News

Town looks to double sidewalk plowing capacity

A sidewalk plow works to clear a snowy path in Williston, Vermont

Blair Park sidewalk may tip the scales for new equipment

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

Construction of a sidewalk along Blair Park Road last summer may finally spur the Williston Public Works Department to increase its sidewalk snowplowing capacity, after years of rebuffing requests from homeowners.

Public Works Director Bruce Hoar is recommending the selectboard add a second sidewalk plow to the town’s fleet, and a staff position to operate it, into the town budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The plow would add about 10 miles of sidewalk plowing capacity. With one plow, the department currently clears about 10 miles of sidewalks after snowstorms of 2 inches or more. It also uses a truck to clear about 5 miles of paved rec paths.

“We are at our limit for what this machine is able to do in a reasonable amount of time,” Hoar told the board Tuesday. 

He estimates a new sidewalk plow would cost $135,000. The selectboard plans to consider purchasing the plow and creating an additional public works position during budget deliberations in January. The annual budget will be up for voter approval at Town Meeting Day in March.

The new Blair Park sidewalk creates a continuous loop around the neighborhood, connecting senior housing with the post office and bus stop along Route 2. Several residents at the Williston Place senior apartment building requested the town start plowing the sidewalk.

“The new sidewalks are beautiful,” Williston Place resident Winnie McCormick wrote in a December letter to the town. “We really appreciate the town’s construction. As many of us like to walk summer, fall, winter and spring, it would be so good if you could clear the sidewalks in the winter — at the crosswalks if nothing else.”

Jennifer Olson, the director of marketing at Williston Place, added: “Our community members have benefited greatly from the new sidewalks and having safe walkways is incredibly important to their health and wellbeing.”

Similar requests have been made annually by residents of Taft Corners neighborhoods The Hamlet and Chelsea Commons, but the town has repeatedly declined to add them to the plowing plan. Chelsea Commons resident Don Mersereau said construction in recent years of new roads, apartments and business at Taft Corners has increased traffic through the neighborhood and made winter walking more dangerous.

“Our road is literally not safe to walk on,” he said Tuesday. “We have a ton of people who come through here to get somewhere else.”

The Hamlet Homeowners Association also submitted a formal request: “We believe budgeting shall account for the need to acquire additional equipment over time to build the capacity to plow new sidewalk segments,” it said in a letter to the board.

Plowing of any segments that are added to the town’s plowing plan this winter would not begin until next winter, Town Manager Erik Wells said. 

In addition to proposing additional sidewalk plowing capacity, Hoar presented a $500,000 plan to repave 11 streets next construction season. They are Brennan Woods Drive, Charles Road, Lamplite Lane, White Birch Road, Aspen Lane, Maple Tree Place, Pine Lane, Avenue D, Park Avenue, Knight Lane and Chelsea Place. 

MASKLESS GYMS NOT IN THE CARDS

In other business Tuesday, the board declined to take up requests to add an exception to the mask mandate it passed earlier this month to allow people to exercise without masks in indoor gyms. Mask mandates in both Burlington and Essex allow for unmasked people inside gyms. 

“We are encouraging our members to follow the rules, but I think the majority of the community here would like to see an exception made,” said Chris Darrah, a trainer at Synergy Fitness on Industrial Avenue. “People would prefer to have the option, especially people that have gotten vaccinated and gotten their boosters. It seems a bit much to expect that, on top of that, we’re also wearing masks while exercising. 

Owners of Wellfound Physical Therapy and Fitness and Sangha Yoga Studio asked the town for the amendment. 

In a show of hands, only board member Ted Kenney showed interest in amending the mandate. The mandate is in place until at least Jan. 18, when the board will decide whether to let it expire or extend it another 30 days. 

COMMUNITY CENTER-LIBRARY COMBO?

Town administrators are planning to use a portion of Williston’s $3 million allotment under the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to study the possibility of expanding the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library and building a community center. The study will consider whether the two projects can be combined. 

“There is potential for overlap,” Town Manager Erik Wells said. “That might not be the right path, but it seemed like a good option to (explore).”

Expansion is envisioned under the library’s current strategic plan, and the idea of a new community center — perhaps with a pool — has been a recurring topic of discussion among citizens for years.

“We are feeling the daily pressures of the lack of space,” Library Director Jane Kearns said. “It’s hard to offer what we want to offer.”

Comment here