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Conway: Usage is first priority

Rose property would require zoning bylaw changes

CONWAY —Whether the Rose property becomes home to affordable housing, soccer fields, a municipal multi-use complex or a highway garage, the town would have to change its zoning bylaws to accommodate the change. And it has only one chance to do so.

The Rose property, along with most of the town, is zoned for agricultural uses.

“Most of the proposals will require a change in the zoning bylaws,” said Joe Strzegowski, a Planning Board member. “I think it’s all doable. The Planning Board is trying to be proactive and look at what has to be changed in the bylaws.”

The Rose property, off Shelburne Falls Road near the center of town, is 11 acres of flat land the town acquired in 2006 in exchange for a house near the Conway Grammar School. In the last six years, different committees have considered ideas for how to use the land along the South River.

This month, the Rose property came into sharp focus after the Board of Selectmen revealed its proposal to build a municipal multi-use complex, combining town offices, the fire and police departments and a highway garage. The selectmen’s proposal, which they were developing quietly, caught other town boards and committees off guard because the Planning Board, Housing Committee and Parks and Recreation Committee have been investigating the property for other, possibly conflicting, uses for several years.

The town zoning, last modified in April 2005, designates the town as a residential/agricultural district, excluding the area around Orchard Equipment Co., designated a light industrial district.

At the Rose property, the state Natural Heritage agency found an endangered species of turtle. As a result, the state allows the town to change the zoned use of the land only one time.

Strzegowski said the Planning Board would contact Natural Heritage again to see if the one-time change rule still applies.

The town would also have to consider conservation restrictions on the land as well. The property is on a flood plain, with a 200-foot buffer between any building and the floodplain.

On Jan. 10, the Planning Board will hold an all-committees meeting to hear proposals from different stakeholders of the Rose property.

The Housing Committee wants to use the site for affordable housing for seniors. The Parks and Recreation Committee sees the property as a place for two soccer fields. The selectmen are pushing for a municipal multi-use complex. They will arrange their own meeting on Jan. 14.

A private land use designer, Tom O’Brien of Conway, proposed a combination of uses, including affordable housing, a town complex and two soccer fields.

Each of these proposals could require different zoning changes. Whatever the town decides will require town meeting approval — for a zoning change and for the development.

If the property is used for affordable housing for seniors, the town would have to change the zoning to allow for higher density than currently allowed. The Housing Committee is proposing six to 12 houses of 900 to 1,200 square feet each. Under current zoning three houses would take up 12 acres.

A change to higher density housing is also needed for O’Brien’s proposals.

If the selectmen’s municipal complex is chosen, zoning would have to change to allow commercial use, which considers whether there are more than 15 employees or 50 customers. If there are only 15 employees, zoning may not have to change, Strzegowski said.

The soccer fields would be permitted under the existing bylaws. Natural Heritage may also have an issue with activity so close to an endangered species.

“I think it’s all doable. We don’t know how to address the zoning bylaws until we know what direction we take,” Strzegowski said.

In the coming months, the Planning Board will revise the town’s zoning bylaws.

“We need to tighten up and revisit a lot of zoning laws,” Planning Board Chair Diane Poland said. “We need more specificity and clarity.”

The town planners hope to make revisions before town meeting in May.

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