Williston Receives First Growth Center Designation
On October 22, 2007, the expanded Downtown Development Board approved the first Growth Center Designation in Williston. This represents a milestone for Vermont, but one that raises some concerns.
Smart Growth Vermont commends Lee Nellis, Williston’s Town Planner, and the Planning Commission for reaching out to the community and various non-profit organizations in developing the boundaries for their growth center. During our work with the Town, staff and Commission members carefully discussed the intent of the growth centers program and how it could help them to reshape Taft Corners and correct poor land use decisions made in the past. They wanted to move from being a single-use retail center to an area where people could live, work and play by adding a variety of housing types, walking and biking trails, and a transit center to the existing retail center.
Smart Growth Vermont, together with Smart Growth Collaborative members Preservation Trust of Vermont and the Vermont Natural Resources Council presented options for a smaller growth center. The Planning Commission as well as the state Planning and Coordination Group agreed that the smaller area would accomplish both the community’s goals and the goals of the growth centers program.
Unfortunately, the expanded Downtown Development Board decided to enlarge the boundaries of the growth center to include a portion of Taft Corners that is single-use, large scale retail, and is not likely to be redeveloped in accordance with smart growth principles. We are hoping that this decision by the Board will not set a precedent for future growth center designation. This program was not designed to provide incentives to communities that bend the growth center requirements to “fit” past land use and development decisions – regardless of whether they comply with the designation requirements – rather than adjusting their land use plans to comply with those requirements. The risk of this is that growth centers with excessive land areas will be designated, and that development patterns within those growth centers will be characterized by scattered, automobile-dependent sprawl rather than smart growth, as called for in the statute. This would likely result in the dilution of state benefits, loss of public support for the program and the ongoing degradation of Vermont’s landscape and loss of economic vitality in our downtowns and village centers. We hope the Board will consider this when reviewing future applications.
To learn more about growth centers program, visit our State Policy page or the Vermont Department of Housing & Community Affairs’ Growth Centers Web Page.