NETS looks for zoning change

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

Residents will have a chance to weigh in next week on the NETS Institute for Church Planting’s plans for the former Pine Ridge School site.

The Planning Commission is set to hold a public meeting on July 21 at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall.

NETS signed a purchase and sales agreement last winter with People’s United Bank to buy the property. The organization plans to use the site for a residential theological seminary and training facility for church ministers.

That would require zoning changes on the property, however. The site is located in Williston’s agricultural and rural zoning district. Schools not certified by the Agency of Education, which NETS is not, are not one of the allowed uses in that district.

NETS submitted a specific plan to the town in April to change the zoning bylaws for the site.

The specific plan process requires applicants to demonstrate public benefit. NETS proposed conserving part of the property and allowing public trail access.

The plan also describes the programs—a residency program as well as an internship program where students gain credit toward  Masters in Divinity or PhD degrees—as well as some minor renovation plans.

NETS anticipates having up to 10 students and their families in its two-year residency program, plus up to 34 students in its one-year internship program, some of them with families. NETS estimates a population of 80-90 people, fewer in the summer, as well as approximately 20 faculty members and staff not living on site—similar to when Pine Ridge School was in operation.

Wes Pastor, Christ Memorial Church senior minister and NETS president, compared the programs to a medical degree path. The internship program is like the fourth year of medical school, while the residency program is similar to a medical residency program, he said.

“It’s all a part of a trajectory getting seminary students ready for ministry,” he said.

Pastor said NETS has not heard any concerns from neighbors.“The site is not just well suited to NETS. It’s well suited for Williston,” the specific plan states. “Not only will this campus be restored as a unique part of the local landscape, but its occupants will be a wonderful addition to our community. Though here for just a year or two, the NETS interns and residency program families will enroll in our schools, shop at our stores, eat at our restaurants, ski at our resorts, coach our kids, and partake fully in local and state life.”

The Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the Selectboard, which must also hold a public hearing before deciding whether to allow the zoning changes.