Neighbors disappointed by subdivision

Developer highlights changes to plans

Oct. 16, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Against the wishes of many neighboring residents, a developer can move forward with plans for a residential development off North Williston Road.

The Development Review Board approved a pre-application on Tuesday night for a nine-unit affordable housing development on more than six acres owned by Waterbury developer Jeff Atwood and Williston residents Dana and Brenda Hood.

About 20 residents of Lefebvre Lane, the neighborhood directly abutting the proposed development, voiced concerns regarding project design, environmental impact and the number of houses. Town planner Jessica Andreoletti said the pre-application only allows the process to move forward, and plans may still evolve.

“The pre-application is just for seeking phasing,” Andreoletti told the Lefebvre Lane residents. “It’s not approving or denying the design.”

Atwood, co-applicant Dana Hood and engineer Debra Bell of Trudell Consulting Engineers appeared before the Development Review Board for the meeting. Atwood owns Colchester-based Russ/Wood Decorators Inc.  Board member Richard Asch, a homeowner in Lefebvre Lane, recused himself from the discussion.

Some residents were concerned the proposed development could change the nature of their community. Mary Jo Childs, a Lefebvre Lane resident, said her neighborhood was well-designed and “functions better than any in the state.”

“The dynamics in this community are fantastic,” Childs said. “I’m very concerned that it could be negatively affected with a housing development rubbing right up against our shoulder.”

Childs said she was concerned that possible renters in the new development might seek to use some of the benefits of Lefebvre Lane, such as the playground and outdoor ice rink. Development Review Board Chairman Kevin McDermott said he didn’t see the fuss.

“Neighbors are neighbors,” McDermott said.

“These people?” Childs said, pointing to a sheet of paper that showed development plans. “I’m concerned you will destroy our neighborhood.”

McDermott told Childs she didn’t yet know the residents of the planned development.

“Under your definition, we would not approve a development next to your neighborhood because of ‘these people,’” McDermott said.

Board member Scott Rieley tried to further explain development regulations.

“I know I’m not going to win any new friends saying this, but this is Mr. Atwood’s private property,” Rieley said. “He can develop it if he satisfies the rules and rights set forth. And there’s nothing you can do about that.”

“We can only stop a developer if they go outside the rules,” McDermott added.

Atwood later said the houses and duplexes would be sold and not rented out.

Changes in the plans

Atwood and the Hoods planned to go before the Development Review Board in September for the development, but held off to make significant changes to the plan. Originally, plans called for four duplex units and one single-family unit to be built along a new cul-de-sac on property owned by Atwood and the Hoods.

New plans call for five single-family homes and two duplex units built along a road, again ending in a cul-de-sac.

Atwood already owns a duplex, converted from an old barn, and an adjacent carriage house along North Williston Road. That property is separated by wetlands from the planned development.

Since access to the property from Lefebvre Lane wasn’t possible with original plans, a parallel road was to be built with an entrance on North Williston Road. Consultations with lawyers, however, determined that the easement Atwood owns on the corner of Lefebvre Lane and North Williston Road will allow him to build off the private road. Andreoletti said Atwood would no longer need approval from the Allen Brook Association, which includes residents of Lefebvre Lane.

Also, the Hood house was due to be picked up and moved to another part of town, or to be demolished in the old plans. Bell said the new plans call for the Hood House to be moved to a different location on their property.

Andreoletti also said wetlands on the property have to be re-delineated to determine where homes, roads and driveways can be built. The wetlands were last delineated in 2002 by board member Cathy O’Brien. Delineation only lasts five years because the land can change during that time, Andreoletti said.

Neighbors raised concerns about wetlands and stormwater runoff near the Allen Brook, an impaired waterway, as well as the cul-de-sac design and the density of houses. Some residents said they’d like to see fewer than nine units, and want a redesign of the road and placement of homes.

Lefebvre Lane resident Ron Caruso asked if affordable housing was still relevant in Williston in light of recent proposals for other low-cost housing developments, and wondered if Atwood could build larger homes to alleviate the high density.

McDermott urged Caruso to talk to the Selectboard about affordable housing, but he guessed it was still needed. Atwood agreed.

“It’s not about building large homes, it’s about building affordable homes that are energy efficient and that could be LEED certified and stay within the town plan,” Atwood said.

LEED certification is a national standard for environmentally friendly construction.

McDermott also said since the development included affordable housing, it received priority within the town to move more quickly through the planning process.

Still, McDermott and Andreoletti reiterated that designs would go through further discussions.

“It could all change,” Andreoletti said.