Group pushes for support, funds for cultural center at former library

Dec 31, 2017

The nonprofit hoping to create a cultural center in the former Old Southworth Library building is beginning 2018 with a push for support and funding.

The group, Dartmouth Cultural Center, Inc., formed last fall after learning that the town was considering selling the Padanaram building. The nonprofit proposed leasing the space for artists and artisans to host classes, workshops, demonstrations, and exhibits, along with educational and community events.

The group was one of two respondents to a September "request for proposals" for the space. The second was a proposal to purchase the building for $335,000.

Located at 404 Elm Street, the building dates to 1889. It has been vacant since 2015, when lessee Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust moved into its Chase Road headquarters.

The town agreed to take the potential sale of the building off the table while the Dartmouth Cultural Center, Inc., organized. It gave the group until March 15 of this year to get everything in order to proceed with the lease.

But the project soon hit a zoning speed bump.

Located in a residential area, the property would need to be rezoned or granted a variance for a different use in order for it to be used as a cultural center.

The Planning Board proposed a rezone that would have affected several neighboring properties as well as the library to avoid "spot zoning," in which a zoning change only benefits a single property or property owner.

After hearing concerns from neighbors -- many regarding parking in the area -- the Planning Board in November opted not to move forward with the rezoning process.

But the nonprofit isn't quelling its efforts.

To garner support, the group opened the building for tours during the Padanaram Christmas Festival, which drew more than 300 guests, said group facilitator Kathleen DelSordo.

DelSordo said the group’s next step is working with an attorney to produce a letter stating the proposed cultural center will not change the building’s most recent use, eliminating the need for a zoning change.

“We’re not going to hold off on this because of zoning,” DelSordo said.

Another option is securing a zoning variance from the town -- which would allow the building to operate as a cultural center without changing the zoning.

Fundraising opportunities are also in the works. DelSordo said the group hopes to raise money to fund repairs to the building and handicap accessibility issues.

For more information about the project, and for donation information, visit