Virtual Forum set to discuss the Limited Commercial District
By Gregory T. Federspiel
What is your vision for the Limited Commercial District? This is the key question on tap for a public forum scheduled for Thursday, September 24 starting at 6:00PM. Residents are encouraged to register to participate by going to the Town’s website where a flyer with a link to register to receive the Zoom log-in information can be found.
The forum will begin with an overview of the LCD, the zoning district that encompasses lands to the north of Route 128. Currently, as the name implies, zoning in this district allows a fairly limited range of commercial uses. During the development of the Town’s new Master Plan, residents expressed a desire to revisit this area of town with an eye toward allowing a broader range of uses, including housing, as a way to increase our tax base and diversify our housing supply.
The creation of a 40R overlay district is part of the exploration of what might be best for the LCD. A 40R Smart Growth District is a state program that encourages municipalities to implement zoning that fosters compact, mixed use, mixed income development in areas of existing or planned infrastructure. 40R districts must consist of at least 51% housing, 20% of which must be affordable. As an incentive, the state makes payments directly to towns that adopt a 40R district as well as payments after new housing is built in the area.
As part of any new zoning, development and design standards aimed at ensuring that new construction is consistent with the Town’s vision for the area can be incorporated. These standards can include aesthetic concerns, density, and, importantly for the area in question, environmental standards that ensure the protection of our natural resources.
The area also is likely to see a “40B” project proposed (another section of state law that allows a developer to build a project that normally would not be allowed by zoning in towns which do not have a minimum of 10% of housing stock being affordable per state guidelines – Manchester is below 5%.) We anticipate receiving a proposal for a large apartment complex from a developer for lands on upper School Street across from Atwater Avenue. This is a separate process, but we hope to be able to integrate the two projects, assuming the timing works out to do so.
For the study of the LCD and the possible creation of a 40R district, a project working group, made up of representatives from Town Boards and Committees, will guide communications and assist with community outreach. Staff from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) are providing technical assistance through a grant we have received to help advance this work. The Planning Board will play a central role in developing any proposed zoning amendments that might emerge from this work.
The schedule anticipates articulating the vision and goals for the district over the next few weeks, developing initial concepts and recommendations by the end of November, drafting zoning language and design guidelines by the end of January, and, if the work is received favorably, seeking voter approval of the proposed zoning amendments at the April Annual Town Meeting.
Throughout the coming months there will be on-going opportunities for residents to weigh in, providing your ideas and feedback on what should be the final outcome. The forum on Thursday, 9/24, is an important part of crafting the vision for the LCD and will include a survey that each participant will be asked to complete. Ultimately it will be up to the voters to decide whether to approve any new zoning for this area of town as we pursue ways to implement the goals articulated in our Master Plan.