Saturday, November 7, 2009

DEVELOPMENT IN THE AREA: Recession Delays Fitchburg Housing Development

"All that is money is gone as of right now"

FITCHBURG -- The City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to postpone a decision on whether to implement zoning changes that would allow for residential use in old mill buildings in the River Street area until Dec. 1.

The decision came following a presentation by City Planning Coordinator David Streb explaining Smart Growth zoning, meant to create a mixed-use zoning district in the area that would allow residential development. The area is currently zoned for commercial and industrial use.

Ward 3 Councilor Joel Kaddy suggested the vote be postponed, because he wanted more time to review the Smart Growth plans.

Smart Growth districts were designed by Gov. Deval Patrick's administration to encourage urban, residential and mixed-use development close to public transportation. Twenty-percent of Smart Growth housing must be affordable, as outlined by state guidelines.

Streb spoke to councilors on economic incentives the state is supposed to award to cities and towns to encourage Smart Growth, though Mayor Lisa Wong said before the meeting on Thursday that the financial incentive piece will likely be cut as a result of a $600 million deficit in the state budget.

"All 40R payments were cut. All that is money is gone as of right now," said Wong. Smart Growth zoning is a 40R project.

Neither Wong nor Streb discussed the cuts during the City Council meeting.

"What would they do if it doesn't become a smart growth (zone). Will we let it rot?" asked Councilor-at-large Marcus DiNatale.  DiNatale's question came during a discussion in which several councilors voiced concerns to Streb, and Wong, about rezoning the mill buildings to attract residential developers, rather than commercial and industrial developers.

Councilor-at-large Dean Tran said he was "hesitant" to support the Smart Growth plan.

"We've had other projects in the past where there was some excitement generated, but nothing came to fruition," said Tran, of a residential project in the area of Main and North streets downtown.

Council President Stephen Hay said he was concerned about abutting property owners who live in the River Street area. Hay said now, abutters who are not happy with residential development projects in the area have a right to appeal before the Planning Board, because developers now must operate using special permits. If Smart Growth zoning is passed, abutters will no longer have that right, he said.

"To have the right taken away to appeal the special permit does bother me," said Hay.

Wong spoke out in support of the Smart Growth plan, saying it is the city's best chance to increase the tax base.

From the Sentinel and Enterprise November 6, 2009

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