Old Southworth Library to open its doors for Christmas festival

Dec 5, 2017

With an unfavorable decision from the Planning Board, a group proposing a non-profit arts center for the Old Southworth Library is inviting concerned neighbors to take a tour of the building this Friday.

The non-profit Dartmouth Cultural Center, Inc will invite residents to take a tour of the 404 Elm Street building during the Padanaram Christmas Festival on December 8 from 5-8 p.m. The Select Board approved the request to open up the building at its December 4 meeting.

It comes two weeks after the Planning Board decided against advancing a zoning change that would have cleared the way for the group's proposal to Town Meeting.

“They want to try and get neighbors on board with the project,” said Select Board Chair Frank Gracie. “The way it stands right now they will not move it forward.”

The Planning Board announced at its November 20 meeting that it would table a proposed Town Meeting item which would have rezoned the library and a second property across the street into the village business district. The library is currently zoned as residential.

At that meeting, Planning Director John Hansen said his office received a number of number of written correspondence and phone calls against the idea after mailing letters to neighborhood residents seeking feedback. The biggest issue raised was parking, Hansen said.

The board ultimately decided not to move forward with sponsoring an article at the next Town Meeting authorizing the zoning change. Although the Select Board can propose an article itself, Town Administrator David Cressman said that is unlikely.

“The Select Board has generally gone in a joint manner with the Planning Board concerning any rezoning articles,” Cressman said, noting that the only time the Select Board has deviated from that under Cressman’s tenure was the failed multi-family housing bylaw earlier in the year.

Gracie added that the board will not try and move forward with the zoning change by itself.

At the Select Board meeting, Kathleen DelSordo, representing the arts group, asked the board for guidance on moving forward, noting the group is in the midst of refining its plans for the arts center.

Cressman recommended meeting with town zoning officials and the zoning enforcement officer to review the proposal.

The Old Southworth Library has remained vacant since 2015, when its previous tenant, Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust, moved into a new location on Chase Road.

Since then, town officials are working to find another tenant or a buyer for the historic building. After opening up bids for a buyer or tenant, the town received two responses - one for a purchase of the property and one by

The Select Board set a March 2018 deadline for the group amid concerns that an arts center the group pitched would not fit into the residential zoning of the building.