Planning Board tables long-range planning for Route 6 development

Oct 24, 2017

After Town Meeting voters rejected a plan to bring more multi-family housing developments to a portion of Route 6, the Planning Board has decided to hold off on any future plans to entice development along the roadway.

At its October 23 meeting, members decided to table discussions on bringing more development to an area of Route 6 between Cross Road and the Westport town line. It was pitched as part of the board’s long-range plan, based off the results of a 2014 Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District study Town Planner John Hansen said recommended more mixed-use developments in the area.

But after Town Meeting voters rejected a Planning Board-sponsored proposal to bring multi-family housing units to the same stretch of road, citing traffic, location, and other concerns, the board was concerned with the idea of bringing up a new proposal so soon.

“A lot of comments at Town Meeting was about traffic and potential impacts on what’s already a bad situation there,” Chair Joel Avila said. “I don’t know what the reaction would be this time.”

Member John Sousa noted it’s not possible to ask developers to foot the bill for needed roadway fixes, and cautioned that the Lincoln Park project is still not complete so the town is not feeling the traffic impact from the complete project.

Member Lorri-Ann Miller said she felt “disgusted” by the comments made in the run-up to the Town Meeting vote that rejected the multi-family housing proposal, and noted that as the entrance to the town, she’d still like to see it better developed.

Members brainstormed ideas to better involve stakeholders in the process, including sending mailings and communicating with residents in the area throughout the process.

The board is also in the early stages of expanding senior housing options in town as part of its long-range plan. Town zoning bylaws currently allow over-55 residential facilities in business districts, but the board will consider drafting a new bylaw to allow them in residential zoning districts, and allow independent senior living facilities that are not currently allowed anywhere.

In other Planning Board news, officials learned a citizen’s petition was received to repeal a section of the town’s zoning bylaws that even the board was surprised to learn existed – a requirement that gas stations cannot be built within 300 feet of a location where children congregate.

The petition was put forth by a developer that had already secured a special permit to build a gas station on Ventura Boulevard, but Hansen said the developer has not moved forward with the project yet after learning of the section of the bylaw.

The petition was received too late to be considered at the Fall Town Meeting, but the board is planning to hold a public hearing and debate the issue further.

Board members also weighed in on a proposal to rezone two properties in Padanaram – including the Old Southworth Library – as the town searches for a new tenant for the building.

An article that would have authorized the town to sell the building was pulled from the agenda after one of two applicants proposed a non-profit arts and education center for the building, but Hansen said issues were raised that proposed uses would not fit within the current residential zoning of the building.

Miller said she was in favor of including the building in the town’s village business district when the district was extended two years ago, and is in favor of it now. Sousa agreed, noting that the building has historically been used by Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust as a headquarters building in the past.

“I’d like to do whatever it takes to stimulate finding people to use the building,” added Joseph Toomey.

Member Kevin Melo, however, said he’d prefer to keep the zoning the same, noting it could open the floodgates to additional businesses in the area.

The board voted to investigate the change further and hold a public hearing on the matter.