Amending Zoning in the LCD


The Planning Board holds a public hearing on proposed changes to the zoning governing development in the Limited Commercial District (LCD) on Monday, March 28 at 7 p.m. via Zoom.  Following this, the amendments will be proposed to voters for approval at the Annual Town Meeting scheduled for April 25.

The purpose of the proposed amendments is to broaden the area research labs may be allowed and, only after review through the special permit process, grant some flexibility in setback, coverage, and height requirements. 

Currently, research labs are allowed only in the most western end of the LCD – primarily lands owned by Gordon College to the west of Upper Pine Street.  The amendment would allow research labs throughout the LCD – in practical terms, given ownership and environmental constraints that exist, this means lands to the east of School Street.

The Limit Commercial District encompasses 760 acres of land on the far side of Route 128.  About 60 percent of this land is permanently protected as conservation land leaving about 300 acres that could be developed. 

However, portions of the 300 acres have environmental constraints – too steep, too wet, etc. – that prevents development.  Of the 300 acres, about half is owned by Gordon College to the west of Upper Pine Street.  The MAC owes 40 undeveloped acres, the Brown Family Trust owns 23 acres, and the Town owns 40 acres.  Existing development occupies some 40 acres. 

The Town’s approved Master Plan has as one of the top priorities supporting new commercial development that boosts tax revenues.  The LCD is one area of town that can accommodate commercial development of sufficient size to have a positive impact on town revenues. 

Without a larger tax base, existing property owners will be faced with larger new tax burdens if the Town is to move forward with facility and infrastructure replacement projects over the next 15 years.   One moderately sized research lab facility could easily add $750,000 or more to our annual tax collections. 

A research lab is being pursued by Cell Signaling Technologies on the 40 acres next to the MAC.  The proposed zoning amendments do not give the project approval.  But if the amendments are approved it would allow the project to advance to through the permitting process.  The process requires a special permit and site plan approval both which entail formal public hearings and detailed vetting to ensure the proposal would be a net benefit for the community.

Both the special permitting and site plan review processes have strict standards that an applicant must meet. 

Any proposed project must not be detrimental to the surrounding neighborhood for a list of critical attributes including traffic, neighborhood character and vistas, water supplies, wildlife, etc.  Stormwater runoff is a particular concern in the LCD given the proximity of Cedar Swamp and the upper reaches of Sawmill Brook.  The permitting process can require that there is no net gain in runoff as the result of a proposed project.  Ensuring that important environmental characteristics are not harmed is a primary goal of the standards we have not only through our zoning but also through our local wetland bylaws which also must be followed. 

The proposed amendments to the LCD include the option of relaxing setback requirements if doing so promotes a public benefit.  Another amendment would allow by special permit a higher structure – 55 feet instead of 35 feet.  Research labs typically have 16-foot floor to ceiling heights to accommodate various equipment needs.  Greater lot coverage and more impervious surfaces are proposed to be allowed but again, only after completing the special permitting process and meeting the requirements. 

The public is encouraged to attend the Planning Board’s hearing on the proposed amendments to the LCD on March 28.  The Zoom link can be found on the calendar of the Town’s web page. 

The amendments are relatively modest, but they open an additional option for an expanded, clean commercial tax base for the community.  But the choice is up to the voters.  Attend the hearing to have your questions answered as you prepare to cast your vote at the Annual Town Meeting.    

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