SHIRLEY — A Planning Board hearing Wednesday night drew quite a crowd, filling the Town Offices main meeting room. The subject of the hearing was a proposal forwarded by the Economic Development Committee and slated for the Nov. 10 Special Town Meeting warrant to re-zone as “mixed use” certain parcels on Great Road, or Route 2A.
Specifically, the warrant article seeks to strike the current zoning bylaw that divides existing Great Road mixed-use districts into “West” and “East” and to combine them to create a single, mixed-used district, Town Administrator Patrice Garvin said. “It’s more succinct,” she said of the new version.
The same article also seeks to rezone an area of Lancaster Road where several businesses line one side of the road as mixed use. As EDC members have explained, the mixed-use designation allows property owners more flexibility than either residential or commercial zoning allow and could open up opportunities that might attract developers.
EDC member and Selectman Robert Prescott sketched the intent of the zoning change. “We’re trying to expand on districts already there,” he said, noting that the proposal takes a “long view” over the next 20 years or so. “This gives us options,” he said.
For example, the town now gets nearly 90 percent of its tax revenue from residential property owners and only 10 percent from businesses and that balance must change if the town is to sustain its services over the next 20 years.
According to another EDC member, Bryan Dumont, the state recommends a 75/25 percent split, minimum.
Some residents and property owners at the meeting expressed concern.
Carla Wilkins Leonard, who lives in Pepperell but has family-owned property on Lawton Road in Shirley, asked if the plan would open up the residentially-zoned road to commercial development, since some parcels abut Great Road or have frontage on both.
The short answer would be no, Chairman Jonathan Greeno said.
But Prescott put a finer point on it. “There is a piece” owned by C.J. Moore — about 10 or 12 acres — that adjoins Great Road and extends under power lines that could be accessed by a business located on Great Road,” he said. Moore lives on the property. But he assured Leonard that even with mixed-use zoning in place, any such business would have to “go through the process” before setting up shop, just as it would now.
Mixed-use allows commercial or residential development but does not include industrial uses.
Mary Krycka, of Little Turnpike Road, questioned the proposed new zoning map and whether one of the color-coded parcels had been left out. “That looks like spot zoning to me, which is illegal,” she said.
But Greeno said that’s not how it works. Spot zoning is when a parcel is zoned differently than those around it, he said, presumably for a particular use. In this case, it was simply not included.
But Prescott said it might have been a mapping mistake and that the parcel was part of the overall zoning change.
Krycka and others said that’s what they are leery of. Even though areas along Great Road seem suitable for commercial uses, given that the road is heavily traveled and there are businesses there already as well as residences, some of the parcels that would be rezoned connect to land deep within residential areas such as Little Turnpike and Lawton roads and Going Road.
Concerns also included proximity to town wells and protection of the water supply.
One after another, people aired concerns, asked questions but most issues they raised centered on potential impact the zoning changes might have on their properties or neighborhoods.
One exception was John Rounds, of Benjamin Road. He said it was a good idea. But his kudos for the plan came with a caveat. While “very pleased” with most of the proposal, he was concerned about it being presented as one article, which could increase its chances of failure, he said, citing past experience.
He also recalled 20 acres on Going Road that is part and parcel of the plan as having been given to the town as conservation land. “It would be a shame” to divert … the intent of the gift, he said.
There was some discussion about who actually owns the land in question and Garvin promised to look into it. She also said the presentation data would be posted on the town website by the end of the week.
The Planning Board voted unanimously to support the two warrant articles, the first of which also includes designating a parcel of land on Lancaster Road as a “43D” priority development site, which comes with a streamlined permitting process as mandated by state law. The second article calls for accepting an amended zoning map, re-configured to match new zoning.