Williston Wildlife Overlay District
Williston is largely made up of agricultural-rural residence zones. When land is proposed to be subdivided in Williston, 75% of the land is set aside permanently as conserved space. In the past a parcel of land had to be at least 10.5 acres in order for current bylaw standards to be enforced. In 2014, the Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC) developed enhancements to the zoning bylaws which changed the size threshold and land type requirements. Additionally, maps were created to identify conservation areas in Williston. This bylaw used a wildlife district overlay to best achieve its goal of protecting and preserving significant natural, scenic, and fragile areas.
The 2014 standards apply to any development project (any land type and any size parcel) which is within the boundaries of one or more designated conservation areas. As defined by this bylaw, conservation areas include: significant wildlife habitat areas, areas with uncommon, rare, threatened, or endangered species, unique natural communities, locally important farmlands, scenic viewsheds, flood hazard area, and stream, wetlands, lakes, and ponds.
Agricultural Land, Bylaws, Forest Land, Land Management, Land Protection, partnerships, wildlife
Since the 2014 implementation of this bylaw, the town has received five applications for development which must adhere to these standards. These developments will impact upwards of 300 acres of undeveloped land in Williston, resulting in large-scale conservation efforts in this town.
This bylaw was also successful in creating a less ambiguous language than previous versions of development bylaws. This piece of bylaw will be adopted in the 2016 town plan. The developers now know exactly what is permitted and what is expected from them. During the review process, applicants now provide the town with more information than previously required regarding their project and its potential impacts.
The ultimate goal of this project, as outlined in the bylaw chapter, is to: maintain large blocks of forest and areas of contiguous habitat; protect distinct types of habitat required for specific wildlife species; and, ensure the continued movement of wildlife species between unfragmented blocks of forest and core habitat within the town and surrounding region.
Vermont Natural Resources Council
Williston Conservation Commission
Williston Planning Commission
The collaboration of a diverse group of stakeholders was essential to this project. The contributions, time-wise and staff-wise, by the Williston Conservation Commission, Planning Commission, and Select Board Commission were especially important. Staff expertise on what was and wasn't possible for this project was important. The existing overlay model provided by the Vermont Natural Resource Commission helped this project in its initial stages. Funding for this project was provided by Williston's Environment Reserve Fund, which sets aside money to put towards critical land conservation.
Finding a balance between property rights and the development standards proposed was challenging. Determining the scale of regulation was difficult at first (i.e. should a backyard shed or fence be held applicable to the terms). Regulating the activities which would be subject to these standards was challenging because it meant restricting landowner's rights to their property. Legally, the conservation areas can only be protected to the extent consistent with the landowner's right to beneficial use of their property. Thinking of all possible scenarios which could violate these bylaws and then defining clear standards for these activities was challenging. Ultimately, after discussions with town members and the previously mentioned project partners, exemptions to the bylaws were defined. These exemptions applied to items such as existing historically significant structures, construction of fences, and alternative energy installations.