In response to opposition of a plan to revamp the town’s commercial zoning laws, criticized by many as a heavy-handed attempt to bolster downtown retail, Ashland planning officials have proposed several changes that will be up for consideration Sept. 16.
The revisions follow an Aug. 12 town council work session and address issues including permitted uses, grandfathering provisions and the boundary of a proposed separate downtown commercial district referred to as B-1D.
Under the changes, real estate offices were redefined as an unrestricted, by-right use in the B-1D district. The change was due to comments received during public hearings and from council’s review. Planners noted that while reviewing office types, they determined real estate offices were different because they “offer services to engage pedestrians and visitors,” one of the overall key goals of the downtown change, which hopes to make Ashland a destination for shopping, arts and culture and entertainment.
The new change also relaxes language that will allow property owners of street-facing office space to experiment with retail uses without losing their “non-conforming use status,” a protected designation for any existing business that would not comply with zoning laws under the new proposed regulations. Under the previous, proposed B-1D statute, the new regulations took over once a use changed or if a space stayed vacant for two years. They still take effect in cases where an existing property expands to the extent that it requires submission of a site plan to the town.
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