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Is Charlemont ready for ‘village’ zoning?

CHARLEMONT — Over the past year, a group of residents and businesses have held an “economic roundtable” to discuss ways in which to revitalize the downtown center, expand business and commerce, and persuade the tourists passing through town on their way to somewhere else to stop and visit the local businesses.

Could a zoning change be part of that solution?

According to the Planning Board, about 75 percent of the village center properties are “non-conforming” lots, according to the current, “one size fits all” zoning bylaws of the town. Most of the village center lots are less than the minimum 1-acre lot and do not have 150-foot frontage. Under current zoning regulations, this means a lengthier special permit process is required for almost any change.

The Planning Board is proposing a new “Village Center District,” which would allow for greater building density and more “by-right” building uses within the mile-long stretch of Main Street (Route 2), from the beginning of the Charlemont Sewer District to Zoar Outdoor.

The exact parameters of the new Village Center zoning are still being debated, while the board prepares to bring a proposal to town meeting floor this spring. But the purpose of adding this new designation is to “encourage the development of a vibrant mix of commercial and residential uses in a way that respects the character” of the traditional village. The new zoning would allow for denser development, and fewer special permit requirements than are permitted in the town’s rural district.

So far, two public hearings have been held to explain the proposal, and get feedback, from residents and local business people. The next public meeting on Village Center zoning will be held on Feb. 27.

To encourage denser development and “create a clear physical center of the community,” the physical size for a conforming-lot in the village center would be 5,000 square feet, with a minimum frontage of 50 feet, and 10-foot setbacks in the front, side and rear. Planning Board Co-chair Gisela Walker said these dimensions would mean that about 90 percent of all lots within the village district would then be conforming lots with more “by-right” development options than are possible in the town’s rural district. By-right permitted uses in the village district would include: single and two-family dwellings; accessory apartments; farm stands; automatic teller machines attached to commercial buildings; accessory vehicle sales; and bed-and-breakfast places with up to six guest rooms.

Site-plan reviews — instead of special permits — would be used by the Planning Board to set “reasonable conditions to ensure that a development protects the environment, scenic qualities and character of the neighborhood and town. The board can reject a proposal through the special permit process, but keep working with the proponent in a site-plan review until they reach agreement. Examples of when the site-plan review would be used would include: for multi-family dwellings of up to eight apartments; establishing upstairs apartments within a commercial building; commercial greenhouses on lots larger than 5 acres; nursing homes; and business offices banks, laundries, hotels, inns, or retail stores with up to 3,000 square feet of enclosed floor space.

Uses that would be prohibited within the Village Center would include: temporary mobile homes and mobile home parks; agricultural uses or commercial greenhouses on less than five acres; cemeteries; stand-alone ATMs; drive-through restaurants; commercial motor vehicle sales; campgrounds; self-storage facilities; kennels; electricity generating facilities; earth removal; sawmills, warehousing, recycling facilities and junk-yards.

The Planning Board is also holding public meetings concerning other possible zoning changes. These include two meetings on a medical marijuana zoning bylaw and earth-removal zoning bylaw that would put the creation of new gravel pits under the regulatory oversight of an earth removal committee made up of representatives of the Planning Board, the Board of Health, the Conservation Commission and the Board of Selectmen. The next meeting on these topics will be held Thursday, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Hawlemont Regional School.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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