The Planning and Zoning Commission has rejected a proposed text amendment to the town's zoning regulations that would have allowed second-floor retail use on Main Street and Post Road East in the town center.
Submitted by architect Bill Achilles on behalf of the owners of 7-17 Main St., Text Amendment 654 would have allowed retail establishments to operate above the first floor in the Business Center District, which includes much of downtown. It would have allowed up to 13,000 square feet for a two-story retail establishment and 3,300 square feet for a retail store based solely on a second floor.
The P&Z turned down the proposal at its meeting last Thursday.
If it had been approved, 13 properties in the Business Center District would have been affected by the amendment, according to Achilles and planning consultant Mel Barr. The combined second-floor footprint of those 13 properties totals approximately 77,000 square feet. Conversion of all that second-floor space to retail use could have led to increased parking demands and more traffic, according to a report by Deputy P&Z Director Mary Young.
Achilles and Barr had argued that the text amendment would have improved the prospects of downtown property owners and encourage more retail diversity in the town center.
But the proposal struggled to gain traction with commissioners in public hearings last month and faced more criticism Thursday. Several commissioners said they were concerned that allowing second-floor retail outlets would strain the center's parking infrastructure and that the amendment's 3,300-square-foot cap on stand-alone second-floor retail use could be unfavorable for patrons with disabilities. Elevators are generally not required in buildings up to three stories or with fewer than 3,000 square feet per floor, according to Americans with Disabilities Act regulations.
"I think they should have handicapped access," Howard Lathrop said of prospective second-floor retail spaces. "You cannot discriminate in this day and age."
P&Z Vice Chairman Jack Whittle argued, meanwhile, that the amendment would "absolutely not" benefit independent "mom-and-pop" stores.
Text Amendment 654 was similar to a text amendment proposed in 2004, which sought the approval of upper-floor retail use in the downtown's Business Center District/Historic zone. The 2004 amendment also was rejected by the P&Z.
Some P&Z commissioners indicated, however, that they might consider examining downtown parking issues in the future.
"Anything that encourage us to seriously address the downtown parking issue in a big-idea way is something I would favor," said Ron Corwin.
Offices, apartments, restaurants and retail food establishments are already allowed to operate above the first floor in the Business Center District, according to existing town zoning rules.
There are also several second-floor retail operations in the Business Center District, which are allowed by zoning waivers known as "variances" and longstanding non-conforming uses permitted by town zoning officials.
One of the town center's largest retail buildings at 125 Main St. houses three retail floors for Gap and Brooks Brothers Women outlets.
firstname.lastname@example.org; 203-255-4561, ext. 118; twitter.com/paulschott