Future Development Options in the Limited Commercial District
By Gregory T. Federspiel
Lands to the north of Route 128 both at Exit 15 and 16 currently fall within the Limited Commercial District zoning designation. Through the master planning process, the LCD was identified as an area of potential development as long as high standards for protecting the environmental attributes of the area were upheld. Part of the rationale for looking into expanded development in this part of town is to grow the town’s commercial tax base and thus add to town revenues.
The LCD, as the name implies, limits the type and density of development in the area. Currently the minimum lot size is 5 acres, the largest in town, and only one use is allowed per lot. Allowed uses are limited to offices, recreational clubs/facilities, municipal uses and solar arrays. Marijuana facilities and scientific research facilities are possible through a special permitting process.
A total of some 760 acres comprise the LCD. About 60% of this land is permanently protected from development. 40 acres are developed leaving 278 acres as potentially developable. Four landowners account for nearly all of this undeveloped, unprotected land – Gordon College at 147 acres, the MAC at 40 acres, the Town also at 40 acres and the Brown Family Trust, the site of the potential 40B project, at 23 acres.
Assuming taxes collected on commercial space averages $2.00 square foot and that a 20,000 square foot building is built per acre (a 2 story structure with a 10,000 sq. ft. footprint) each acre developed could generate $40,000. Thus, at this relatively low density (under 25% lot coverage), some 25 acres of new development would generate $1,000,000 in new tax revenue. For comparison, a 1% tax hike generates some $260,000 in new revenue. If 50 acres are developed out of the 278 undeveloped acres (18%), then $2 million in new tax revenue is generated annually.
Of course, it is not all about the money – town character and environmental protection are high priorities for the town. Thus, voters may prefer to continue with our trend of annual tax increases in the 2.5% range with occasional overrides and debt exclusions rather than seek new commercial development.
We have a number of options for the LCD. We can decide to keep things as they are and not have much development in this part of town. We can decide to add additional flexibility to the existing District, tweaking the current bylaws to allow for more uses and some additional density. A third choice is to pursue a Smart Growth Overlay district, or “40R” zoning district. Other options are possible as well.
The 40R option is what was recommended by the Master Plan and what is currently being studied at the request of the Planning Board through a grant the Town received from the state. Presentations on the options for the LCD will be made to the Planning Board Monday evening, 1/11 and to the general public on Tuesday evening, 1/12. Background information can be found on the Town’s web site.
The interest in the 40R approach pre-dates the 40B proposal that has since been presented to the Town. For some, the 40B proposal is a higher priority to deal with and it may change how receptive the Town is to the 40R approach. 40R overlay districts are designed to be a combination of housing and commercial uses. One of the larger landowners in the LCD has expressed a desire to develop a continuing care facility for seniors in the LCD and preferred using the 40R approach to accomplish his goals. In this case the housing element can satisfy the housing requirements of 40R without adding to our student population. Alternatively, revising the current language of the LCD without moving to the 40R approach might accommodate such a plan as well.
During next week presentations, a brief overview of the LCD as it currently stands will be given and different options for pursuing additional development in the district will be summarized. The focus of the presentation will be on what new mixed use development at this location could be like, including what uses, density, design and environmental standards could be required. The public input gathered at these presentations will help guide future decision making of the Planning Board and other boards and committees in town regarding the best approaches we should take for guiding future development in the LCD. Voters ultimately have the final say as any zoning changes require a 2/3rds majority vote at a Town Meeting.