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Ashland Town Council defers downtown plan

Posted on Thursday, June 19, 2014 at 9:53 am

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Ashland Town Council deferred action Tuesday night on what’s proving to be a controversial update of the town’s B1 commercial zoning ordinance, telling those gathered at Town Hall that more input and discussion is needed before they can take final action.

Town planning staff had requested deferral on the ordinance change, following the town planning commission’s reluctant recommendation in May that the B1 rewrite go forward to council.

The historic Hanover Bank building would be the northern boundary of a proposed special downtown business district.

The historic Hanover Bank building would be the northern boundary of a proposed special downtown business district.

The ordinance is aimed at helping the town compete regionally by making downtown Ashland a destination spot for retail shopping, arts and culture and creating a new B1-D designation that would apply to the historic, commercial heart of Ashland lining Railroad Avenue.

Regulations that would govern new development include increasing window frontage and implementing new setback and height requirements for buildings as well as some architectural elements.

An estimated 236 business and property owners were notified about the ordinance update, Senior Planner Garrett Prior told the Herald-Progress in May, but no existing businesses will be forced to conform with the new regulations if and when they take effect; properties would have to comply with the regulations if a business is vacant in excess of two years, if the use changes, or if a business wants to expand its footprint in a way that would trigger them to submit a site plan to the town.

Commercial uses allowed downtown would also change going forward. Uses that would no longer be allowed in B1 or B1-D areas include assisted living facilities, automobile repair stations and dealers, family care homes, group homes or foster homes, funeral homes, firework sales, mini-storage facilities, townhomes and multifamily dwellings. There are also a total of nine “enhanced regulations” that would apply to the new B1-D designation.

But overall, a total of 44 uses would be allowed in the B-1D district, 21 by-right, 16 on the second floor of a non-street-facing unit – those uses that don’t attract much foot traffic – and another seven uses that would require a conditional use permit.

Under the current B1 ordinance, 22 uses are permitted by-right and another 25 require conditional use permits to operate. This would change under the overall B1 amendment to allow 38 byright uses; 11 others would require permits and the associated public hearings.

Tuesday night’s public hearing on the ordinance change drew nearly 10 speakers, most who objected to what they called an example of government overreach. Caroline Coronado, who owns a property on Robinson Street, presented council with a petition bearing 60 signatures of property or business owners opposed to the ordinance change. She and the undersigned claimed that the current B1 district could be minimally changed to achieve the same goals and the town had not pleaded its case for such an extensive overhaul of its commercial zoning.

Town council is expected to revisit the B1 ordinance change when they meet July 15.