Armed with a 15-slide PowerPoint presentation and five pages of bylaw changes, Rochester Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Richard Cutler brought to order a special Saturday public meeting of the Rochester Planning Board and ZBA.
Working together, these two boards have been editing existing bylaws regulating the Limited Commercial District in Rochester in an effort to control and manage growth in this district.
Cutler ushered the group of about 20 mostly invited abutters through his presentation that defined the objectives of the proposed bylaw changes as well as the changes themselves.
The Limited Commercial District in question lies to the west/northwest and slightly east of where Plumb Corner is presently situated on Route 105 (Rounseville Road). There is also a triangular parcel with frontage on New Bedford Road to the east/southeast of the post office.
“We cannot stop growth, we can only manage it,” stated Cutler in his presentation. “If we don’t manage it, we will end up with our growth controlled by outside entities.” That said, there was still some push back to follow.
Continuing on, Cutler said that the Master Plan would recognize mixed use in the commercial district with more people-friendly aspects, such as a wider variety of development options including businesses mixed with residential spaces within the same structure.
Cutler also impressed on the assembled that the ZBA cannot do anything more than allow or deny applications requesting variances and special use considerations, whereas the Planning Board can regulate the type of construction allowed and enforce the bylaw via site plan review. He urged the group to give the Planning Board better control over the Limited Commercial District before sale of the lands took place.
Ward Benner, a resident of Mendell Road, was the first to speak up against mixed-use construction saying, “It’s a disaster waiting to happen!” He pointed to a fire in town in just such a type of structure, but was quickly reminded by Cutler and Planning Board member Michael Murphy that that building had been erected long before building codes and sound construction practices had been put in place.
Also voicing some concern was Woody Hartley, current town moderator and candidate for the Board of Selectmen. He suggested that any development in the Limited Commercial District would bring too much traffic to an area where, “…the confluence of roads, one a major thoroughfare, will create a traffic burden.”
Planning Board Chairman Arnold Johnson countered Hartley’s concerns saying, “We’ve done a good job with traffic so far. We can make them adjust traffic flow…. If we think traffic flow is going to be too much, we can control that…. They’d have to scale it back.”
“We should know going into this what the traffic is going to be,” said Hartley, to which Johnson replied, “Every business generates traffic. So do homes.”
Planning Board member Susan Teal continued Johnson’s thought saying, “But if we don’t give the Planning Board the bylaws to work with, a lot of what could be proposed will show up at the ZBA, but the Planning Board can do that through site plan review.”
She said that she lives on New Bedford Road and real traffic change experienced by Rochester had to do with the mall in Wareham, not developments in Rochester such as The Pines. She said that people are using Rochester roadways to get from Acushnet to Wareham to access the mall on Route 28.
Johnson said that the applicant would be required to pay for a traffic study that would report back to the Town.
“Traffic should be the limiting factor,” said Hartley in conclusion.
William Watling of New Bedford Road questioned the setback formula the bylaw would use along with a requirement that 20 percent of the ‘disturbed’ site would be required as green spaces, walkways, recreational areas and landscapes.
“That applicant can ask for a waiver by demonstrating there is a need,” said Johnson. “We can inject common sense when you craft legislation, you start with the worst case scenario, then you can legislate down, you can’t legislate up.” Johnson continued, “You’re going to have an opportunity to voice concerns as an abutter. The buildings are to be harmonious to other buildings.”
Chris Silveira, whose home is located near the post office, complained of light pollution, something he and his family have been dealing with. He said that the lighting around the post office was too bright and was left on throughout the night, illuminating the interior of his home. He asked about what sort of lighting limitations new bylaws might impose.
Teal said the Planning Board could regulate lighting now, whereas the ZBA cannot. Johnson said that light shielding would be required.
Murphy shared with the residents, “We love when you come in with comments and input so we can try to make everyone happy – people are a big help.”
The Planning Board and ZBA, along with Town Planner Mary Crain, will assemble the comments and present a draft to the selectmen. Further public hearings will be held in advance of Town Meeting on June 8.
If you have any comments or questions about changes to the Limited Commercial District, contact Mary Crain via email at MCrain@townofrochester.com or by phone at 508-763-5421.
By Marilou Newell