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Claremont to Hold City Zoning Forum

Claremont — Residents will have another opportunity tomorrow to comment on the proposed zoning changes for the city center at a forum from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Visitor’s Center on North Street.

The City Center Project Steering Committee has been working with the Cecil Group in developing the ordinance changes, which include six new zones in a geographic area that currently has 11 zones.

“We are trying to inform as many people as we can about what is going on,” said Planning and Development Director Nancy Merrill about the forum.

The steering committee has been meeting regularly for nearly two years to craft the changes. The 18 goals listed include encouraging reinvestment in existing buildings, bringing a mix of uses to downtown, streamlining permitting, limiting heavy industrial use in the city core and allow more flexible parking standards.

The city center extends beyond the immediate downtown and includes about 50 percent of the city’s 13,000 residents. Geographically it pulls in the Bluff area, North, Elm and Hanover streets, to the north, Chestnut streets, neighborhoods off Pleasant and Broad streets as well as Washington Street.

The center has a mix of single-and multi-family dwellings, commercial and retail businesses, historic structures, churches and schools, among others.

The proposed zones would include residential, professional residential, industrial, (near APC paper), city center business and mixed use.

The mixed use comprises Pleasant street, Opera House Square and the mill district. It proposes to allow commercial and other non-residential uses with mix uses also allowed in the professional residential districts along Broad and North streets.

“We want to move away from strict definition of uses and instead look at how something may fit into a neighborhood,” Merrill said. “We are looking at special use permits as opposed to outright prohibition (as is the case now).”

She also said they want to broaden use groups. Currently a building zoned for retail must get a variance if it is changed to a secondhand store.

“We are trying to get away from restrictions like that,” Merrill said.

Another change that will make it easier for homeowners to improve their properties has to do with setback requirements that prohibit building within a certain distance from the property line. Most of the properties in the city center encroach on the setbacks because they were built before the setback regulations were established in the 1970s. Currently, replacing something in the setback requires approval from the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

“With these changes, if someone has a fire or their garage is falling down, they can rebuild on the same footprint,” Merrill said. “Some of those annoyances, I think this fixes that.”

The University of New Hampshire, Cooperative Extension, will moderate tomorrow’s forum. The proposed changes will also be presented at public hearings before the city council and planning board this spring.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.