Some Planning Board Members Advocate Usurping Historic Districts Commission Authority By Re-writing Regulations and Changing Bylaws
Planning Board Chairman John Giger told the Board that after their meeting the previous week with consultant Peter Flinker of Dodson Associates, that he (Giger) is "certainly interested in working in collaboration with the Historic Districts Commission." Flinker is in the process of preparing a document that merges the Station Avenue Design Guidelines with a proposed Town Center Design Guidelines.
Planner Jason Parent agreed and suggested that they hold another meeting with the Historic Districts Commission, the Planning Board and the Design Review Committee to flush out all the issues, and that they hold it soon.
Collette said that the original session was intended to be a meeting of all three groups, but that some illnesses limited attendance. "We need to define the roles and streamline the process. There is miscommunication among the three groups and duplication among the three groups. The roles need to be worked out with full representation of the Historic Districts Commission."
Giger suggested that they plan for a whole meeting to discuss this. Member Russ Burke said that the effort is tied to the Town Center Overlay District, to bring guidelines up to date. "It is a visioning of what is going on and who implements it. We (Planning Board) issue Site Plans and Special Permits and we could include the guidelines and the Design Review Committee."
Member Tim Svarczkopf wanted to be sure that Flinker would "provide guidance on visioning, streetscapes, Donelan's, and the parking lots that connect" at the back of properties and across lot lines.
Giger stressed, "Flinker's contract is to update the guidelines for those defined areas - 134 Main Street to Route 40 and Broadmeadow Road to the Rail Trail to the boundary of the Station Avenue Overlay District."
Collette added, "The goal is to come up with something broader than an update. We need to amend the bylaw to change what the Design Review Committee does and what the Historic Districts Commission does." Svarczkopf said he felt that "things are going on simultaneously and it is not clear what the plan is."
Giger responded, "Guidelines are more than word changes. The locus of Station Avenue has now changed. Many of these guidelines did not work for 134 Main Street." Burke added that he wanted "to get the design guidelines in order. We also need a sense of direction, a vision, and piggy back them to do real planning for the center."
Giger wants any guidelines endorsed by the HDC and Burke replied, "They have had opportunities to review this." He suggested that the Planning Board put (the guidelines) into its own regulations.
Collette advised that once the draft is finalized and on file with the Town Clerk, Planners will hold a public hearing. "The Planning Board can make changes and vote on the final version. The Planning Board has the authority to adopt regulations without Town Meeting approval. If we change the responsibility of the Design Review Committee, we have to go to Town Meeting." Burke suggested that the Board could "look at regulatory change in the Master Plan further drilling down in to the town center.
Giger said that this seemed like an increase in the geographical area, expanding it to cover 134 Main Street, which is the only Main Street property in the Town Center Overlay District. Burke replies, "We can do this as a Special Permit by changing our subdivision regulations."
Giger cautioned, "We need to be clear about what area we are talking about modifying. We all need to talk this through and reach consensus."
Changes at Shaw's Plaza Complex
"Something may be happening at Shaw's Plaza soon," Land Use Director Michelle Collette advised Planning Board, noting that she has received inquiries regarding interest in using the now vacant building that once housed Riverbend appliances as office space, or possibly for medical offices. There are 232 parking spaces at the Shaw's site that are shared with the supermarket, the existing building, and the potential construction of additional buildings.
If the empty store became professional offices, which is an approved use, the question arises, Collette said, as to whether or not the septic system would have to be modified, especially if these were to be medical offices. She added that several realty firms have tried to rent out the space there, but speculated that there does not appear to be a lot of interest in retail at this time. "They are just putting out feelers at this time," she said.