BY JASON STARR
About 60 residents tuned in Monday night as urban planner Geoffrey Ferrell presented a future for Taft Corners that prioritizes people over cars and parks over parking lots.
The vision was sketched following a live video design session with citizens in late April and surveys that yielded about 300 comments. It will form the backbone of new zoning regulations that the Williston Planning and Zoning office expects to draft later this year and present to the selectboard for approval.
More opportunities for residents to comment on the vision plan and zoning changes will come when they reach the selectboard later this year. The initial reaction from residents who watched Ferrell’s presentation Monday was overwhelmingly positive.
Ferrell, a Washington D.C.-based design consultant hired by the town, presented a 20-to-50-year vision of Taft Corners’ potential as a housing and commercial destination. It was an exercise in best-case scenarios not measured against the whims of private property ownership or practical constraints like wastewater capacity.
“It’s hard to predict when a property will develop,” Ferrell said. “Nothing has to happen until the property owner wants it to.”
The nearest-term change that the plan envisions is the creation of a pedestrian-friendly street running behind the Hannaford grocery store and connecting to Route 2. This extension of Trader Lane would have street-level retail space, housing and a central green. The street itself would cater to cyclists and pedestrians as much as automobiles.
A second, similar street is envisioned for Wright Avenue, which connects to Route 2A where the current CVS pharmacy is. The street “has available land on both sides,” Ferrell said.
Wright Avenue and Trader Lane would make up a dense, mixed-use core of Taft Corners, where parking and stormwater management could be shared. Ferrell’s colleague, Anita Morrison, said the real estate market is likely to support about 125 new homes a year, but demand for office space is expected to remain soft.
“Development could happen in a lot of different ways, but this is our ideas of what makes sense,” Ferrell said. “These are things that take time to happen, and they happen incrementally.”
At some point in the coming decades, however, the town is going to reach its capacity to send wastewater to the Essex Junction Wastewater Treatment Facility, Planning Director Matt Boulanger said Tuesday at a meeting of the selectboard.
Future wastewater capacity “is probably the biggest unknown for the town,” he said. Expanding capacity at the facility in Essex Junction is unlikely and any new treatment facility that discharges into the Winooski River would not be approved under the “Total Maximum Daily Load” constraints of state and federal clean water regulations, Boulanger said.
Outside of wastewater treatment facilities, in-ground septic systems could be an option, he said, even inside the town’s sewer service area.
“It’s pretty bleak in terms of (wastewater) capacity down the road,” selectboard member Jeff Fehrs said Tuesday; Fehrs also sat in on Monday’s Taft Corners presentation. “It’s a precious resource and it’s not going to last much longer.
“Some of the concepts for Taft Corners depend on housing, but if there’s no place to put the sewage, it really could curtail how Williston can or wants to grow,” he added.
Ferrell said the large retail area near Interstate 89 — where Wal-Mart and Home Depot are located — is unlikely to change in the coming decades and will serve as a place to funnel large retailers, while the rest of Taft Corners can develop with a more pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use vision.
Boulanger said it will be a place to “park once, do more than one thing and maybe even enjoy yourself while you’re there.”
For more information on the vision for Taft Corners, visit www.mytaftcorners.com.