Giant project takes big step

Decision clears way for new housing

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

The largest proposed residential development in Williston history was one of eight projects to receive phasing Tuesday night under new subdivision rules governing when and how fast housing can be built.

The developments receiving phasing from the Development Review Board will likely constitute a major portion of the total residential construction in town over the next decade. In all, the board allocated 377 units for phasing to the eight projects, including 320 units for the proposed project on the Pecor horse farm on U.S. Route 2.

Town Planner Lee Nellis said “200-some” units remain available for construction in the next 10 years.

“An awful lot happened, but not everything that’s possible,” Nellis said.

The projects receiving phasing, which requires developments to be built over several years, still have permits to secure before construction can begin. The minor subdivisions need to receive final subdivision approval, while the other projects need both preliminary and final subdivision approval.

In addition to those receiving phasing, Nellis said the Selectboard had approved a settlement Monday night with Village Associates, the developer that had filed suit against the town after not receiving a sewer allocation for a large multi-use project proposed for Zephyr Lane.

Nellis said Wednesday the settlement had still not been formally filed so he could not release the agreement’s terms. However, Village Associates was removed from the list of developments seeking phasing Tuesday night, suggesting that the project, which is named “the Hamlet,” had received phasing as part of the deal.

Under the town’s new subdivision regulations, which the Selectboard approved in May, projects do not compete with every other project seeking phasing but only with proposals within the same zoning district. Projects are ranked based on how well they meet specified criteria. The criteria include affordable housing, open space and available trails and paths.

Previous rules required small subdivisions to compete for phasing against major projects, prompting the Development Review Board to send a letter to the Selectboard earlier this year expressing concern with the system. The Development Review Board waited to distribute phasing until the Selectboard had passed a new set of regulations.

“I think it’s to everyone’s advantage to be judged based on your area,” said Kevin McDermott, the Development Review Board chairman.

The still-unnamed project planned for the Pecor horse farm on U.S. Route 2 received phasing that will allow most of its proposed 356 residential units to be built over nine years starting July 1, 2006. In addition to its remaining municipal permits, the project needs to secure a state Act 250 environmental permit to move forward.

The horse farm project did not receive enough phasing for its final 36 units. Nellis said there was not enough sewer to accommodate those units, and their phasing would depend on the town acquiring more sewer capacity in the next 10 years. Unlike in past years, the projects receiving phasing Tuesday are also guaranteed sewer allocations for the units they received.

Other projects to receive phasing included the DeSarno property on Old Stage Road (two units), two subdivisions on Oak Hill Road (three units), the South Meadow project on South Road (16 units), Randy Stevens’ subdivision on South Road (five units), the Barone/Goodrich senior housing project on U.S. Route 2 and Timothy Way (14 units), and Churchview Estates, another senior housing project, which is set on Old Stage Road (17 units).

Bob Snyder, president of the Snyder Companies, one of the developers of the horse farm proposal, told the Development Review Board that the project benefited from the move to new subdivision regulations. He said certain alterations made the development “financially feasible.”

“The change to the subdivision regulations and the sewer allocation process are all very positive,” Snyder said. “The letter you sent to the Selectboard spurred them on to get moving on this. I think it was very helpful not only to us but to the town in general.”

The new regulations gave the hearing Tuesday night an uncertain air. Most of the developers seeking phasing spoke to the Development Review Board about their project, specifically addressing the criteria the board considers when ranking projects for phasing.

However, many were still unaware of the new criteria. Nellis handed out a list of the new criteria to the developers while they waited in the audience for their turn to speak.

“It’s like a pop quiz,” McDermott said.

One prominent change in the criteria was the addition of energy conservation as a topic for ranking. Most of the developers speaking Tuesday night pledged to make their residential constructions meet the energy standards of Efficiency Vermont.