Proposed bylaw change defeated in Dorset

DORSET - In a heated meeting Tuesday night, the planning commission voted against a proposed zoning bylaw change. This amendment to the zoning bylaw would have allowed larger maximum building footprints in the village commercial district.

Lots less than half an acre would have been allowed a maximum building footprint of 30 percent of the buildable land, where lots larger than half an acre could have a building footprint of either 30 percent of the buildable land or 5,000 square feet, whichever is less.

Planning commission chairman Bill Breed said there are four village commercial districts: one is east Dorset, south Dorset south of Morse Hill Road, Dorset north of Morse Hill Road and the historic district.

According to the proposed amendment, the language would have promoted a way to advance economic development in the Dorset area.

The meeting at Dorset's town hall was standing room only and a majority of the crowd seemed to be against the proposed amendment. On more than one occasion the chairman Bill Breed had to instruct the attendants to not talk over one another and to stop shouting.

Before the public hearing was opened, the planning commission heard a report from the Design Review Board. Bob Escher, the chairman, presented their recommendation about the zoning amendment to the commission.

"There's been quite a discussion, and at the end the DRB felt basically in reviewing the four districts in Dorset that we felt the fact it is not appropriate the bylaw change be applied to the historic district, which is part of the historic village," he said. "This district should be separated out from the other three, meaning south Dorset and East Dorset, because it is located in the Dorset Village historic district which is listed in the national register of historic districts."

The DRB recommended that the village commercial district in the village historic district become its own district - called the historic village commercial district. Escher said no boundaries would need to be changed, but it would break away from any regulations and changes that apply to the other three village commercial districts, not on the national historic register.

While the board heard their recommendation, the chairman said this was diverging from the agenda item.

"What you're proposing is a whole separate zone," Breed said. "Your planning on moving the historic district area out of the VC [village commercial] and creating, you know, HVC [historic village commercial]."

Breed said another proposal would have to be warned for a new zone such as a historic village commercial for a separate meeting. What they were discussing at the meeting last night were all the village commercial areas.

The history behind why the areas were zoned the way they were has to deal with village scale.

"[In the town plan] since there was really no clear definition of what village scale meant, there was an allowed use of a car dealership over in village commercial which some people felt was not village scale," Breed said. "So I think what happened was in order to, without getting into a discussion of what constitutes village scale, an easy solution was to look to the existing zones and say...what do we have for an average building footprint."

Since then, there have been proposals that have featured larger building footprints, which could be appropriate for the size of the lot, Breed said. These proposals, as well as the ambiguity surrounding village scale, is where the genesis of this proposal came from, he said.

When the commission opened up the floor, the proposal was considered "radical" and "much too large" right away. Gay Squire, a planning commission member, brought up the fact that the Dorset Inn is a 7,000 square foot building, yet individuals do not seem to be complaining about the size of the inn. Yet when Squire tried to finish her point about how people were afraid of size, she was interrupted by shouts of "You can't control it."

"Within the district, there are so many criteria that control that [size and scope of a building]," she said. "That's what I'm trying to say, I think there's a fear of appearance, combined with oh my gosh it could be 5,000 square feet."

As the meeting progressed, concerns were expressed that a chain store-like a gas station or a Trader Joe's would want to come to Dorset with this change. Others thought it would ruin the Dorset brand the village is known for.

"Dorset is a brand and it's not to hard to figure that the architecture should be in the vernacular," Janet St. Germain, a Dorset resident said.

The group kept speaking mostly about the historic village. The planning commission reminded them on multiple occasions that this proposal covered all village commercial districts and not just specific projects.

Jeffrey Eleanor wanted to know why this proposal has moved forward. He mentioned the Barrow's House proposal for an event barn, which he called an "intrusion into the neighborhood."

"The intrusion that the events in that building will impose on the can put at least 200 people, multiply that out by the number of cars...the disturbance to the neighborhood is totally unacceptable," he said.

The board mentioned the Barrow's House is already holding events where the new space is proposed, except they use a tent. When the board mentioned that a structure could result in greater economic development in the area and possibly less noise for neighborhood residents, meeting attendants started shouting their disapproval.

Ryan Downey, a select board member and Brad Tyler, a Dorset resident, were both in favor of having the commission consider the proposal Escher brought before the commission from the DRB. That way, they could protect the historic village, while still promoting development in other parts of Dorset. Tyler mentioned young, new entrepreneurs, especially in construction or landscaping and how they may need a larger building.

"I think what we ought to be careful of, limiting the size to 2,000 square feet is you got to let them cover their equipment, or it is going to be an eyesore for Dorset," he said. "I understand the stores, I hear that. The chains, I hear that. The Dorset village scale, I hear that. It's all warranted. I just caution building too small of a building so these people coming up can't cover what they work with."

There was also discussion about making sure that Dorset does not become over built. Some were worried passing this amendment would allow too much development.

"I would implore the board to pay attention to what happened in Manchester," Jack Gilbert said. "We probably would all agree that Manchester is overbuilt, that there are too many retail stores."

After hearing all the comments from the attendants of the meeting, the board decided to close the hearing. They were in deliberative session for approximately half an hour and then voted. The board voted against the proposal 6 to 2, with Breed noting more time needs to be spent on the issue.


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