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Sunday, February 18 News

Wary of Compo-like backlash: P&Z scrutinizes village & downtown plans

The Planning and Zoning Commission Thursday night heard updates from two committees working on plans for the future of the downtown area.

First up was the Village District Steering Committee's consultant who showed a map of the existing historic district boundaries, telling P&Z members there could be potential for expansion or new designations.

"Historic designation has benefits for residents, such as tax benefits and prestige," said Steve Cecil, of the Boston-based Cecil Group showing a map with a "red, rubber band area," outlining the district. Rubber-banding means it's flexible.

Cecil said the "village district" designation would set up standards for factors such as landscape, signs and lighting so "residents in the future will know how to conform."

The committee will come up with zoning boundaries and zoning regulations for the village district that can either be adopted or not, or modified, said Larry Bradley, the town's planning and zoning director. One requirement of the Village District Review Committee, he added, would be to have an architect serve on the panel.

He said there will be several more presentations before proposals are presented.

P&Z member Cathy Walsh asked Bradley if the work being done by the Village District and Downtown steering committees should be integrated since both are working on issues that overlap. She added that she is concerned that the consulting groups for those committees could run the show.

"We were asked and directed to do this by committee members," said Cecil. "We have to make sure that things are compatible."

Cecil said his group will come before the commission in June or July "with some preliminary ideas."

Chip Stephens, the P&Z chairman, said that is a good idea, especially after what happened a night earlier at the Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee meeting.

That's where dozens of people unexpectedly showed up to criticize a proposed master plan that group is working on. The majority expressed opposition to a section of the plan that could reconfigure the beach parking area. Many said they had not been aware of the proposal.

"I don't want to get to August (with the Village District plan) and have people say this is an abomination," said Stephens. "I don't want what happened last night with Compo Beach."

Next on the agenda was the Downtown Steering Committee, headed by Dewey Loselle, with a presentation by David Lapping of the RBA Group, a consulting firm working on its master plan.

The presentation focused on a traffic study that included not only the downtown area, but one that was expanded to include the Post Road and 18 different intersections.

That study, P&Z members were told, would provide a baseline for traffic that would be helpful in planning for development projects.

"It gives a baseline so you can see how future development will affect traffic," said Lapping.

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"This could give a false sense of security," said P&Z member Alan Hodge. "We still need to be careful."

Questions arose about how long the traffic survey's data would be relevant, with Bradley admitting there might be a need for an update or recount at some point.