Proposed two-story rule amended

New hearing set for altered zoning proposal

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MANCHESTER — After gathering community input in two public hearings, the Manchester Select Board made seven amendments to a proposed new zoning ordinance and set another public hearing for the community to discuss the revised document.

The amendments ranged from clarifications to a compromise to the two-story mandate downtown, which would allow waivers to the rule under certain circumstances.

The proposed requirement that new construction in the downtown include a "functional" second story, to increase the number of housing units and density, has drawn the most scrutiny.

The two-year process of devising the proposed zoning ordinance, which included a needs assessment study, has resulted in a document with an eye to increasing density in some areas, maintaining open space on the outskirts and attracting more working professionals to live in or near downtown through the development of more multiuse

buildings.

During the public hearing this month, several commercial developers expressed concern over the proposed mandatory two-story rule, noting that the land is too expensive to build two stories and still charge an affordable rent. They also said most commercial developers just want to build a structure and lease it out, without getting into the complications of residential rentals.

Meanwhile, others expressed the desire to live in town, close to where they work, but there is no housing they can afford. Others noted that in other towns and small cities, such a strategy has been successful in creating economic activity and adding vibrancy to their downtowns.

Select Board Chairman Ivan C. Beattie, who had also questioned the two-story rule, proposed a change to the clause that would allow the Development Review Board to issue a waiver to the two-story rule.

The change would allow a waiver if the structure is less than 2,000 square feet, or if there is already a two story building on the property and the new structure would occupy 50 percent less of the parcel, or the primary use of the first floor is physically incompatible with a second story use.

It adds that if a waiver is granted, the new one-story building has to "add verticality" with architectural features such as gable roof, parapet or dormers.

Beattie said he was concerned that the two-story rule would drive out developers who would be forced into a business they don't want to be involved in on the second story when their primary business is on the ground floor.

"It seemed like the town is requiring someone into another business -- something that may not be the business they're in, an area where their passions do not take them," Beattie said.

Beattie's amendment passed with a vote of three to one. Select Board Member Steven Nichols voted against the measure. Select Board Member Greg Cutler recused himself from the vote.

Other amendments address screening around solar installations and utility facilities, adds a height bonus for affordable housing and workforce housing structures outside the town center and downtown areas, and adjusts the parking requirement for residential units.

The public hearing for the amended zoning ordinance was set for Tuesday, May 29 at 7 p.m. at town hall.

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