Planning Board won't rezone Russells Mills Road police station

Dec 19, 2017

The Planning Board will not move forward with sponsoring a Town Meeting article to rezone the Dartmouth Police Department’s Russells Mills Road headquarters into commercial.

At its December 18 meeting, Planning Director John Hansen revealed the board has received a number of correspondence from neighbors opposing the change, which sought to rezone several properties around the 249 Russells Mills Road police station and the station itself into the neighborhood business district from residential.

The department is currently planning its new police headquarters on Tucker Road. The existing building has been vacant since problems were discovered with the building’s water supply. The department is working out of modular units in the rear of the property until its new building is completed and ready to open.

The idea to rezone the property was first pitched by the Select Board as a way to increase the land value and developers' appetite for covering the demolition costs of the old building - estimated at between $500,000 and $600,000 according to member Lorri-Ann Miller - with zoning changes and a theoretical use as condominiums.

Although initially in support of adding the initiative to its long range planning agenda at a previous meeting, the board has since heard from a number of residents opposed to the move, both in the form of written correspondence and residents who showed up at recent meetings to voice their concerns.

Chair Joel Avila said a bulk of the opposition focused on the impact residents feared the zoning change could have on property values in the neighborhood.

After reading through letters and hearing from residents at its last meeting, members weighed in on what to do.

“The building has to be torn down; the property has to be cleaned up,” said member Lorri-Ann Miller. “There is a gas tank there. There is a problem with that piece of property that is going to cost the town money.”

Miller added that once the police department moves out of the building, residents may have to put up with issues that come with abandoned buildings like vandalism and trespassing.

“I’m not comfortable, with the feedback that we’re getting, to change the zoning,” said member John Sousa. “Do we really need another option to buy bread and milk? That’s probably what we’ll get there, and I'm not sure if its the best thing for neighborhood or the town.”

During the meeting, residents, both in the neighborhood and property owners whose properties were included in the rezoning, spoke out against the change.

Kim Bryant said his biggest concern is expanding the commercial footprint into the neighborhood, particularly with the possibility of allowing for businesses open 24 hours a day. He pointed to the recently opened Cumberland Farms on Russells Mills Road as an example.

Sue Crosby said she and her daughter spoke to residents on Elm and George Streets about the possible change, and many were not aware of the proposal.

“Not one of them was a proponent of a commercial enterprise there,” Crosby said.

Residents pitched a number of alternatives for the soon-to-be-vacant property, including an open green space, selling the property and keeping the residential zoning, or senior housing.

The board will send a letter to the Select Board informing the board that Planning will not sponsor a zoning change article.