Selectboard seeks solution to onslaught of new development

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Facing an onslaught of proposals for new housing, the Williston Selectboard might poach recommendations made during the process of formulating a new town plan when it revises the town’s subdivision regulations.

The Housing and Growth Management Task Force, one of the committees working on the town plan, has recommended changes to the criteria used to rank developments for phasing, which requires developments to be built over time. The Selectboard is interested in incorporating the changes into the proposed interim subdivision regulations that the board has been examining since late 2004.

However, some members of the board expressed ambivalence during a special meeting Monday about using the recommendations before the town plan is finished. The task force’s recommendations are not expected to be presented for public input until January, according to Town Planner Lee Nellis.

Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs wondered whether using the recommendations, which he said looked good at first glance, would be appropriate or whether it would be “putting the cart before the horse.” Selectboard Chairwoman Ginny Lyons expressed a similar concern.

Nellis said he believed the Selectboard could pick from the task force’s work without hurting the town plan process.

“The town plan is about understanding changes in the community and responding to it,” Nellis said. “I think that the process is more important than the product. What’s important is the public discussion.”

The task force’s recommendations include similar criteria for affordability, diversity, open space and paths and trails as those that already exist, Nellis said. The emphasis on growth near Taft Corners also remains.

Nellis said some proposals do mark a departure from the current regulations, including a component for energy conservation, an incentive for rural projects with no visual impact, a neighborhood design criterion in the medium-density district and emergency response time and paved roads rules for developments in rural areas.

The discussion comes amid a crunch that has developers proposing hundreds of units of new housing while town rules allow a fraction of that number to be built. The town’s phasing ordinance permits only 65 new units to be constructed in the coming fiscal year, and 80 units in subsequent years.

Closed-door meeting

The Selectboard also spoke for close to an hour Monday in a closed-door session that included Nellis and attorney Paul Gillies. The session allowed the board to discuss legal issues surrounding the possible transition from the current subdivision rules to the proposed interim regulations.

Specifically, the board has questions about how the transition would impact the lawsuit brought against the town by Village Associates, which has proposed a multi-use development near Taft Corners. A court date is set for May 25.

The board might consider allowing developers with projects already proposed to choose whether they want to be reviewed under the current regulations or under the new regulations. Typically, projects are considered under the regulations in place when an application was first submitted.

The Selectboard did not make a decision following the closed session.

The complex discussion at Monday’s meeting also featured a debate on the amount of residential construction that would be allowed for new projects in the next 10 years under the proposed interim subdivision regulations. The answer was not much.

Several large projects are already in line to receive phasing from the town and would account for the bulk of the units permitted. Few units would be available to projects not already in the municipal planning process, and no significant residential construction beyond the projects already proposed could begin until 2010.

“The question is ‘are we going to be fair to the people already in line now or to the people who are going to come in later with proposals?’” Nellis said.

Attachment A

Town Manager Rick McGuire said the Selectboard will likely revise the proposed sewer allocations — called Attachment A — for the upcoming fiscal year to better fit the proposed interim subdivision regulations and amendments to the sewer allocation ordinance.

The board was scheduled to consider the proposed allocations for Attachment A at its meeting Monday, but did not discuss the issue when the first part of the meeting ran long. The issue will be on the agenda for the board’s next meeting on Monday.

McGuire said he did not know whether the revised allocations would increase the sewer available for residential or commercial projects. The proposed allocations called for 33,594 gallons per day available for new development in the 2005-06 fiscal year.

The allocations for new residential development (7,665 gallons), affordable housing (3,285 gallons) and commercial/industrial (1,144 gallons) would not accommodate a large project. The proposed allocation set aside 20,000 gallons per day for commercial projects that are using more sewer than they had been allocated.