Residents can weigh in on huge development

Public hearing continues on Tuesday

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Development often provokes “not in my backyard” opposition, with neighbors typically worried about new homes and businesses clogging traffic, blocking views and hurting their quality of life.

But a proposal for a king-sized subdivision has at least some Williston residents looking beyond their own property lines to the impact on the town as a whole. A meeting on Tuesday will allow residents to continue voicing their opinions about what would be the biggest housing development ever built in Williston.

Finney Crossing would be located on 110 acres just northeast of Taft Corners. Plans call for 356 housing units as well as retail and office space.

Developers Bob Snyder of the Snyder Companies and Jeff Davis of J.L. Davis Inc. unveiled project details last month during a Development Review Board meeting. About 15 residents attended the hearing.

They expressed concerns ranging from the project’s effect on school enrollment to its impact on the environment. Most touched on town-wide issues.

For example, Priscilla Miller, who lives near the proposed development, asked how Finney Crossing might impact property taxes. She noted that as Williston gets bigger, property taxes keep rising.

“Who tells us about the impact on our tax rate for a project like this?” she said. “Our taxes go up, up, up the more developed we get.”

Donna Roeser had concerns both about the impact on her neighborhood and on school enrollment. Roeser, who lives in the Taft Farms subdivision adjacent to the new project, asked if Finney Crossing’s streets would connect to other neighborhoods. She also wondered how many students the project would add to Williston schools.

Snyder said the project would connect with Chelsea Commons and a yet-to-be-built subdivision called The Hamlet on Vermont Route 2A. He noted that because most of the units are two bedrooms and therefore not attractive to most families, the development would generate few children for Williston schools. Snyder estimated the project would add only 67 students over the project’s 10-year build-out period.

Kevin Batson wondered about the project’s effect on the environment. He questioned plans to use an existing pump station in Brennan Woods – a project also built by Snyder Companies – that discharged sewage into Allen Brook in 2002 after an apparent electrical malfunction.

Batson, who is a Williston Planning Commission member, said in an interview he was speaking only for himself. He lives a couple of miles away from the new project, in the Williston Hills subdivision off Route 2A.

But Batson is still worried about what will happen in his backyard because Allen Brook flows behind his home and his 12-year-old boy plays near the water. “This is a public health issue,” he said.

Aside from its sheer size, Finney Crossing is also unique because it will include a mix of densely clustered townhouses, condominiums and owner-occupied apartments. Single-family homes will also be constructed, but they will comprise less than 10 percent of the units.

Fewer details are available about the 20 acres of commercial space. Davis said at last month’s meeting that the retail buildings would be much smaller than big-box stores he has built in nearby Taft Corners Park, home to Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

Residents’ concerns or even outright opposition do not by themselves provide a legal basis for the Development Review Board, a quasi-judicial body, to reject a project, according to Williston Town Planner Lee Nellis. But citizens’ input can and frequently does prompt the board to add conditions to project approvals that can address concerns.

He said the best way for residents to shape development is to get involved with formulating the Comprehensive Plan. The plan, which is revised every five years, provides a blueprint for growth. But residents can still have a say on individual projects.

“Williston’s DRB makes countless small adjustments in response to what it hears,” Nellis said in an e-mail. “The key is for people to pay attention and be there.”