Town Meeting members reject multi-family housing bylaw

Oct 18, 2017

Town Meeting members on Tuesday voted down a bylaw update that would have allowed multi-family housing developments to be constructed on Route 6.

The proposal was an update to the town's zoning regulations, and would have permitted the developments in the part of the town's general business district on Route 6 from Cross Road to the Westport town line.

The bylaw update would have placed various restrictions on the projects, Town Planner John Hansen explained. Buildings would be limited to three stories with a pitched roof. Developers would have had to analyze potential impacts to the area, including noise, traffic and pedestrian impacts, environmental harm, and impacts on the character of the neighborhood. Projects where it seemed that the negatives outweighed the positives would not be approved.

Three specific parcels were set to be rezoned -- including a site on Route 6 considered for an expansion of the Dartmouth Woods apartment complex.

Voters, however, raised concerns. Precinct 2 Member Michelle Keith noted that traffic is already congested on Route 6 and Reed Road, and questioned why such a large area in one part of town was targeted for the change.

“I just don’t think it’s fair; it should be spread out, and not dumped in one area,” Keith said.

Member Bob Michaud questioned whether an increase in multi-family housing would provide a financial benefit to the town, compared to increased commercial development.

Hansen said the genesis for the project was in response to Dartmouth Woods' interest in building a new multi-family housing development on Route 6 at a site currently occupied by Joe's Used Cycles.

To avoid spot zoning - instances in which zoning changes are only applied to particular parcels only for its owners' benefit - the proposal extended beyond the parcel selected. He noted that the town’s general business district has a different feel between the eastern and western intersection of Cross Road.

The proposal would have also rezoned three parcels to fit within the general business district, including the parcel Dartmouth Woods expressed an interest in.

Others spoke positively about the proposal. Planning Board member Lorri-Ann Miller noted that the bylaw update would provide housing options for people in a variety of situations, from those who work in town but otherwise can't afford or do not want to own a home, to young adults on their own for the first time, to seniors looking to downsize.

It is the second time this year that a zoning bylaw update that would have allowed more multi-family housing did not move forward. The Select Board withdrew a proposal from the spring Town Meeting agenda after the Planning Board voted against recommending the article for approval at Town Meeting with concerns that it was too large and cumbersome.

Officials reworked that proposal, which resulted in a bylaw update that Planning Board member Joel Avila said officials felt was good for the town. It was unanimously recommended for passage by the Planning Board, Select Board, and Finance Committee.

The proposal received no opposition from plan reviewers or attendees of a recent public hearing, and correspondence sent to planning officials prior to Town Meeting resulted in no negative responses, Avila noted.

Ultimately, the zoning update required an affirmative vote from two-thirds of Town Meeting members, which it did not receive.