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Claremont to Review Zoning Proposal

Claremont — Eighteen months ago, the City Center Steering Committee set out to rectify discrepancies between the city’s zoning ordinance and it development goals with an overhaul of the city regulations. It also looked at ways to create a more inviting business climate.

On Tuesday at 5 p.m., at the visitor’s center, the committee will continue its review of a draft proposal that recommends uses, zones, permitting and other regulations.

“We want to improve the quality of the buildings (in the city center,)” Planning and Development Director Nancy Merrill said in an interview in her office this week. “The idea is to encourage private investment.”

The problems the committee is trying to address had their origins in the 1970s when zoning regulations were adopted, Merrill said.

“Almost all of the properties (in the city center) were non-conforming from the start,” said Merrill.

As one example, Merrill said, if someone has a detached garage in disrepair and wants to tear it down and build a new one on the same footprint, the resident likely must go before the zoning board because the garage is unlikely to meet rules for the setback from road. Anyone wanting to build a wheelchair ramps often faces the same problem.

“They usually encroach on the setback,” Merrill said.

The draft outline from The Cecil Group, a zoning consulting group from Boston, would address those impediments. The outline also recommends new zones for the city center and reduces the total number of zones in the geographic area from 11 to six. Additionally the outline looks at streamlining the permitting process by allowing some development, such as some additions, to be approved at an administrative level without Planning Board review.

For purposes of the committee’s work, the city center extends beyond the immediate downtown. About 50 percent of the city’s 13,000 residents live in the center. Geographically it includes the Bluff area, North, Elm and Hanover streets to the north, Chestnut Street and neighborhoods off of Pleasant and Broad streets.

With a mixture of single family and multi-family dwellings, commercial and retail businesses, historic structures, churches and schools and more, the committee was tasked with establishing zones then determining what approved lande uses would be compatible with each zone.

The proposed zones would include residential, professional residential, industrial, city center business and mixed use. Under the outline, Cecil Group recommends zone specific actions such as allowing greater housing density to conform to existing conditions; permitting nonconforming structures to be enlarged and altered and nonconforming structures that have been destroyed could be rebuilt on the same footprint.

Cecil Group also suggests types of businesses each zone should look to attract.

Merrill said the draft is in response to comments at public hearings and focus group sessions with residents, businesses and real estate professionals.

“This product is what they are saying they want,” Merrill said about the draft outline. “We want to fit in with what is there and work with what is built. It respects existing building patterns.”

Once the committee completes its work on the draft it will send the proposal to the City Council, possibly in early January, Merrill said.

“We are asking, what is appropriate? What was the city center built for? It may have made sense before but times change,” Merrill said.

Steering Committee meetings are open to the public.

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