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Pepperell is looking to expand and modify its commercial district

Pepperell Select Board Chair Margaret Scarsdale is running for state rep. in the 1st Middlesex District. (Photo courtesy Margaret Scarsdale)
Pepperell Select Board Chair Margaret Scarsdale is running for state rep. in the 1st Middlesex District. (Photo courtesy Margaret Scarsdale)
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PEPPERELL — As the town looks to expand and modify its main commercial district, a $47,000 grant issued by the state via the Community One Stop for Growth program will help hire a consultant to make sure the project meets the needs of the community.

Town Planner Jenny Gingras said Pepperell’s current mixed-use overlay district bylaws were adopted in 2014 and currently the Planning Board is allowed to issue special permits in the commercial industrial districts. However, the current overlay district is small — limiting possibilities to the former paper mill site on the north bank of the Nashua River.

As the town looks to make modifications, Gingras said the hope is to include railroad square and the full downtown area from the former paper mill site to the historic town hall building. Responses are due by Dec. 16. After proposals are received, a committee will evaluate responses.

“We want to create a mix of commercial uses, residential, open space areas, basically making it more friendly for pedestrian activities. Pepperell is a place where people want to come and stay and shop,” Gingras said.

With an overlay district, the underlying zoning will remain in place. However, Gingras said it would give potential businesses and the Planning Board more flexibilities to find spaces that meet their needs.

Gingras used the example of a bakery looking to open in town — it would still require a special permit from the Planning Board and the business would need to understand where it is moving in, but it may have more options as to where it can operate.

With the possibility for new development will come an emphasis on maintaining the town’s current look and feel. The intent is not to create new buildings with a modern looking design. Gingras believes Pepperell has much to enjoy already and the changes would allow more to reap the benefits of being in town.

“There’s going to be specific things that whoever is coming in has to adhere to so that you’re not losing that look that currently exists in Pepperell. You’re allowing more opportunities for affordable housing or senior housing, more limited commercial uses in the residential areas, but you’re just providing those opportunities while keeping the same look of the town,” Gingras said.

Select Board Chair Margaret Scarsdale agreed and highlighted the reasons people choose to live and work in Pepperell currently.

“You’ve got the rail trail right here, the Nashua River and the Nissitissit River are close by. Both of those are wild and scenic rivers. There’s so many things to bring people to Pepperell and to keep them here, so this revitalization is a cornerstone,” Scarsdale said.

As the town looks to make zoning modifications, Gingras said an important component will be input from the community.

“There definitely will be a lot of public involvement with us. We’ll be having not only the meetings with the planning board, but we’ll be having meetings, you know, for the general public to come to ask questions, give comments provide input on what they want to see in railroad square and the Main Street corridor.”

Select Board Chair Margaret Scarsdale also confirmed public input is an important part of how the town will proceed.

“The way projects are successful, the way they get done is people feel like they have ownership and that their voices have been included,” Scarsdale said.

The $47,000 grant came via the state’s Community One Stop for Growth program — which was launched by the Baker-Polito administration in January. The One Stop program replaced a series of 10 smaller grants, each of which required separate statements of interest and grant proposals.

Scarsdale, speaking from her teaching experience, compared the new process to submitting a first draft and receiving feedback before the final project is submitted. When a town submits its proposal, the state helps identify where on the One Stop continuum it falls and what is the best use of the proposal, if it doesn’t meet any of the criteria.

For smaller towns like Pepperell, who may not have as many resources as larger neighboring towns or nearby cities, Scarsdale said it “really helps level the playing field.”

For more information about the request for proposals currently out to bid, visit: town.pepperell.ma.us/775/Bid-Opportunities.