Projects squeeze in under town growth quota

Williston caps new housing at 80 units per year

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The Development Review Board last week doled out most of the remaining housing allowed under Williston’s growth control rules, effectively barring new proposals for big subdivisions for the next seven years.

The board, at its Feb. 27 session, allocated a total of 129 units to six projects. Four of the subdivisions are for people who want to add a second house on their property; the others are one large and one small project by developer Al Senecal.

Town regulations limit new housing construction to 80 units a year. Larger developments must be built over multiple years to fit under the cap.

With the newly approved phasing, there are only 96 units left to be allocated through the 2014-15 fiscal year, according to Town Planner Lee Nellis. The starting point was 785 units, which was based on how many homes could be served by new sewer capacity the town acquired in 2004.

Town officials have in the past occasionally fretted about reaching a point when all available housing under the phasing system had been used up. They worried that could mean a desirable project would have to be rejected.

But Nellis said that allocating most of the housing in advance is both a logical and desirable result of Williston’s growth-control system.

“That’s how we manage growth,” he said. “So we now know what is going to happen and when it is going to happen.”

Nellis pointed out that the vast majority of the units already allocated – nearly 600 – are located near Taft Corners. The town’s Comprehensive Plan calls for housing to be densely clustered within walking distance of shops and services in the commercial district.

“The thing is the (housing projects) that came are desirable,” Nellis said. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t have approved them. There’s no rational reason to wait until something else comes in.”

Phasing is just one part of Williston’s multi-step review process for subdivisions. Those proposing larger projects must undergo a pre-application review, obtain phasing, receive preliminary approval and then final approval.

The purpose of phasing is to “ensure that residential growth is consistent with the town’s capacity for planned, orderly and sensible expansion of its services,” Williston’s subdivision regulations state.

The rules grew out of town and school officials’ concerns that Williston’s rapid growth was overwhelming its ability to provide municipal services and to accommodate enrollment growth.

The town at first set a quota of 80 housing units a year. That number was later lowered to 65 units, but has now been raised back to 80.

The two subdivisions proposed by Senecal, who owns Omega Electric Construction and is the developer of Taft Farms Village Center, would be located on North Williston Road and at the Williston Driving Range just east of Taft Corners.

The driving range project, to be built over seven years, was allocated 118 of 128 requested units; the North Williston Road project received a 7-unit allocation to be constructed over three years.

(Disclosure: The Williston Observer leases office space from Senecal in Taft Farms Village Center.)

The other projects receiving an allocation were two-lot subdivisions on Oak Hill, South Brownell, Williston and South roads.

Though town rules may prevent future proposals for housing, new home construction will not stop anytime soon. Hundreds of units have been allocated in previous years, mostly around Taft Corners.

Among the projects in that category is Finney Crossing, a 354-unit residential and commercial development, and The Hamlet, a 110-unit subdivision that includes affordable housing. The Hamlet has won final approval; Finney Crossing is still navigating the town’s review process.

When those projects are combined with the Senecal proposal and numerous smaller, previously approved subdivisions, the lineup for residential development is nearly complete for the next seven years. The remaining allocation could be used by several small subdivisions or one larger one.

“One more project could wipe us out, essentially,” Nellis said.