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Marlborough: Downtown committee eyes new zoning

METRO WEST DAILY NEWS – Members of a committee tasked with finding ways to pump new life into downtown met Thursday night to discuss what kinds of things should be allowed and what uses might be better suited for other parts of the city.

The Downtown Study Committee, made up of city officials, residents and planners, has been working over a series of meetings to tailor new zoning to entice businesses and a young generation of residents downtown.

Committee members on Thursday began honing the list of uses that might make their way into the list of allowed uses downtown.

Results from a public forum last month demonstrated pretty clearly what residents want to see more of – shops and restaurants, maybe a theater or more arts space.

Staying away from the uses that will likely land squarely in the “allowed” category, the committee turned its focus to some of the trickier uses or ones that might take some logistical effort to make work.

Attorney Arthur Bergeron, a downtown resident, said that he thinks a few key uses could go a ways in making downtown a more convenient place to live – namely, a fitness center, dry cleaners and auto shop.

Other members wondered whether auto shops should be encouraged downtown or whether nearby shops on Mechanic Street are close enough. Cynthia Wall, a planner with the
Metropolitan Area Planning Council, said that perhaps they could be permitted by special permit so the city has greater control.

Tim Cummings, executive director of the Marlborough Economic Development Corporation, wondered if the zoning should set size limits for businesses downtown, limiting their square footage. Wall said that setting limits can be tricky. The market usually decides those issues anyway, she said.

Several of the committee members agreed that drive-thrus – at least for fast food restaurants – don’t belong downtown. Committee member Laurie Fitzgerald suggested that a few parking spots downtown could be designated short-term parking so people could stop and run into a restaurant to grab take-out.

Bergeron suggested that the new zoning allow boutique hotels downtown by right, and not require them to obtain a special permit.

Wall said that a main priority should be ensuring that the definitions in whatever zoning emerges are written correctly to ensure that they are balanced enough to prohibit unwanted uses but offer some level of flexibility.

It is not clear whether the new zoning regulations will take the form of an entirely new zoning district for the downtown or an overlay district, which maintains current zoning while offering a new secondary set of regulations allowing a different set of uses.

The study committee will meet again on May 22. Cummings said that he hopes the meetings will wrap up by mid-June, when another forum can be held to debut the newly proposed zoning rules.

This article originally appeared here.