Exit 4 Zoning Proposal Moves To Selectboard

Front Page / May. 15, 2008 12:00am EDT

By M. D. Drysdale
You could forgive the Randolph selectmen for being a little stunned Tuesday night, as they were briefed by the planning commission on the details of the proposed new zoning at Exit 4.

Exit 4 Zoning Proposal Moves To Selectboard By M. D. Drysdale You could forgive the Randolph selectmen for being a little stunned Tuesday night, as they were briefed by the planning commission on the details of the proposed new zoning at Exit 4.

For most of the five selectmen, Exit 4 zoning was a familiar concept, but nothing more. They soon discovered, however, what a complicated document it is—and how important it is considered to be by the planning commission and the landowners in the area.

The planners had started with a draft zoning proposal early in 2004 and have been working on it ever since. Last month the planning commission finished their work and approved the zoning proposal, though on a split vote.

Now it is in the laps of the selectboard, which can pass it, change it, or drop it. Tuesday’s session was a way for the planning commission to explain the proposed ordinance and answer questions about it.

Commission Chair Alan Heath led the session, with help from Kevin Geiger of Two Rivers Regional Planning Commission, who is knowledgeable about the technical aspects.

The proposal creates four new zoning districts at Exit 4, one for each "quadrant" of the intersection. The districts vary to some extent, but they all attempt to balance the needs of the area for more employment and housing with the desire to protect important views and other environmental factors.

In general, retail establishments are not permitted, but office buildings, light manufacturing, recreational and cultural facilities are permitted, as is single and two-family housing.

Some quadrants also permit such uses as multi-family housing residential care facilities, and a hotel or motel.

Zoning approval will require the developer to adhere to some 31 design standards—compared to seven required elsewhere in town. An advisory commission on design would help interpret the standards on individual projects.

Who’s Satisfied?

Early in Tuesday’s meeting Selectman Larry Townsend tried to determine the level of support that the proposal has at this point.

"Is everyone satisfied?" he asked. "Members of the planning commission, landowners, residents of Randolph Center, are they satisfied? What’s the feedback you get?"

Selectboard Chair Stephen Webster wondered specifically about how the landowners felt. He noted that under the zoning, most of the current "driving range" parcel could not be built on.

"We’re not paying for this land," he commented. "Is the landowner OK with that?"

Those questions set the stage for Jesse "Sam" Sammis, who owns large parcels of land on both sides of Route 66 west of the Interstate.

"For the benefit of the selectboard, I would like to say that there has been a lot of discussion, a lot of pulls and pushes, and a lot of respect.

"The plan as proposed now represents a lot of hard work, a lot of thought, and the bottom line is (the approval of) this proposed plan and zoning regulations for Exit 4. I’m happy with them and would like to see them passed and get on with it."

As to his "driving range" property, Sammis said he realized that planners consider it "a very special piece of property. It’s not hidden down on a side road, there’s a lot of sensitivity."

With this approach, he said, "I think Randolph can come up with something that is pretty special. Randolph is ready to set a real example in cooperation."

Commission member Charles Russell, also responding to Townsend’s question, was not so positive. Admitting that he doesn’t care much for zoning, he said he feared what Sammis had applauded.

"This will be a model for future zoning in Randolph," he warned. "My main concern is rights. Just because the town can (legally) take something doesn’t mean it’s ethical to do so.

"If the people of Randolph want to protect this view," he concluded, "they should buy the land."

Too Many Layers?

The two and half hour discussion took in many pros and cons, and selectmen did not tip their hands about their opinions.

An exception was a concern expressed by Selectman Joe Voci about the proposed Advisory Commission on Design.

"Why do we need another layer," he demanded. "Don’t we have enough rules already?"

Heath and others responded that the commission would benefit potential developers, not hinder them. An experienced commission that understood the design concerns could help put together an attractive package, they said.

It was noted that the commission could make recommendations but it would have no authority to demand any particular design.

Joan Sax of Randolph Center responded to this discussion by pleading with the selectboard not to go in for important changes to the planning board’s recommendation.

"This was a good process," she said. "I think we should trust the community on this. There was a lot of give and take.

"A lot of us are not completely happy with it, but we can live with it. This shows that government can work—give it a chance!"

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