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Presence, size of a grocery store still a matter for debate

Presence, size of a grocery store still a matter for debate

By Jon Bishop

HARVARD — Harvard’s Economic Development Committee was supposed to meet with the Planning Board Monday night, but decided to postpone until Oct. 20, the next meeting. Members want more time to discuss the results of the Sept. 22 bylaw forum.

The forum, which asked residents whether they’d be willing to support a bylaw change to accommodate a grocery store, provided the basis for much discussion.

Chairman Kara Minar said that they must first define what a grocery store is and that, as Harvard again considers this issue, they must “do it from a public perspective.”

She and town planner Bill Scanlan noted that, if a proposed bylaw change is turned down at Town Meeting, it cannot go back for another two years.

Member Don Graham said that much of the feedback at the forum could apply to both large and small stores.

“It really goes back to ‘what does the town want?'” he said. “People are not really clear on what they want, as far as a store goes.”

Minar said that the town should come up with a better vision for the district.

“It’s not all about the grocery store,” she said, adding that office space brings higher revenues, but, currently, there is no vision for that.

Planner Joe Hutchinson said that his impressions of the forum were the same as the one the town held in June: “lots of comments that seemed to not be in favor of it.”

“You know, my sense with all of this is, I’d love to know where we are in this process,” he said. “We’ve talked about this twice.

“Where are we?” he said.

A proposed bylaw change will likely come from either the Economic Development Committee or a citizens’ petition, Miner said, rather than from the Planning Board. The Planning Board would have to hold a hearing, issue a report “and then let the voters decide.”

She iterated that she’d like to see a better strategic vision for the district, one that also meets the residents’ idea of what a benefit is.

Michelle Catalina, a former Planning Board member who submitted a volunteer application and who spoke with the board Monday night, said that “zoning changes bring big changes.” They could “cause people to move,” she said.

The town already has a “vision for that road,” she said. Harvard has made it clear that it cares about function and aesthetics.

“There are certain types of businesses that this town wants,” she said. The surveys make it clear. “You are always going to find somebody who wants that super Wal-Mart.”

It might also be prudent to lower the store size, based on what people answered, she said. They could “throw out several things and let town meeting decide.”

After the meeting, Minar said that there is no clear indication that the town is ready to make such a bylaw change — especially since the current laws, at the time of their passing, had the full support of Town Meeting.

“You’ve got to bring the public with you,” she said.

Harvard’s current bylaws say that a 15,000-square-foot store can open by right, while a 30,000-square-foot store needs a special permit.

The Economic Development Committee would like to raise the limits to 20,000 square feet by right and to 30,000-40,000 square feet by special permit.

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