New business construction, zone changes, additions and even changes in the specific use of an existing building are subject to a process that often involves several town commission meetings, hearings and at times bitter controversy about how Canton should look and grow.
It's a process that often takes months.
part of an ongoing discussion about that land-use process and recent questions about the town's Design Review Board, Neil Pade, the town’s
director of planning and community development, has proposed the town consider a
public process that would create very specific design standards, regulations
and codes, especially for Route 44 and perhaps a few other areas, such as
Under such a scenario, standards would be drafted and town staff could approve applications that complied. It would be a dramatic shift from the process of approving every application through meetings and public hearings.
basically taking that argument and that fight that happens on a case by case
basis night in and night out in our land use commission meetings and having it
all up front — adopting regulations and then allowing them to be administered
by staff, in house,” Pade recently told the Board of Selectmen.
get there, the town would likely engage in an intensive public input process,
that might include a “charette,” in which a consultant would gather input from
residents, business owners, officials and others.
“That process is not an easy process; It’s not a cheap process,” said Pade, who estimated the cost at $80,000 to $150,000.
Tom Sevigny has been an advocate of such a process.
“This is essential,” selectman Tom Sevigny said. “I think it changes us from a reactive land use process to a proactive process.”
The Design Review Team brochure includes Design Guidelines but this would go much further, Pade said.
"It’s an entire change in culture on how we approach land use," said Pade, adding that if the town moves in this direction, it should go "all in."
It’s one of the suggestions Pade made to selectmen last week after several discussions on land use and the town’s Design Review Team, which advises the zoning commission on applications. The team often meets with developers and makes suggestions about architecture, landscaping, lighting and similar aspects before they go the Zoning Commission. Earlier this summer, the Chamber of Commerce advocated it be dissolved and after numerous discussions with arguments on both sides, Pade has made the following recommendations:
- “1. Establish threshold jurisdictional limits. Changes to approved site plans that fall under certain thresholds would not be required to go to the Design Review Team (DRT) or possibly Zoning. An example of a regulatory mechanism that allows this is attached. (See “Technical and Minor Changes”).
- 2. Engage in a public process to develop comprehensive standards in the form of Design Standards, Village District Regulations, or Form Based Codes (design standards/ regulations/ codes) for specified areas of Route 44, and possibly Collinsville.
- 3. Remove/ reduce the use of special permits to regulate the commercial corridor (and Collinsville). Instead, streamline the process by allowing administrative approvals for projects that meet adopted design standards/ regulations/ codes.
- 4. Do not preclude development that is not foreseen. Provide freedom for projects that wish to deviate from specific standards/ regulations/ codes. (Applicants should have the option to go before the Commission/ DRT to seek approval of developments that do not comply with adopted standards).”
Lowell Humphrey said he felt the DRT process has resulted in some good designs and while he said he does not oppose standards, he questioned whether such a process with so much staff approval takes too many decision out of the public view when specific projects are proposed.
“If a lot of this moved to staff, is there a risk of losing input from abutting property owners?” Humphrey asked. “What kind of input does the neighbors have before construction begins or remodeling?”
said it would be a huge change but would allow parties on all sides to know
what is expected and have those conversations ahead of time. Many changes in the current rewrite of the Zoning regulations
address what abutters have suggested in application after application, he
Humphrey said he still had concerns, saying residents may not be aware of something until it happens.
“My experience has been that a lot of people don’t pay much attention until the dump truck backs up in the lot next door,” Humphrey said.
said the town should also help abutting owners not just businesses. Sevigny
said he felt that such a process is actually more helpful to citizens, who would know
exactly what the town’s plans are.
“Now we have no idea and it causes a lot of conflict when developers come in with their plan,” Sevigny said, adding that the town will now tell developers “what we want.”
the town decides in terms of the design process, it won’t be a quick one. Officials
said projects such as that Zoning Rewrite and the updated Plan of Conservation
and Development, while somewhat related, have to be finished first.
change that could happen quicker is a proposal to combine the town’s Planning
and Zoning Commissions.
discussed the idea of brining that proposal to a town meeting but made no final
Chief Administrative Officer Robert Skinner said the town would adopt an ordinance to dissolve the planning and zoning commissions and then create a singular one.
Skinner is drafting proposed timelines for both ideas and bring it to selectmen in time for their next meeting on Sept. 11.
See documents related to the discussion here.
the entire conversation from the last Board of Selectmen here.
The Design Review discussion begins approximate 12 minutes in and the Planning and Zoning Commission one about one hour, three minutes into the meeting.