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Charlestown Alters Zoning Plan

Charlestown — The Planning Board this week modified its proposed amendment to create a new zoning district on North Main Street in response to a comment from one property owner.

But at least one board member warned that the zoning amendment won’t achieve the goal of protecting historic properties because the historic district first needs to be established by a local historic district commission.

“This does not protect the buildings we are trying to protect,” said Planning Board alternate John Bruno during Tuesday night’s discussion on proposed zone A-2. “If we think the new wording (allowing retail) will do that, we are delusional.”

The proposed Zone A-2, encompassing approximately a 1,500-foot stretch of Main Street from Sullivan Street to Bridge Street, comes in response to concerns from residents over the board’s approval in September of construction of new Jiffy Mart store with a Subway restaurant and gas pumps on the Main Street site of one of the town’s oldest homes: the Stephen Hassam house.

Though the house will be dismantled and eventually rebuilt elsewhere in town, its relocation from the town’s historic district disappointed some residents.

To prevent a northward creep of similar type businesses, the board is proposing a zoning district to preserve the historic character of North Main Street.

The new zone would restrict permitted uses to i nclude mostly professional offices, one or two f amily dwellings and home occupations “compatible with the historic district.”

The board added retail to that list after one Main Street property owner objected to the permitted uses were too narrow.

Andy Jellie, who owns both a residence and insurance agency in two separate structures in the proposed zone, was the only property owner in the new district to attend Tuesday’s meeting.

“It worries me,” Jellie said.

He identified several small businesses in his neighborhood, including an animal hospital, funeral home, a second-hand outdoor furniture store and the new Jiffy Mart, that he contends have already impaired the ability to sell his home.

Now, he is getting hit again with the new zoning district that would reduce the number of potential buyers for his business property, Jellie contends.

“I don’t think it is fair. I think I should be able to do retail,” Jellie said, adding that he has no plans right now to sell either property.

The board agreed with the suggestion and as a result tweaked the permitted uses to include “compatible” retail operations.

Main Street is on the National Historic Register but that classification does not grant the street’s historic properties any regulatory oversight or protections against demolition or extensive renovations, Planning Board Vice Chairwoman Sharon Francis said recently.

Bruno and Town Administrator Dave Edkins both told the board restricting uses in the proposed zone that currently has few restrictions won’t create the protection for historic properties the board is seeking.

“This is not the way to achieve what you are trying to achieve,” Edkins said. “For that you need a local historic district. This only controls uses.”

Historic districts are governed by state law and overseen by historic commissions, giving more teeth behind ordinances aimed at protecting historic properties.

The board will move forward with its proposed Zone A-2 with public hearings scheduled for Jan. 7 and Jan. 21. Voters could decide on whether to establish the new zone if the proposal is placed on the March 11 town meeting ballot.

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

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