There was a fundamental question raised at last night’s Planning Board meeting: should we encourage or allow new commercial development in the town center at all?
The Planning Board kicked off its mixed-use/design guideline study last night in a well-attended meeting that featured an engaging hour-long discussion. The newly hired Metropolitan Area Planning Council consultant, Mark Racicot, gave an overview of the scope of work as well as his preliminary assessment of Bolton zoning bylaws and existing conditions. He requested feedback as to the extent of the town to be covered by this review (i.e. just the village center, or multiple areas). Although there seemed to be agreement among board members to include most of Route 117 in the scope of deliverables, much of the discussion nonetheless focused on the town center and an intense interest in the disposition of the Smith property, and how design guidelines and mixed-use zoning could impact that property and the town center in general.
The last 20 minutes was devoted to audience comment. Several speakers addressed the more basic question of whether it is appropriate and desirable to encourage expansion of commercial uses in the town center. They said no and instead suggested that the town should focus efforts toward facilitating commercial expansion in the areas already designated as business zones, especially where roads and available space can handle it. And in the town center, the town should move instead to protect those authentically historic and predominantly residential characteristics that have defined the center for generations. In other words, be very careful about opening the doors to commercial in-fill in the town center, regardless of the design. The consequences could be far-reaching.
I am providing audio of the full discussion (1 hour). It is worth listening to. Some of the defining characteristics of the Bolton of 20-30 years from now will be determined in these and subsequent discussions. Audio can be accessed here as an mp3 file or you can listen directly by clicking on the audio button below. The consultant handed out helpful notes during his opening remarks. Those notes are here.