Open space defines zoning changes

Parking, signage and salvage also on the agenda

There could be more pocket parks and green space in Milton if the latest round of zoning regulations passes inspection.

Milton’s Planning Commission is reviewing a slew of changes to its zoning regs, the first brushup since 2011, and one of the more significant items requires certain developers to include legally protected open space, some for community recreation.

This and other proposals, including the M2 density changes reported in the Milton Independent last month, will be discussed at a public hearing next week.

The open space amendment affects mixed use planned unit developments, defined as lots with one or more owners managing multiple uses in one or more buildings, in Milton’s downtown districts, Planning Director Katherine Sonnick said. Residential PUDs have this requirement, but none have been built to test it out, she added.

The proposal jibes with the 2013 Comprehensive Plan, which says open space tends to be undevelopable, as in stormwater retention ponds or spaces between buildings, Sonnick said. The goal is to create a homey, community feeling, a hard-to-define but longstanding goal for Milton’s town core.

The general open space provision affects a handful of districts, including Downtown Business 1 in the town core. Depending on the district, between 20 and 50 percent of the land must remain open.

In Milton’s M1, M2, M4, M5 and M6 districts, half of the 20 percent of required open land must be saved for community recreation. The districts span  Main Street, Railroad Street, sections of Route 7, Haydenberry Drive and Villemaire Lane.

The Planning Commission consciously left “community recreation space” open to interpretation, only saying it should be contiguous and “encourage civic activities that foster neighborliness.”

“It could lend to some interesting conversations,” Sonnick said, noting if the Development Review Board finds it needs more clarity, the PC can consider a review.

For example, a developer wants to build a mixed use PUD on a 10-acre lot on Main Street. The M6 district requires 20 percent or 2 acres left open. Half of that, just an acre, must be for recreation and conserved as such with easements, covenants or other mechanisms.

Sonnick acknowledged the rule could create very small spaces to work with and could affect the number of units a developer can build, especially since mixed use PUDs also need room for parking. But she sees the change as a give-and-take since builders can get more density with PUDs than with multifamily housing.

“It’s fair to put a little bit more requirements on them,” Sonnick said. “[It’s like], ‘we’ll give you this, but you’ve gotta give us this.’ I think that’s pretty understood, and we don’t get a lot of complaints.”

Developers might need to get creative, like building more expensive underground parking, to make the open space work, she added.

The PC also adopted similar language for multifamily housing with 10 or more units in certain districts and for elderly housing complexes.

The proposal will likely affect senior housing developer Cathedral Square Corporation, which anticipates getting funding for up to 40 senior apartments this week, sited in Milton.

Project Manager Sam Beall doesn’t think the open space rule will negatively impact CSC’s plans, particularly since some districts allow for more stories. And because CSC works to keep seniors independent and healthy, its plans would likely include recreation opportunities, he said.

But Director of Development Cindy Reid said the company has struggled to find its desired density; she didn’t want to appear critical of the zoning process, however, and said CSC supports the open space initiative.

“To the extent the town can incentivize density while also maintaining open space … and connections to services like walking paths and sidewalks, we encourage that,” Reid said.

Sidewalks were also bolstered in the zoning regs, in all M districts, DB1 and R1. Previously, language said the DRB “may” require them along public roads, but the proposal upgrades that to “shall” and gives multiuse paths as an alternative.

The town wants to close gaps in its sidewalk network, but the change only requires the infrastructure in front of a developer’s own property, not an entire street. The rule is only applicable to projects that require DRB review, Sonnick clarified.

The commission also changed parking rules based on the unit’s use. For example, a studio apartment (newly defined in regs) only needs one space, but a general office needs three for every 1,000 square feet of gross floor area. More uses are listed in this table, including neighborhood convenience stores, indoor recreation, laundromats, bakeries and more.

The signage section was also revamped to allow temporary banners for longer. And now, all tenants in a PUD, not just one, can hang signs, too. The regs also include graphic illustrations of signs to create consistency, something attendees at a February 2012 forum said doesn’t exist along the Route 7 corridor.

Another change would allow recycling yards as a conditional use in the Industrial 2 District.

“We realized that we have a whole section on salvage yards in the zoning regs, but there’s no district where you’re permitted to have a new one,” Sonnick said. “It seems like it would make sense to allow them somewhere.”

The I2 district covers the Catamount Industrial Park and an area on West Milton Road.

Sonnick said this round doesn’t address every issue in town but attempts to chip away at some common problems. The PC already has more in the docket, including potentially changing uses allowed for the Stannard House to allow a welcome center in the historic structure.

Interested residents can attend the PC’s next hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. at the fire station. The Selectboard will also warn its own hearing after Town Meeting Day. For more information, visit bit.ly/1iLoGoM; this story only covers a handful of the proposed changes.

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