The Marion Planning Board listened on October 16 to a number of Marion residents who support the resurrection of the proposed zoning bylaw change for land located north of Route 6 that was defeated at Town Meeting this past May.
The board was asked to spearhead the new effort to persuade residents to approve the zoning change.
In what would prove to be a lengthy discussion of past strategy mistakes, town resident Sherman Briggs initiated the discussion with the board, noting that he had been contacted by Marion Town Planner Gil Hilario asking that Briggs reconsider the proposed development of the land on Spring Street.
Briggs had previously pitched the idea of a multi-use development off Spring Street that included 34 housing units for what was described as “empty-nesters”. In order to implement his development plan, the zoning on the property must be changed from General Business/Limited Industrial to Residence E Multifamily Residence.
Voters rejected this change at Marion’s Annual Town Meeting in May.
The attorney for Briggs, Patricia McArdle, requested that the Planning Board bring the article to Town Meeting, saying, “Procedurally, because we brought it before Town Meeting before, we cannot bring it again for two years.”
Briggs stated that he would be “willing to run the gauntlet again,” adding, “But I’m done practicing.” He suggested that if the article was to go to Town Meeting that all Town boards should work cooperatively.
Planning Board Chairman Eileen Marum expressed her support of the zoning change, while Vice Chairman Steve Kokkins reviewed for the board the issues that were raised at the May Town Meeting.
Kokkins noted that there had been concerns about the density of the development and traffic related to it, but that generally he supported the project and the zoning change.
Board member Will Saltonstall commented, “A project of this nature is suitable for the location and property,” and wondered aloud why it didn’t succeed in May. Briggs replied, “Two words – John Rockwell.”
Saltonstall summarized what he believed Rockwell’s concerns were — that the area is zoned commercial, there is a certain amount allocated for the town, and was residential use the highest and best use for the land?
Board members acknowledged that the project dovetailed well with the Town’s draft Master Plan, which contemplates mixed-use developments. Briggs noted that the land already achieved mixed use with the inclusion of Baldwin Brothers and the Marion Institute on the property. He noted that the residents of his proposed housing development could walk to nearby businesses.
Saltonstall reiterated his support but cautioned, “We need to be careful how this is perceived. This is Sherman Briggs’ project, and we support it. Not push it, [Briggs] pushes it.”
Kokkins added that there was abundant commercial land in town that is under-utilized and that “times had changed” since that land had been zoned commercial.
McArdle highlighted the concern voters at Town Meeting had about the sewer, noting there is already sewer on the lot.
Town resident, tree warden, and participant in the development of the Master Plan Margie Baldwin spoke in support of the project, but suggested the Planning Board be aware that the zoning change could be perceived as a zoning change to benefit one developer. She urged the board to convince residents this zoning change is right for the town.
Resident and Marion business owner Dan Crete spoke in support of the zoning change, but admonished the board for not presenting the Town Meeting article well in May, saying “[It] was not marketed well, to be honest. There was no verbiage about why, or how it fit in [to the town], it was poorly done. It will be very important for the Planning Board to be persuasive at Town Meeting.”
Members of the board expressed their belief that the zoning change fit well with what was contemplated in the Town’s draft Master Plan, the adoption of which will be voted on at the upcoming Fall Special Town Meeting on October 23.
Board member Chris Collings suggested there might be more success with a new attempt at passing the zoning change because, “The difference is we have an actionable plan now – the applicant and the Planning Board can co-present this. [We are] trying to find candidate properties to [implement] our Master Plan.”
The discussion concluded with Hilario commenting that the Marion Affordable Housing Trust voted its support of the zoning change at its most recent meeting. Kokkins was quick to point out that the proposal is for market rate housing units, and they are not considered affordable housing. Board member Norm Hills warned the board that only the zoning change, not the development, should be discussed at Town Meeting, and the two should not be conflated.
In other business, the board was asked to make a recommendation to the ZBA regarding a request that 120 Front Street be considered an existing two-family structure. Hills pointed out that the structure has been abandoned for years, noting, “The Fire Department has used it a number of times for practice. I wonder what the inside looks like!” Hills brought up the zoning bylaw that states, “…a non-conforming use or structure that has been abandoned, or not used for a period of two years, shall lose its protected status…” and be subject to the current zoning bylaws. Hills believed that it was clear the intent of the owner was to raze the structure. The board agreed to make the recommendation to the ZBA that the property be held to current zoning requirements, and any other use would require a Special Permit.
The next meeting of the Marion Planning Board is scheduled for November 6 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.
Marion Planning Board
By Sarah French Storer