Village center regulation plan disturbs business owners
Numerous downtown merchants and building owners are unhappy zoning leaders want them to follow more rules, which they say could cost them precious pennies.
The Zoning Commission proposed regulation would expand the district beyond properties that surround the green to nearby downtown streets.
Most significant is the addition of the far sides of Railroad, Bridge, Elm, Bennitt and East streets, where buildings include a sign company, gas stations, an inn, a funeral home, an auto mechanic shop and apartments.
Harry Taylor , the long-time owner of H.H. Taylor & Sons hardware and rental business on Railroad Street, said parts of the new regulation would be nearly impossible to follow.
Taylor and others agreed historic buildings and homes should be protected, but not at the expense of downtown businesses striving to stay alive in a tough economy.
The Planning Commission recommended the regulation be denied because it is too far-reaching and onerous for current property owners.
However, Robert Burkhart , who is president of the Trust for Historic Preservation and lives in a historic home on Whittlesey Avenue, favors the change. He said once historic properties are lost, they cannot be replaced.
"The history, culture and economics of a town and region are often ensured and enhanced by the buildings, which outlive all of us," Burkhart said in a letter to the commission. "Witness the recent interest of the film industry in our town's ambiance.
"... A future that is rooted securely in what we might become, with a disregard with what we have been, is more likely to evolve into a downtown with no history, memory, ambiance, neighborhood purpose -- not to mention economy," he wrote.
Preservationist Patricia Greenspan said the regulation may need some revision, but she approves expanding the district borders. She said many of the buildings that now house businesses and restaurants are as historically precious as old homes.
East Street property owner Jane Gregory said it is not fair for the commission to restrict property owners' rights to operate their businesses.
The regulation includes size restrictions, as well as limits on exterior renovations. It stipulates the type of businesses that can be operated on the first floor of buildings on certain streets.
If the town wants to make such drastic zoning changes, Gregory said, it should clean up its own property -- in particular, the deteriorating empty brick building on Church Street.
"I don't think the people who own property in this district need to be told how to take care of their buildings," he said. "If you want to take our living away from us, you have to compensate us. You can't take what is not yours."
Bridge Street business owner Chris Gardner was succinct: "I don't want my zone changed."
He said he pays a lot of taxes for property he carefully maintains and doesn't want the government to interfere.
"We get no credit for doing the right thing," he said. "I can't deal with any more rules and regulations."
The hearing will continue Aug. 12.
Contact Nanci Hutson
or at (860) 354-2274.
Proposed Village Center District regulation Expands the district's boundaries to include 52 properties on both sides of East, Bridge, Railroad, Bennitt and Elm streets and Young's Field. Has new rules for signs, outdoor displays, business use, and design, landscape and demolition conditions. Requires 50 percent of buildings' ground floor space on Railroad, Bank, the west side of Main, the north side of Bridge between Railroad and Main be restricted to eating and drinking places, galleries, museums, theaters and retail spaces. Limits indoor theaters and grocery stores to 10,000 square feet -- Bank Street Theater is the only one that qualifies -- and hotels to 20 units. Requires site plan and special permit approvals before renovating former industrial or commercial space for single- or multi-family housing. Requires all first-floor space on Main, Church, Bank, Railroad, Bridge, Bennitt and Elm streets to be non-residential.