Work Advances on Updating Town Zoning Regulations
By Gregory T. Federspiel
A public forum via Zoom is scheduled for Tuesday, February 2 starting at 6:30PM to solicit public input on the proposed recodification and updating of the Town’s zoning regulations. For the past 18 months members of land use boards with the support of staff and Land Use Attorney Mark Bobrowski have been going through the Town’s zoning regulation page by page with an eye toward reformatting and updating the document. The zoning regulations have been amended over the years and have become a bit unwieldy with individual additions and changes. State statute changes and court cases have come along that have made some of our zoning regulations obsolete.
Voters approved funds to hire an expert in zoning to guide this effort. Attorney Bobrowski is one of the leading land use lawyers in the state and has assisted scores of communities in the recodification of their zoning bylaws. The process got underway in June of 2019. Meetings have taken place most months since then as the group works through the bylaws section by section.
The proposed changes generally fall within four different categories: 1) formatting and language clean-up that have no bearing on the intent of the bylaws; 2) deletions of obsolete sections that are no longer supported by state law or court interpretations of state law; 3) removal of sections that are recommended to be handled as general Town Bylaws; and 4) changes that modify the current intent. Changes that fall within the last category will most likely generate the most debate.
Formatting changes include creating a consolidated dimensional table that lists each zone and the applicable setbacks, miscellaneous word editing throughout the regulations, and rearranging/renumbering various sections to place related topics together and provide an easier flow of information.
Various obsolete sections are proposed to be deleted. For example, there is the marijuana moratorium still in the regulations even though voters approved new marijuana regulations that replaced the moratorium. Rather than having both a Planned Residential Development section and a Residential Conservation Cluster section, the recodification proposes modifying the later while deleting the former.
A few sections are proposed to come out of the zoning regulations and become general Town bylaws. Included in this category are regulations regarding junk vehicles, stormwater, and curb cuts.
Finally, there are modifications and new sections that clarify or alter the current bylaws. A new senior housing facility section is proposed. Rules dealing with nonconformities have been rewritten. New landscaping and performance rules are proposed for non-residential and multifamily establishments. The section on Accessory Dwelling Units is up for revisions that would make adding an ADU to an existing dwelling easier. These and other changes will be explained, and feedback solicited at the forum.
After the public forum the Planning Board will review the feedback received and finalize wording for the proposed changes. Then the Planning Board will hold a formal public hearing before preparing the document that will go before voters at Town Meeting for approval.
40B updates: Selectmen start the formal negotiations with the developer of the apartment complex proposed for Upper School Street this week. As noted before, entering into negotiations does not mean the Selectmen want to see the project built. Rather, it is an attempt to make the best of an unsolicited proposal submitted to the Town.. With or without this preliminary negotiation phase, the develop can proceed. If negotiations result in the developer agreeing to the mitigating measures the Selectmen request, the project still must receive approval from the ZBA or the state before it can go forward. The ZBA must hold formal hearings and there are various appeal procedures available for both proponents and opponents. While preliminary negotiations may provide additional mitigating measures, they are not the controlling factors regarding the project. Ultimately the state has the final say either through the housing appeals board or the courts.
Questions arose regarding the traffic study review the Town’s consultant performed. The consultant reviewed the detailed study the developer commissioned last summer. He did not do a study one day in December. That was a day our consultant visited the site and re-acquainted himself with the layout of the town. Our reviewer agreed with the original analysis that peak commuter traffic would be about 40 new cars per hour over a period of 3.5 hours. He recommended that a new shuttle would be our best strategy to mitigate congestion impacts on the Village core area. He also raised concerns regarding the safety of the access road which will continue to be a topic for review.