Planners address trends in beer, barns and birds

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

The Williston Planning Commission has recommended a host of changes to the town’s land-use regulations that address evolving models of business and sustainable living.

An expansion of restaurant-style space allowed in Williston’s industrial district would help local breweries meet walk-up demand in their manufacturing facilities. A deferment to state and national historic registries would better define which rural barns can be restored for commercial wedding spaces. And an allowance for hens on parcels less than an acre would let homeowners keep chickens for residential food production.

The Williston Selectboard plans a public hearing on the changes at 7:30 p.m. May 1 at Town Hall.

The Burlington Beer Company on Omega Drive was denied an application last year to expand its pint and food service, to include an outdoor patio, by the Development Review Board. The business requested an expansion from the current allowance of 1,000 square feet to 2,500 square feet.

The new regulation would allow breweries to dedicate 30 percent of their overall operating space to restaurant service and retail sales — capped at 2,000 square feet with an additional 500 square feet of outdoor seating.

The planning commission’s recommendation came on a 5-2 vote, with concerns about how outdoor patios will mix with the industrial uses in the district and incongruity with the Town Plan that urges restaurants to be located within a walkable downtown center.

“We want our urban area to be where things happen, but … it’s happening somewhere else because the industry is creating this environment,” selectboard member Jeff Fehrs said.

Planning and Zoning Director Ken Belliveau said planners around the country are remaking rules for industrial zones to respond to the micro-brewery trend, where patrons can eat and drink in what are otherwise beverage manufacturing facilities.

“This is our second pass at it in two years,” Belliveau said, noting that the bylaws were changed in 2016 to allow 10 percent of a brewery’s space to be a restaurant. “We need to be open and flexible to not just think about manufacturing in a traditional way. Vermont is one of the epicenters of (the craft beer industry) in the country. We’re trying to adapt to it.

The planning commission was unanimous in its support of eliminating an existing restriction on keeping chickens on parcels of less than one acre. Some residents in Williston’s residential zoning district have lobbied for the change to allow them to produce eggs at their homes. The change would only allow for female chickens.

The selectboard is considering an ordinance that would go along with the relaxed rule to create standards for flock size, chicken coops and noise, odor and health impacts. The ordinance would also create a permit system for residents interested in keeping chickens.

The planning commission also supports bylaw changes that would better define what makes a barn historic in the context of converting them into “wedding barns.” The selectboard created an allowance in 2015 for landowners to rent out historic barns for weddings and events.

The Isham Family Farm on Oak Hill Road has successfully created a wedding barn using the 2015 rule, but a neighbor’s application was withdrawn last year after the Development Review Board questioned the historic bona-fides of the barn.

The rule change under consideration would require a potential wedding barn to be listed on the national or state register of historic places and be restored in accordance with national rehabilitation standards set by the Secretary of the Interior’s office.