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Monday, November 28, 2016

Mont Vernon mulls its town center

By KATHY CLEVELAND
Staff Writer

MONT VERNON - Small businesses in the town center could make Mont Vernon more liveable and "user friendly," planners told residents at a public input session recently.

The meeting was intended to get feedback on a proposed zoning ordinance for what is called Town Center District Zoning. ...

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MONT VERNON - Small businesses in the town center could make Mont Vernon more liveable and "user friendly," planners told residents at a public input session recently.

The meeting was intended to get feedback on a proposed zoning ordinance for what is called Town Center District Zoning.

The new district would replace the current Residential District and allow both residential properties and small, low-impact businesses in the town center while preserving its character, Planning Board Chairman William McKinney told about 40 people who gathered for the session on Oct. 25.

The introduction of zoning in the 1970s limited the ability to have commercial uses downtown, and in surveys and meetings over the last 10 years, residents have expressed a desire for more businesses.

They are allowed only by special exception from the Zoning Board, and applying for one can cost thousands of dollars because of state-required plans that have to be submitted.

The Mont Vernon General Store, the only current business, is grandfathered.

The proposed permitted uses for a Town Center District came from the top picks from a survey of voters at the 2016 Town Meeting.

Those uses include farm stands, art galleries, bakeries, personal services, professional offices, coffee and sandwich shops, restaurants (excluding drive-in and drive-thru), bed and breakfasts, and museums.

Examples of small towns with commercial downtown businesses are Hancock and New Boston.

The district would fall within the Historic District, adding another layer of oversight, Chairman William McKinney said in a phone interview.

Many of the people at the meeting were residents of the town center, and they expressed concerns, especially about parking and noise.

John Zotcavage, of North Main Street, suggested the town wasn't ready for this now and that residents who live in the town center should have more say.

William Archibald, of Bachelder Road, said the changes seem too major, and that businesses on the draft list would destroy the image of Mont Vernon.

Kathryn Marchocki, of Old Wilton Road, said the proposal would enrich the town and is consistent with its historic character.

Board members said all parking would have to be in the rear of the buildings and that building size would be restricted to 3,500 square feet.

The draft is still "a work in progress," McKinney said.

The board wants feedback, including whether the maximum size is too big.

"We have been meeting for more than a year," McKinney said, and to get input from townspeople, the board sent invitations to the meeting to every household.

Residents are asked to email the board at planningboard@montvernonnh.us.

Two sixth-graders at Mont Vernon Village School, Keegan O'Keefe and Jackson Hobbs, both of Chestnut Circle, spoke in favor of the district and submitted statements for the board saying allowed businesses should be small, local and family-oriented.

The board is working with Jennifer Czysz, of the Nashua Regional Planning Commission, on the proposal. She suggested the board identify the residents' major concerns.

The board will also look into tax assessment impacts, sign restrictions and other aspects of the plan.

Residents were invited to a work session on Tuesday, Nov. 22, for more discussion. McKinney said they would talk about perhaps whittling down the list of allowed uses.

The town may not be ready for this proposal, McKinney said, but it's important to plan for the future.

"I don't see a bustling downtown," he said, "but businesses help promote other businesses" - as when, for example, a client of an attorney or dentist might go to the General Store for a bite to eat.

"We want to hear" from residents, McKinney said - not just "No," but, "No and here's why.

"This is not something we'll try to ram down their throats."

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.