Responsible, sustainable planning

To the Editor:

This letter addresses the pro spect of amending Dorset's By-Laws to more than double the allowable footprint allowed in the Village Commercial District, which includes the Dorset Historic District. As a Dorset resident and real estate developer, I am in favor of finding ways for Dorset to evolve to ensure its long term self-sustainability, but am equally interested in maintaining the quality of life that underpins Dorset's appeal as a destination people are willing to invest in. To change By-Laws in an effort to hastily get approval for a single, non-conforming project (the Barrows House event barn) is a bad idea that will permanently compromise Dorset's very character.

In a short term view, it is easy to understand the positive financial impact an event facility would have on Dorset businesses: job creation and tax base expansion. While these are reasons to be ambitious and accommodating, the introduction of an event facility into the heart of Dorset's Historic District warrants significant scrutiny. Impacts to the environment, architectural context, and safety are key areas to be considered. Dorset's Historic District is critical to the town's draw as a destination and our emotional focal point - so much so that the By-Laws go to great lengths to defend it. Changing the By-Laws will redefine fundamental protections and set a precedent that could be impossible to recover from.

If the By-Laws are amended to allow a doubling of the building area, what is to stop subsequent developers from building equally sized facilities? What defense would the town have from a hotel chain wanting to build a large conference center? Given the abundance of available properties in the Historic District, an assemblage of real estate and subsequent development of such a facility is certainly possible. The appropriate way to consider development of an event facility is through application for a variance. Whereas a By-Law change permanently dilutes clearly defined development criteria, a variance allows the historic and aesthetic principles set forth to remain while providing the opportunity for a prospective non-conforming development to be rationally considered, debated and acted upon.

If done correctly, an expanded Barrows House will create more jobs and expand the tax base of our community in a responsible and sustainable way. On the other hand, a hasty accommodation to make this development happen could have long term and irreversible effects on the very character of our community that we all embrace. It is critical that this process is studied more carefully with the full knowledge of facts provided by an environmental impact report and in the light of an inclusive and civil discussion.

R. Webber Hudson



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