Town Elections and Zoning Amendments All On Tap
By Gregory T. Federspiel
A full plate of municipal decision making continues. Residents wrapped up a successful Annual Town Meeting, approving budgets, special project funding and expanding where research laboratories can be in town. Next week the Annual Town Elections take place on the 17th (7AM-8PM at the Memorial School) where several contested races are being held along with a ballot question regarding the future of public safety dispatching services.
Also, next Tuesday, May 17th beginning at 7PM via Zoom, the Planning Board holds formal hearings on proposed zoning changes that are slated to come before voters at a Special Town Meeting on June 11, 1PM at the Memorial School. The Planning Board has been hard at work on these proposed zoning amendments for over two years.
Our zoning regulations provide the framework for how a particular piece of property can be developed. Some uses can proceed “by right” meaning the Building Inspector can issue a permit for it as long as all the appropriate rules are being followed. Other uses can proceed after receiving a special permit from the Planning Board and/or Zoning Board of Appeals following a public hearing. Some uses are simply not allowed. After decades of a change here and a change there, the zoning regulations have undergone a top to bottom overhaul. Last fall voters approved a reformatting of the bylaws and the deletion of some obsolete sections. The proposals being advanced now continue the reformatting but also introduce additional changes that the Planning Board, with input from other boards and residents, believes will streamline permitting, make the regulations clearer and provide for greater diversity of housing.
The complete set of changes can be viewed on the Town’s web site. A four-page summary of the changes is also available. There are 12 sections to the zoning regulations. From an ease-of-use perspective, the biggest change comes in the reformatting of Section 4. Here a new table summarizes the allowed uses in each zoning district, replacing lengthy narratives that described these uses by district. Minor changes have been made, like making swimming pools a by-right use assuming the requisite criteria are met. Dimensional requirements, which do not change, have also been placed in an easier to read table in Section 5.
The Definition section has been expanded. Here the goals have been to place all definitions into one section (2) and to clear up ambiguities by providing definitions to the many terms that are used in the regulations.
Section 6, General Regulations has been streamlined. Subsections covering curb-cuts, junk cars and stormwater management are proposed to be moved to the Town’s General Bylaw due to the wider applicability of these rules have beyond new development proposals. A single set of design standards will provide guidance for all construction requiring special permits and site plan reviews.
Non-conforming use regulations are moved out of Section 6 and into a revamped Section 7. Given the age of buildings and lots, some three quarters of the properties in Town do not fully comply with current zoning. It is proposed that smaller changes to non-conforming properties would not need a special permit and that where a special permit is needed the ZBA would have greater flexibility in approving modifications to properties that are non-conforming.
A new Section 8 regulating Adult Entertainment is proposed. A community is obligated to allow such uses, but we can restrict the location. The proposal is to allow adult entertainment establishments in the Limited Commercial District only.
A revamped Section 9 deals with special residential use regulations. Accessory dwelling units would be allowed by right assuming they meet the rules – no more then 900 square feet, owner occupancy requirements, leases of at least 6 months and an annual cap of 20 such permits a year. Rules governing Residential Conservation Cluster developments are modified including an incentive for providing affordable housing. Finally, a new subsection on senior housing is added. Assisted living and long-term care facilities could be allowed through a special permitting process.
Lastly, Section 12, Administration and Procedures (formally section 7) has been updated for clarity and to come into compliance with new laws.
While perhaps not the most exciting reading, the proposed zoning regulations are important and will make for smoother reviews of development proposals while providing the opportunity to diversify housing in Manchester in an orderly fashion. The Planning Board deserves credit for their tenacity in getting through these proposed revisions. Your careful consideration of the changes, input at the hearings on the 17th (continued to the 18th if needed) and vote at the Special Town Meeting are highly encouraged.