CUMBERLAND — After receiving mixed input from councilors and citizens, the Town Council Monday postponed discussion about creating a Village Center Committee until spring.
Councilors also forwarded a report from the Doane Property Advisory Committee to the Planning Board, which will hold a public hearing on recommended zoning changes that would make the property attractive to private developers.
The Village Center Committee proposal, initiated by Councilor Michael Perfetti, would have created a nine-member committee charged with evaluating town needs and desires, as well as the zoning history and current uses of the area between Greely and Corey roads from Sweetsers on Blanchard Road to Town Hall on Tuttle Road.
In light of ongoing Town Council workshop consideration of Main Street zoning, Perfetti hoped that a committee might provide a more comprehensive vision of the Village Center area, helping to guide changes or the decision not to change.
Council workshops have focused on whether the town should adopt an overlay district on Main Street to guide business growth, or if it should continue using only contract zones to allow spot development. Arguments for those two possible directions loomed over the discussion Monday, though feelings were mixed on both sides as to whether a new committee would be appropriate.
Council Chairman George Turner, so far an advocate for contract zoning instead of an overlay district, was skeptical about the need for a committee, arguing that there are not enough properties suited for change in that area to warrant six months of work by nine citizens.
Councilors Stephen Moriarty and Ron Copp, whose positions on zoning changes are not yet clear, suggested that while the idea of a
committee is a good one – and necessary, they said, if zoning changes
are going to be considered – they don’t see the need for one at this time.
Moriarty said he hopes to wait until the council gets clarification on rules
regarding non-conforming use in the district, and whether the area’s
needs could be addressed under current – but perhaps so far
misinterpreted – allowances.
Several Main Street area residents, including Dan Nuzzi, spoke in favor of forming the committee “before tinkering” further with overlay or contract zoning.
“Let’s hammer out, for the benefit of all, a holistic vision of the area,” Nuzzi said, a vision to which the council could turn for guidance when considering future contract zones. He said contract zones are currently established “on the whim of the council on a council-by-council basis.”
Ivy Frignoca, of the Cottage Farms neighborhood, said that she often doesn’t understand why certain changes occur along Main Street, because she doesn’t know the goals of the Village Center. Advocating for the creation of a committee, she said it would invite needed participation and discussion on a comprehensive vision, which she feels is lacking from the seemingly “ad hoc” contract zoning process.
Main Street resident Bill Follett agreed, saying that utilizing a committee would encourage a “collaborative rather than a combative environment” for future Main Street discussions.
Despite citizen support for the panel, councilors voted 5-2 to postpone discussion on creating a committee until their March 9 meeting. Councilors Perfetti and Jeff Porter were opposed.
In other business, the council voted unanimously to send a recommendation by the Doane Property Advisory Committee to the Planning Board, which is expected to hold a public hearing at its Jan. 20 meeting.
The committee’s conclusions come after a year of work.
Charged with evaluating the potential uses of the town-owned, 40-acre property off Drowne Road, the committee is suggesting creating a new zone for the property, which is currently an RR-I residential zone. The new zone is proposed as village mixed-use, and would include both residential and commercial uses.
The committee is recommending that the town rezone and then sell the property to developers after guiding principles have been laid down in the zoning ordinance.
Despite the village-center-like uses proposed, committee spokeswoman Pam Russell said that the group feels strongly that the area not be seen as a new Main Street.
“Main Street is our center of gravity,” she said, “and we don’t want to see that shift.”
After a Planning Board public hearing and vote, the matter will come back to the Town Council for another public hearing.