Retail and office development proposed

Project planned for Taft Corners

Nov. 18, 2010

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

For the past few years, a small sign in an empty field near Ponderosa Steakhouse advertised retail buildings “Now Leasing Prime Retail & Office Space,” even though those buildings do not exist. Now, however, it looks like the project might really happen.

Taft Corners Associates hopes to construct two multi-use commercial and office buildings along Vermont 2A next to Ponderosa. According to Jeff Nick, co-owner and president of J.L. Davis Realty, several national tenants have already expressed interest in the space. J.L. Davis Realty owns Taft Corners Associates, which oversees the shopping centers and much of the land west of Vermont 2A and south of U.S. 2.

On Nov. 9, Williston’s Development Review Board approved a pre-application permit for the development. Nick appeared before the board to outline preliminary plans and receive opinions from board members.

“We’ll get your feedback tonight and come back with a much more detailed plan later,” Nick told the board. “There are still a lot of moving parts to this.”

Early designs call for two buildings separated by a courtyard with outdoor seating for a café. The structures total 32,650 square feet, with 136 parking spots available. Nick also said plans are in place to complete a street from Marshall Avenue to Wright Avenue. Currently, this access road stops just beyond Hannaford supermarket’s parking lot.

This grid street has already been outlined within the Town Plan and would provide alternate access for shoppers through the stoplight at Wright Avenue. A proposed CVS/pharmacy — a separate project that is currently in limbo — would be located at the corner of Wright Avenue and Vermont 2A.

Even though the project is in its infant stages, Nick said Verizon plans to have a store occupy one of the first floor spaces, as does Panera Bread, a bakery and café with more than 1,300 locations across the country. Nick said Williston’s Panera will be one of three moving into the Champlain Valley next year.

Development Review Board members and town staff seemed generally supportive of the project. Planning and Zoning Director Ken Belliveau praised the mix of office and commercial spaces, and the fact it meets approval requirements outlined in the town’s bylaws.

“To me, this is the kind of scale we want to see in this part of town,” Belliveau said.

But board member Brian Jennings hopes the Taft Corners project might go a step further and offer residential housing along with offices and retail stores. As part of Taft Corners Associates’ pre-application, the board asked that it “strongly consider” apartments.

Nick said that while he sees the need for affordable housing in Taft Corners, he believes it’s unsuitable for the proposed development. Limited parking and the project’s location along busy Vermont 2A are two reasons. Another is that office and retail occupants might be reluctant to lease space if there are apartments in the same building.

“It might keep us from landing a couple tenants,” Nick said.

He said that a housing project might be in the future for Taft Corners Associates on neighboring properties.

At the end of the presentation, board members expressed interest in seeing more detailed plans at a future meeting.

“At this point, I don’t really see any show-stoppers here,” board member Cathy O’Brien said.