Expired permit won

Town officials will not enforce ordinance violation

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Town officials say they will not take issue with the soon-to-expire permit for temporary classrooms at Allen Brook School in Williston.

On Tuesday, the classrooms’ three-year permit runs out, meaning the structures will be in violation of town ordinance. But town officials say the school district is working in good faith to obtain a new permit, so fines or other measures — such as requiring dozens of students to vacate the structures — are not appropriate.

“They have applied (for a new permit), and they are clearly going to cooperate,” said Williston zoning administrator D.K. Johnston.

The town received a new site plan application for the classrooms, which are doublewide trailers converted for school use, late last week. The permit application was tardy in part because school officials did not begin the process soon enough to accommodate long lead times needed by the consultant that helps complete the paperwork.

Johnston has set the required public hearing on the application for Oct. 11. The hearing before the Development Review Board takes place at 7:45 p.m. at Town Hall.

Williston officials say that the town is treating the school district the same as any other person or organization that violates ordinances. By policy, they say the town first seeks to correct the violation. If polite requests don’t produce results, only then does the town consider enforcement measures.

“Whether it is a business or a school system, the goal is to seek compliance, not penalize people,” said Town Manager Rick McGuire.

He said the typical process for correcting a violation involves an informal phone call, then a letter. If the problem continues, the town can levy fines or take the violator to court.

But McGuire said imposing penalties is the last resort, in part because fines and court proceedings eat up staff time and cost the town money for legal representation.

The temporary classrooms house between 72 and 80 students. They were installed in 2002 to ease crowding at both Allen Brook and Williston Central schools.

At the time, the structures were considered a stopgap measure as the district mulled long-term solutions to rising enrollment. Williston School Board members vowed the temporary classrooms would be removed after no more than three years. The permit’s 2005 expiration date was imposed at the district’s request.

But the decade-long trend of enrollment growth in Williston has since reversed itself. Enrollment in the district has dropped by a handful of students in each of the past two school years. And as of the first day of school this year, enrollment was down by 39 students.