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Marlborough group wraps up downtown zoning review

METRO WEST DAILY NEWS – A study committee looking to reinvigorate downtown through new zoning wrapped up its review Thursday of a potential ordinance that would establish a new district.

The ordinance, which would establish a Downtown Village zoning district, will likely be presented to the general public at a forum in mid-July, said Marlborough Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Tim Cummings.

The Downtown Study Committee has been meeting for months to discuss ways to shape the downtown area so it will spur economic development. On Thursday, the committee tackled the draft language of an ordinance proposed by Mark Racicot and Cynthia Wall, a pair of planners from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

Wall said that in addition to setting design standards for downtown, the zoning ordinance will streamline the permitting process to incentivize developers into building the types of projects city officials want to see. The ordinance will allow several types of uses by right, where they would otherwise be prohibited or require a special permit.

The way the city keeps control over development downtown, Wall said, is to maintain stringent design standards within the zoning code and ensure that those standards are being met through site plan review.

The zoning encourages mixed-use development and allows for other types of new uses downtown, like hotels, bed and breakfasts, brewpubs and artist space. It would relax setback requirements, increase allowed building heights and alter density requirements so developers can get the most out of a parcel.

The proposed language also sets more lax parking requirements, lessening the number of spots required for a development. Alternatively, the zoning allows developers to refrain from building any parking at all on site if they are close to one of the city’s parking garages, although they would have to pay the city $10,000 for each parking spot not on site. The money would be put into a special reserve account for maintenance and construction of municipal parking.

The changes may require the city to develop a permitting or sticker program, where property owners or residents would pay for a permit to park in the garages, officials said. City Council President Patricia Pope acknowledged that the changes could be controversial, especially to people who live in the downtown area who might park their cars in the garages for free right now.

“We’re talking about some very significant changes here,” she said. Councilors Joseph Delano and Donald Landers said that the city might have to reconsider on-street winter parking bans and instead move to an odd-even parking system so people who currently use the garages to get their cars off the street during a storm will have a place to park.

After the public forum on the proposed zoning next month, the proposal is expected to be sent to the City Council for consideration.

This article originally appeared here.