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Marlborough committee considers downtown zoning measures

METRO WEST DAILY NEWS – Coming off a public forum last week to gather ideas for downtown revitalization, a study committee heard from state officials Wednesday night about possible rezoning and initiatives to bolster the heart of the city.

The committee has been holding weekly meetings to craft a set of recommendations for new zoning and regulations downtown to spur economic growth. On Wednesday, the group heard from two officials from the state Department of Housing and Community Development – William Reyelt, principal planner of smart growth programs, and John Fitzgerald, urban development coordinator.

Reyelt said that potential zoning tools the city could consider include Chapter 40R zoning, which would allow for a zoning overlay district that encourages dense residential or mixed-use development. Chapter 40R also requires that 20 percent of the units in a complex with 13 or more units have to be affordable.

Reyelt said the city could also consider the Compact Neighborhoods initiative, which is similar to 40R, but would require less density and fewer affordable units. Reyelt said that there are incentives for both programs, although the incentives for Compact Neighborhoods tend to be less desirable than the incentives for 40R.

Fitzgerald said that the city could consider an Urban Renewal program, which would allow the city to redevelop substandard, blighted or rundown areas by acquiring property and selling it to private developers.

Fitzgerald said that the Urban Renewal activities would be carried out by an Urban Renewal Agency, which in Marlborough’s case would be the already existing Community Development Authority.

Fitzgerald said that in some instances, like the “Acre” project in Lowell, Urban Renewal has proved to be an effective way to completely revitalize an area. In other instances, private development has been slow to take off in the wake of an Urban Renewal process.

Fitzgerald also said the city could consider a residential Tax Increment Financing program to spur the type of residential development city leaders want to see. Similar to the TIF tax breaks the city has offered to companies coming into the city, the residential TIF program would set a timeframe during which a break would be offered on the real estate taxes levied on value a developer has added to a property.

After the two presented, the committee had a brief discussion on the merits of the programs, but did not reach any definitive decisions. Tim Cummings, executive director of the Marlborough Economic Development Corporation, said he viewed 40R more as a program for towns and cities that have not reached the mandated 10 percent level of affordable housing required under state law Chapter 40B. Marlborough stands above the 10 percent threshold.

Cumings said that the Compact Neighborhoods initiative might be worth considering, although he said the incentives that are attached to it aren’t as favorable.

The committee is scheduled to meet again next Thursday.

This article originally appeared here.