Selectboard keys in on town’s identity

April 7, 2011

By Adam White
Observer staff

Maintaining Williston’s identity within a shifting socioeconomic landscape was the umbrella theme as the Selectboard continued to review a draft of the 2011 comprehensive plan as its meeting on Tuesday.

Planning Director Ken Belliveau sat before the Board and summarized in detail the first four chapters of the plan, which runs 115 pages not counting maps and appendices. Planning Commission member Jake Mathon was also on hand to clarify some points within the plan.

The overall arc of the plan was best outlined in Belliveau’s discussion of Williston’s Vision for the Future in Chapter 2.

“Most of the vision is a restatement from the (2006) plan,” said Belliveau, adding that some issues were “moved up in the pecking order … (to) reflect what the real focus of the plan should be at this time.”

Chief among those issues is the concentration and limitation of high-density development to areas within the town’s designated Growth Center in and around Taft Corners, and fostering the creation of a design-conscious, mixed use, pedestrian-friendly commercial center there.

Belliveau said that one key to making retail spaces more pedestrian-friendly is to eschew parking lot frontage in favor of structured parking, so that the stores’ front doors open to sidewalks and other foot-traffic arteries. He suggested, however, that the impetus for such design choices tends to be strictly financial.

“As a general rule, developers won’t build structured parking until land costs exceed the price of the structure,” Belliveau said.

Pedestrians were also a consideration during the discussion about encouraging and supporting the use of mass transit and non-motorized modes of transportation, particularly in what the plan defines as the town’s “Industrial Lands.” Belliveau used the example of people who work in the Industrial Avenue area taking buses to work, and one obstacle in that scenario.

“Every transit rider becomes a pedestrian on one or more ends of their journey,” Belliveau said. “Industrial Avenue has no sidewalks on it.”

The preservation of Williston’s Village’s “historic character” was another hot-button topic.

“The Village is a thing that a lot of people think is important to the town’s identity,” Belliveau said. “But once you go beyond those statements, I don’t think there is a lot of clarity (about) how to realize that in detail.”

While Tuesday’s meeting saw the Selectboard mostly listening to Belliveau explain highlights of the plan, one issue near the conclusion of the discussion provoked responses from several members. Fehr questioned the specificity of language used in the “Town Role in Neighborhood Parks” section, which stated that “the Selectboard should establish a policy defining what contribution, if any, the town will make to neighborhood park maintenance.” Belliveau said such responsibility stems from it being “a budgetary matter.”

“Has there been some outcry for the Selectboard to start doing this sort of thing?” Board member Chris Roy asked. “I can imagine people who don’t live in subdivisions not wanting to kick in money to maintain someone else’s park.”

Roy later made a motion to establish the first of two public meetings for the purpose of discussing the proposed draft of the 2011 comprehensive plan. The first hearing is scheduled to take place at Town Hall on May 2 at 8 p.m. The Selectboard is expected to continue reviewing the plan at its next regular meeting on April 18.