

Community News Service

Proposed rule changes that aim to make Taft Corners more walkable and people-friendly were met with pushback by local developers at a Williston Planning Commission meeting held on Feb. 1.

The new rules, known as form-based code, do away with the notion of residential and commercial districts. The rules would put more priority on the town’s goal of creating more pedestrian-focused developments that are pleasing to the eye. 

“For the last 50 to 80 years we’ve let our towns, cities and suburbs really be designed by developers,” said Geoff Ferrell, a Washington D.C.-based design consultant hired by the town. 

“What we’re talking about here is a return back to when towns and cities were really planned,” he said.

Last May, Ferrell presented a vision for the future of Taft Corners as a mixed-use, housing and commercial destination. 

Over the past nine months, the form-based code was written by Ferrell and his consultant team with input from the selectboard and developers. 

Ferrell worked closely with the Planning Commission and town Planning Director Matt Boulanger to create a new street-grid with planned parks and outdoor areas. It includes streets where only 3-4 story buildings with pitched roofs can be built, along with new parking rules.  

The form-based code can be thought of both as a playbook, and a rulebook — pictures of suggested building designs on one page, and development rules on the other, Ferrell said. 

The new rules will allow the town to approve development in phases, leading to placemaking instead of things scattered all over the landscape, he said. 

The code will take strip-mall features of buildings behind parking lots and flip that, so the buildings will be on the street, Boulanger said after the meeting.   

Jeff Nick of Taft Corners Associates was concerned that there wouldn’t be enough one-story buildings allowed in the code. The model of storefronts with apartments above would not work well in Taft Corners, he said.  

Boulanger said that the area South of Marshall Ave and Harvest Lane would be left open to big retailers and single-story buildings.

Nick also worried that existing businesses like Walmart and Home Depot would have to change with the code. However, all existing businesses could stay as they are, Boulanger said. They were lawfully built under the previous code and would not have to be changed. 

Al Senecal, owner of the land southeast of Cottonwood Drive, was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to develop parts of his property under the proposed rules. 

“Over half of my property has been designated as green,” he said. 

The form-based code discourages development in the natural areas around Taft Corners, called green spaces. 

Boulanger said that the town would have to decide to buy the green space to preserve it, or let the development project proceed under the new code. 

Chris Snyder, a developer with a residential plan for the Beaudry Lane area under town review, said that it would be unfair for the new code to be imposed on current projects. 

“We’re going to have to redesign if the code is approved,” he said. 

Planning Commission Chair Meghan Cope noted his concerns. 

Marcy Kass, a resident of 25 years, was concerned that the plans would not be enforceable. “I really hope that this form-based code is something with teeth,” she said. “Something that means it.” 

Cope called for another meeting to allow the developers to better understand the code. That meeting is scheduled for Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. From there, the code can be changed and submitted to the selectboard.  

“The outcome may not be that many changes to the code, but a better understanding of how to work within it,” Vice Chair Chapin Kaynor said. 

Visit www.mytaftcorners.com to learn more about the Taft Corners form-based code.