Planners focus on Route 2A rec path link

Essex Alliance Church abandons development plans

By Jason Starr, Observer staff

Essex Alliance Church is abandoning plans to build a new church campus on 52 undeveloped acres it owns along Route 2A in Williston, but the town is moving forward with a recreation path connection on the property. 

The town’s public work’s department is working with Stantec engineering and the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission to develop the best options for connecting Beaudry Lane with the sidewalks of Route 2A — a connection that would complete a dedicated bike/pedestrian link between Williston and Essex. The town invested about $1 million in 2016 in a bridge over the Allen Brook to facilitate the connection.

But the hardest piece has been the church property, which begins at the south end of the bridge. In 2018, the church constructed a quarter-mile of paved path to extend the route to Beaudry Lane, a gravel road on the north end of its property. Essex Alliance Church is headquartered on Old Stage Road in Essex, but has had approved plans in Williston since the mid-2000s for an 80-000-square-foot church, recreation fields, open space and residential condominiums. Constructing a path through the property into the heart of Taft Corners was part of the approvals. 

At a video conferenced public meeting about the path connection last Wednesday, planners indicated that the church has reconsidered its move to Williston.

“They put the project on the shelf and said ‘we’re done,’” Public Works Assistant Director Lisa Schaeffler said Tuesday. “They are looking to sell the property.”

Essex Alliance Church Pastor Scott Slocum did not return calls seeking comment. Reached Tuesday, church executive assistant Amy Peters confirmed the church’s plans to abandon its Williston campus. 

Several residents spoke about the benefits of completing the path connection last Wednesday. It would create an unbroken pedestrian connection to Taft Corners as well as into Five Corners in Essex for hundreds of Williston residents who live in the neighborhoods off Route 2A.

Pedestrians are currently forced onto the shoulder of Route 2A for the short stretch between Beaudry Lane and the Vermont State Employees Credit Union building, where a sidewalk begins. 

Schaeffler said the town will work with any new owner of the church property on a path easement along Beaudry Lane to Route 2A. The path would then take a turn south to connect to the sidewalk at the credit union.