CUMBERLAND — A proposed update to the town’s 2009 Comprehensive Plan, due to go before the Town Council in November, will re-examine zoning in view of changes in the residential and commercial markets.
The process is also meant to make sure the plan’s long-range direction is something the community still wants, Town Planner Carla Nixon said on Monday.
“I would like (the update) to really reflect the 2013 realities of the market, for both commercial and residential housing, as well as our infrastructure capacity and where we can see growth happen,” Nixon said. “… It’s really looking at the big picture; what do we want Cumberland to look like, feel like, be like?”
The Comprehensive Plan Update Committee plans to discuss land use on Sept. 12 and housing Sept. 26, then review a draft report of recommended updates on Oct. 10. That report is due to be finalized Oct. 24, and go to the Town Council for possible adoption Nov. 15.
Nixon recommended the update in a March 4 memo to Town Manager Bill Shane. She noted that the town has been asked to consider projects not in conformance with its current ordinances.
Ordinance changes and contract zoning are two available options, the latter of which can be complicated, Nixon said. Cumberland has used contract zoning for 10 projects in the past 22 years, and eight of those have been in the past six years – and all generated opposition from nearby residents, she said.
“Contract zoning can be a useful planning tool in certain situations; however the state statute that allows for contract zoning by a municipality requires that any proposed contract zone be in conformance with the current Comprehensive Plan,” Nixon said. “This is one of the reasons that I recommend we update the 2009 plan.”
A comprehensive plan recommends actions for a municipality to take, such as ordinance changes. Cumberland has implemented, or is currently implementing, most of the actions called for in the 2009 document.
The 2009 plan “did a great job … it’s done what it needs to do,” Nixon said, noting the plan’s recommendations allowed projects like the Village Green subdivision, the Drowne Road School senior housing apartments, and Doc’s Cafe to happen.
Nixon noted that the Route 100 Corridor Planning Committee called for four new commercial zones along that corridor, but that only one allowed housing. With no demand for commercial development at the south end after more than four years, the Town Council supported contract zone agreements to facilitate two recent housing developments on Route 100 – between Mill and Wilson roads in the Village Office Commercial 1 Zone, at the former Castlerock commercial subdivision, and across the street at Morrison’s Hill.
The goal has been to boost the number of residents in the area, thereby creating a demand for non-residential development, Nixon said.
“Zoning sometimes needs to be fluid and responsive to what’s going on in society,” Nixon said Monday, noting that several years ago, “the Route 100 Committee … said ‘we want to have a commercial corridor;’ it just hasn’t taken off. And what there is a demand for are small, brand-new single-family detached homes that are affordable.”
While she and others desire a commercial hub to develop on that corridor, the population density does not exist to support it, Nixon explained.
“Communities can’t really sustain themselves by having low or no growth,” she said.
Two zones on either side of Blanchard Road are labeled Rural Residential 1 and 2; RR1 requires all new lots to be at least four acres in size, while RR2 sets a two-acre minimum. Reduction of those restrictions in order to facilitate increased residential growth is one matter the update committee is considering.
A groundwater study had triggered the need to spread out residences, but improved septic systems in more recent years have made that issue moot, Nixon said.
“We’re trying to be more direct in having clustered subdivisions in those areas but having a lot of open space around them, having trails connecting them,” she said.