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Huge projects get room to grow

Finney and Cottonwood developments win allocations

By Greg Elias

Observer correspondent

Two big developments on Tuesday jockeyed for a share of the housing units Williston will permit to be built during the next decade under a complex growth-control policy.

The Development Review Board granted growth allocations after a lengthy meeting. The once-yearly process rations residential construction to avoid overwhelming town infrastructure.

Four projects requested allocations. The two largest are located near Taft Corners: the partially completed Finney Crossing commercial and residential development, which asked for 144 units; and Cottonwood Crossing, a mixed-use project that has yet to break ground, sought 177 units.

(The numbers do not represent actual apartments. The town counts studios and one-bedroom apartments as half-units for allocation purposes.)

Others asking for allocations included a 35-unit residential development on North Williston Road, and single home on South Road proposed by Shawn Handy.

Each project received all the units requested. The main debate was how fast they would be allowed to build out, with developers for Finney Crossing and Cottonwood asking for the bulk of their allocations sooner rather than later.

Town Planner Ken Belliveau began the session by outlining the complex and competitive process. He said growth management has been used for more than 25 years. “Williston is the only town in Chittenden County and probably the state that has this,” he said.

Project developers then explained why they needed their allocations and how soon they wanted to build.

The developer of Finney Crossing, Chris Snyder of Snyder Homes, said he was eager to construct additional apartment buildings as soon as possible.

“We want to keep growth happening,” he said, noting that the roads and utility infrastructure are already in place.

Finney Crossing originally was permitted for 356 units. Over the years, the town has approved nine changes to plans, and now just over 400 housing units are allowed.

Much of the originally planned housing, which includes single-family homes and apartment buildings, has been constructed. Snyder Homes now seeks a 10th permit change that will allow it to build additional apartments where commercial buildings had been planned.

Cottonwood Crossing developer Al Senecal also pitched an expedited schedule while acknowledging the competition for those allocation slots.

“We understand that Finney Crossing is further out front of us right now,” Senecal said. But he noted the town requires housing to be built at the same time as commercial structures, and the latter are critical for his development’s financial viability.

Cottonwood Crossing would be located at the former Williston Driving Range just east of Taft Corners. The DRB granted preliminary approval for the project in November.

A pair of public hearings on the project last fall featured numerous residents expressing opposition to the dense development. Some neighbors said they felt overwhelmed by the amount of construction occurring near their homes in recent years.

No one spoke against Cottonwood on Tuesday. But opposition did emerge to the Bryan development on North Williston Road. A handful of neighbors spoke against the project, saying it would spoil their views, congest roads and reduce property values.

Keystone Drive resident Juliann Mathews said she had no idea the adjacent property would be developed when she bought her condo in 2010. “I’m just wondering why nobody told me about that,” she said.

The project previously had been allocated 34 single-family home and duplex units. But Snyder (who is also developing the Bryan project), noting the original allocation “was spread out over a long period of time,” asked to speed up the schedule.

The meeting marked the once-annual process of determining what housing can be built and when around Williston. Points are awarded to each development based on various criteria, such as affordability, energy efficiency and housing variety.

Both Finney Crossing and Cottonwood received high scores. Finney Crossing was rated 84 and Cottonwood scored 88 on the 100-point scale.

The allocations discussed by the board cover a 10-year period that started on July 1, 2016. The town sets a ceiling of 800 housing units allowed during the period, or 80 a year.

The rules set aside the majority of the allowable units for the growth center around Taft Corners, with smaller numbers permitted in the sewer service area outside the growth center and in the village’s agricultural-rural district.

The town is trying to encourage construction of affordable housing by setting aside a quarter of each year’s allocation for those units, Belliveau said.

The DRB closed the hearing and met behind closed doors to decide the allocations. The board emerged 45 minutes later and adopted the allocations proposed by planning staff that granted the developers’ requested units.

But the DRB did alter the allocation schedule, giving both Finney Crossing and Cottonwood units sooner in the 10-year period. The board did so using unallocated units from the previous year and units assigned to other areas of town. It also granted a slightly sped-up schedule to the Bryan project.

The allocation decision marked the second part of Williston’s three-step development review process. Both Finney Crossing and Cottonwood must still apply for and receive final discretionary permits before construction can begin.