The same selectboard that passed a temporary ban on new public warehousing units three months ago unanimously approved a developer’s application to build more last Monday night.
In a 5-0 vote, members OK’d applicant Gordy Gilbert’s plans to expand Class Centre Mini Storage on Centre Drive with a new 300-square-foot self-storage building, a 2 percent footprint growth.
The town’s Development Review Board has yet to hear the application.
The selectboard vote was in direct conflict with the town’s newly passed interim zoning bylaws, which halt development of public warehousing townwide and of multifamily housing downtown for up to two years to encourage zoning that promotes sensible, organized growth to attract developers.
Commissioners have said public warehousing takes up valuable land serviced by publicly financed town utilities, as Class Centre does.
Interim zoning conditional use applications – those filed to build exactly what interim zoning protests – get hearings at the selectboard before going to the DRB.
Last Monday, local real estate developer Lloyd Gilbert, the applicant’s brother, said the project isn’t “new,” and is therefore exempt, since it increases an existing self-storage business. The PC, however, says the expansion is new since it’s not shown on any approved site plans.
Town staff recommended denying the application, saying it could “detract from creative economy industries,” “frustrate” other design and development goals and “result in an undue adverse effect on the comprehensive plan,” the primary document that guides growth in town.
PC Chairwoman Lori Donna said any expansion would be a disincentive to future redevelopment of the parcel. A different, future use could add much more to the grand list, she said.
But, selectman John Bartlett said, that’s theoretical. There since 1998, Gilbert isn’t planning on selling his retirement business anytime soon.
“The entire parcel would have to be sold to convert it into the use we’re trying to attain through interim zoning,” Bartlett said. “I’m trying to figure out in my head what the balance is.”
As-is, the 5-by-60-foot green space sited for the expansion couldn’t be used for anything else, Bartlett added. In that sense, he said, the board was asked to decide between possible redevelopment and probable increased tax revenue, “also in the town’s best interest.”
Donna expects new zoning will suggest siting new public warehousing outside the town core, and as such, encouraged the board to begin the practice now. Developers and investors support the idea, Donna said.
For his part, Gordy Gilbert said he’s also talked to builders who think interim zoning is too far-reaching.
“They’re of the opinion that Milton is built and going to be built the way it is,” he said in a follow-up interview. “To come up with a master plan that isn’t needed, I question whether it’s dealing with reality.”
At the meeting, selectman John Cushing said he’s concerned Milton isn’t building enough within its tax increment financing districts to pay back its borrowed debt. Any commercial development could help, he suggested.
“We’ve got people sitting here tonight who are ready to build something,” he said.
Gordy Gilbert said his service is needed in town, particularly for the planned apartments on Centre Drive and Bombardier Road. Otherwise, those customers will look out of town, he told the board.
Cushing wondered when the PC’s new zoning proposal would be done. Donna said members are working with a consultant on a timeline, but that the board-approved interim zoning effort takes effect for up to two years.
Donna reminded board members they agreed to interim zoning, public warehousing ban included.
“I would caution not to set precedent,” she said. “You intended to restrict these uses.”
Board member Ken Nolan recognized this before voting, saying that approving this project could allow another developer to “leverage this against us in the future.”
He said this project illustrates his fear that interim zoning could only be achieved when and if parcels are redeveloped. In the end, he supported Gilbert’s application.
After the vote, Donna said she hoped the selectboard would “hold the line.”
“We as a town have to decide what we want if we want to get the investment,” she said, noting developers want clearly defined regulations. “If we don’t start … we’re not going to change anything.”
Bartlett said this circumstance was unique and required a lot of thought. Cushing said the change to the lot was “so minute” that it didn’t negatively impact the interim zoning effort.
“I know how hard you’ve worked on it,” Cushing told Donna. “Certainly I support you and think you’re headed in the right direction. I just hope it can materialize.”
After the hearing closed, the board moved to its next item – to reappoint Donna to her position and DRB member David Conley to his. Conley commended the board’s vote, saying a small project like Gilbert’s doesn’t have a huge impact.
“A lot of people are going to try to change your minds,” Conley cautioned of future interim zoning proceedings. “Some tough decisions [are ahead].”
Gordy Gilbert’s project next goes to the DRB. He hopes it will pass there easily so the units can be built before winter.
“Very pleased,” he said of the result. “The board listened, and I think they evaluated and made the best decision.”