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Planning Board Considers 26 Changes to Zoning Bylaws

At a meeting with the Planning Board, Judi Barrett of Community Opportunities Group, consultant for the town's new Master Plan, walked through a 26-item list of all components in the Master Plan that would require revisions to Groton's current zoning regulations. The meeting turned out to be more of a working session than a final decision-making meeting. "There are a lot of recommendations, but they all don't have to be done at once," Barrett said.

She suggested that the Planning Board consider beefing up the Demolition Delay Bylaw, putting more teeth into it, perhaps changing the delay period from six months to one year. She also suggested that a special permit could allow a building to remain the same, but provide for different uses such as office space in a residential area. She noted that the board could also insert provisions into the bylaw that would allow an accessory structure to be built on the same lot and not be attached to the main building.

She stressed that 'design guidelines' are essential to protect the character of the town center district and these should be "based on a set of design principals. Think about it. West Groton and the Four Corners are different from the center of town. Each should be its own district." She said this would allow for "design standards and zoning to speak to one another. Now the challenge is to implement it."

Questioned about whether these 'design guidelines' would be binding or a recommendation, Chairman Russ Burke said that the board "would have to balance the public good with private property rights. Ultimately it is advisory."

Barrett advised that in some places compliance is mandatory and cited, as an example, Wellesley, where purportedly people are told not to go to the Planning Board until they have made the Design Review Committee happy. "It varies from town to town," she said.

"The design guidelines in the town center are a high priority," she counseled, adding, "The other centers (West Groton, Four Corners, and Lost Lake) can come later. Zoning changes will come out of the design guidelines."

In response Planner John Giger asked Barrett to review what is already in place then the Planning Board "can take it from there as to how we look at each of the other three areas."

The Board also discussed replacing existing B1 business zoning with a business district designated for each village area.

Another high priority for the Board is to "modernize off-street parking requirements in order to reduce environmental and aesthetic impacts of over-sized parking areas and reduce burdens on small business owners."

One issue that keeps coming up is the proposal to eliminate "Concept Plan "approval by town meeting voters for multiuse and commercial developments. Burke termed the concept plan as a "ticking time bomb and we need to come up with alternative ways of development." He said there had been legal rulings against concept plans in some towns. A concept plan in Groton is defined as development plan or building plan; impact analyses and other materials as required, subject to approval by two-thirds vote of the Town Meeting.

Another Master Plan item is a proposal to change how the review of Level 1 and 2 Site Plan Review applications are handled. Level 1 applications for alterations and expansions of up to 50 percent of the existing floor space or 2,000 sq. ft., whichever is less would be handles and administered by professional staff (Land Use Department) rather than the Planning Board as the projects are small. In general, there was agreement among planners that this change was a medium propriety.

An important date for residents is the Planning Board meeting scheduled for Thursday, March 1 at 7:30 p.m., second floor Meeting Room at Town Hall when the Board will continue the Public Hearing on the Comprehensive Master Plan, as assembled by Community Opportunities Group. It is likely that the Board will vote on whether or not to accept the plan as written, because they will need to present the new Master Plan to town meeting voters for a non-binding ratification vote.

Groton Herald

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P.O. Box 610, Groton, Massachusetts 01450

145 Main Street, Groton, Massachusetts 014510
[Prescott Community Center]

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