Planners will take one more crack at bylaw overhaul

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MANCHESTER — The overhaul of the town's zoning ordinance got some fine-tuning Monday night, but the Planning Commission will need at least one more work session to complete its review of comments on the plan before sending it to the Select Board for a public hearing and final approval.

Commission members and the town planning and zoning director, Janet Hurley, used their full allotted two hours on Monday night to sort through comments, questions and proposals that were submitted via letters, notes, emails, phone calls and post-it note comments left on copies of the proposal at town hall. In several instances, the comments led the board to make slight changes in approved uses within the plan.

The zoning proposal, the product of months of effort, is intended to foster the growth of mixed-use development and workforce housing in and around a pedestrian-friendly Manchester Center, while promoting the conservation of open space in rural and agricultural areas and discouraging sprawl. It also reduces the number of overlay districts that had been added over the years, in an attempt to make the map and the regulations easier to understand and use.

The commission, acting on a comment asking whether a density bonus would be available for the mixed use 2 zone, decided that it could offer up to a 50 percent bonus (up to 15 units on a one-acre lot zoned for 10) and a height bonus extending to 40 feet, as long as 70 percent or more of the parking is located underneath the building. The parking may be open air rather than an enclosed garage — hence requiring no ventilation for vehicle exhaust — and no parking waiver would be allowed for projects receiving the density bonus.

Not every suggestion resulted in action.

While the commission decided the Office Industrial zone should allow specialty schools, it declined to add grade schools to the allowed uses.

The commission also passed on a request that it reconsider its requirement that new buildings in the Town Center and Downtown districts be at least two stories.

Another comment suggested allowing movie theaters in the Office Industrial district. Commission member Tina Cutler at first supported that idea, noting that indoor recreation is already an approved use in that zone.

But commission member Todd Nebraska pointed out that the town wants to encourage entertainment and nightlife downtown, rather than diverting traffic to office and industrial park areas, and that it's unlikely the town can support more than the one movie theater it has. Cutler agreed with Nebraska, and the suggestion was declined.

The board did not budge from the proposed maximum 40-foot building height in the downtown area, but it did add a wrinkle to the plan. It agreed with a suggestion from a resident that the top floor of any four-story building be "terraced" by at least 10 feet, so that the top floor is not flush with the front facade.

Another concern was whether the allowable uses and 90-foot frontage requirement for the mixed use 2 zone — most notably on Main Street north of Manchester Center — would prevent a big box store, such as Central Tractor, from moving into a neighborhood that is still largely residential.

Manchester resident Dee Myrvang said she is concerned that such uses would increase noise and traffic, and urged the commission to consider what uses are compatible for the neighborhood. The commission decided that the 90-foot frontage, which applies to new subdivisions in the zone, was adequate.

The commission will continue its fine-tuning of the proposal at its next meeting, scheduled for Feb. 19, by taking up comments from the minutes of its two public hearings on the proposal last month. Once the commission issues its approval, the ordinance will head to the Select Board for one more public hearing and an up-or-down vote.

That's not expected to happen until March, after town meeting.

The proposed ordinance is available for review at Town Hall.

Reach Journal editor Greg Sukiennik at 802-490-6000 or at gsukiennik@manchesterjournal.com.

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