DRB endorses 300-home neighborhood


Observer staff 

Snyder Homes received preliminary approval Tuesday for its plan to build approximately 300 homes on a 54-acre parcel off Route 2A in Williston. 

The Development Review Board voted 4-1 to endorse the plan and allow it to compete for housing unit allocation at the town’s annual growth management meeting in March. Board member Paul Christenson was the lone dissenter after the board’s closed-door deliberations on the project, but did not offer a reason for his dissent during open session voting. 

Snyder Homes President Chris Snyder presented the plans to the board, and several residents expressed concerns about increased traffic anticipated from the neighborhood. Snyder said he has an option to purchase the property from its current owner, the Essex Alliance Church, pending development review. The church received town approval to build on the site in 2009 but, has abandoned those plans. 

Because the project is within the Taft Corners Zoning District, which is the subject of a zoning regulation revision, town planners are recommending the project use a “specific plan” approach that would allow it to take advantage of some of the coming design standards even before they are adopted. 

“A specific plan is essentially writing your own zoning for the project,” Planning and Zoning Director Matt Boulanger said. 

The town’s Historic and Architectural Advisory Committee (HAAC) reviewed the project in August and encouraged the specific plan approach. A specific plan would allow the developer to customize building setback, height and density rules, as well as wetland buffers and construction phasing.

Snyder agreed informally Tuesday to pursue the specific plan application concurrently with the standard application. 

“We feel like we would want to preserve our rights through the (growth management) process along with submitting a specific plan application,” he said, noting he has not gone through the specific plan process before. 

The HAAC also recommended Snyder design neighborhood streets in a grid pattern to create blocks, but Snyder said he prefers the meandering roads in his original design. 

Three access points are proposed for the neighborhood, one at Alpine Drive, one at Chelsea Place and another at Beaudry Lane. A recreation path is also planned that would create a connection to existing paths at Taft Corners and along Route 2A, allowing for continuous pedestrian and bike travel between Williston and Essex Junction. 

“There are a lot of people who want to live in Williston and they want to be connected,” Snyder said. “Walkable connectivity is an important element to the neighborhood … We want it to be pedestrian-oriented and a great place to live.” 

The 300 homes would include single family homes, duplexes, multi-family homes, apartment buildings and a senior housing facility. None of the homes are planned to meet the town’s affordability standards. However, the HAAC noted that Snyder could create some affordable units to satisfy the “substantial public benefit” requirement of the specific plan. 

Snyder Homes is part of the group that developed Finney Crossing just to the south, and some residents who bought homes there submitted letters opposing this new proposal based on the prospect of residents accessing it using Zephyr Road through Finney Crossing. 

“Zephyr Road has already become a way for a lot of traffic to cut the corner between Route 2A and Williston Road so that traffic volumes are already far higher than this residential road was designed for,” Finney Crossing resident Lynn Bryan wrote in a letter to town planners. 

“From an environmental standpoint,” she continued, “it’s also a loss of another green space enjoyed by those of us who live in Finney Crossing, which was one of the selling points that Snyder was highlighting when I bought my house on Zephyr Road.”

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