Planners make same wetlands recommendation (4/30/09)

April 30, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

After spending three meetings investigating new information, the Planning Commission voted last week to send the Unified Development Bylaws back to the Selectboard. The bylaws are intact with the original recommendation regarding wetlands and steep slopes development plans.

Planning Commission Chairman David Yandell said the group members looked at wetlands data as if they were starting over in the process, though they still felt their original recommendation had merit. He said new data provided by the town’s planning office reaffirmed their decision.

“If (the Selectboard) sees the data that we’ll be presenting to them, it’s likely they’ll see it in a different light,” Yandell said.

The Planning Commission had originally sent its bylaws recommendations to the Selectboard in February, but the Selectboard returned the bylaws to the Planning Commission in March with a request to revise the wetlands section.

In the new bylaws, wetlands and steep slopes are not included in calculations for the number of units permitted on a piece of property, while certain zoning districts would see an increase in allowable housing density. The idea is to further protect wetlands and waterways within the town.

Opponents to the bylaw changes have said further protections for wetlands that already have buffers are unnecessary. One concern is that the wetlands protections could hinder affordable housing in Williston. Yandell disagrees, stating that the new bylaws increase density throughout much of the town, especially in the designated growth center near Taft Corners.

Planning Director Ken Belliveau said the commission asked the town’s planning staff to map out wetlands in Williston and determine which parcels would be affected by wetlands and steep slopes.

“The commission wanted to depict, visually, what the extent of wetlands are and where they’re located,” he said.

Approximately 2 percent of all land in Williston would be affected in the bylaw changes, Belliveau said.

“It’s a tiny, tiny amount of town that could be affected by this,” Yandell said.

One project that was almost affected by the bylaw changes is a proposed subdivision off North Williston Road. Co-applicants Jeff Atwood and Dana Hood have said the changes would drastically limit the amount of affordable housing that could be built on their property. Both lobbied the Selectboard not to adopt the changes last month.

The Atwood-Hood project won growth center allocation in March and therefore won’t be affected by any bylaw changes in the near future (see story on page 4).

Belliveau said Williston received additional time Monday from the Vermont Downtown Board to complete its bylaws. The board had said the town would have to complete the document by this month, but allowed for another two months of work. The board asked the town to adopt new bylaws as a condition for a growth center designation.

The Selectboard is expected to hear from the Planning Commission about the bylaws at its next meeting on Monday, May. 4.