By Stephanie Choate
The NETS Institute for Church Planting is moving through the town channels to establish a training institute on Williston Road, where Pine Ridge School was located.
The organization plans to use the site as a residential theological seminary and training facility for church ministers.
Before it can move in, however, NETS must go through the sometimes lengthy process of changing the town zoning.
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 moved a step closer during Monday’s Selectboard meeting, when the board heard its specific plan proposal.
Submitting a specific plan provides an avenue for a property owner to change the town’s zoning regulations for a specific property, if certain conditions are met. The Planning Commission must determine that the change results in substantial public benefit for the town, such as conserving open space, or providing housing, jobs or infrastructure.
In a memo to the Selectboard, Planning and Zoning Director Ken Belliveau said NETS is proposing to meet the substantial public benefit provision by providing approximately 29 acres of permanently protected public open space and a publicly accessible primitive trail.
The board voted to hold a public hearing on the change, the next step in the process. The hearing is set for Dec. 7, said Town Manager Rick McGuire.
On Oct. 9, the Planning Commission held a public hearing about the change, and recommended that the Selectboard approve it.
The commission heard from several neighbors of the property, but none voiced opposition, according to the memo.
“It seems to be moving forward well and there seems to be quite a bit of support both from the neighbors, as well as from the officials, which obviously we’re thrilled with,” said Dave Appenzeller, NETS executive director.
The Selectboard must hold a public hearing before approving or denying the request. It could also send the proposal back to the Planning Commission for additional review.
If the Selectboard approves the specific plan, NETS would have to go through the Development Review Board to obtain a discretionary permit for any substantial changes or development on the property.
While NETS intends to keep much of the existing buildings, it plans a few changes. The dormitory buildings will be converted to apartments, since the seminary students are adults, many of them with families.