Danvers remakes its downtown

Precinct 4 Town Meeting Member Mark Zavaglia takes part in a Special Town Meeting to take on the rezoning of downtown plus the busy High Street corridor on Monday.Ethan Forman/Staff photo 

DANVERS — Since 2006, the town has looked to rezone industrial areas in and around the downtown whose zoning made more sense for the area just after World War II.

However, those rules prohibited housing and made it difficult to situate a mix of apartments, shops and eateries in Danvers Square.

On Monday night, a Special Town Meeting in the Danvers High auditorium voted overwhelmingly to rezone the downtown along with bustling High Street corridor running south of Porter Street to Route 128.

And despite some reservations from several residents, including Selectman Bill Clark who voiced concern about parking issues, Town Meeting voted for the rezoning. 

The vote required a two-thirds vote by the 109 members present, and after members rejected a call by Clark for a roll call vote, only a smattering of 'no's' could be heard in the auditorium. Town Moderator Patricia Fraizer promptly announced Article 5 passed and adjourned the roughly hour-long meeting.

"It will create predictability with development for the next 30 years and I urge you to support it," said Dan Bennett, chairman of the Board of Selectman. The extensive new rules and design guidelines would ensure that development would not go on in a vacuum as it has in the past.

Planning Board Chairman Bill Prentiss said the work over the past 18 months by the Planning Board and the Planning Department, and its consultant Ted Brovitz, was a continuation of an effort started in 2006 to look at industrial areas in and around the downtown that date back to the original zoning code of 1946.

The area zoning rules that do not make sense given today's demographics that are looking for live-work neighborhoods. Uses that could be built by right without any zoning changes included heavy manufacturing, fuel storage and car washing, Prentiss said.

Prentiss said the rezoning was "an opportunity to set the table for the next business cycle." The rezoning made predictable "ground-level" issues such as parking, water use and traffic, along with requirements for affordability.

"The parking is the problem I have," Clark said, who said the rules and guidelines should require more parking. He said it would be unfair to the Back Bay and surrounding neighborhoods to have people parking in their street along with the added congestion. 

"I'm just sorry I'm not going to support you because of the parking issue," Clark said. 

Precinct 4 Town Meeting member Bill Bates said the nearly 200 pages of design standards and zoning rules addressed economic changes that have made second- and third-floor commercial spaces undesirable.

Of Danvers 11,000 or so housing units, about 7,000 of them are single-family homes, and Bates said the town needs more diversity in its housing stock. A 2015 parking study showed the downtown has more than 1,700 parking spaces. He also noted that smart-growth initiatives all over the country are looking to reduce parking requirements.

"Our downtown is getting pretty tired," said Precinct 5 Town Meeting Member Rick Bettencourt, who manages a downtown mortgage business on Maple Street. While he had problems with the 2015 parking study, Bettencourt said he wants to see change downtown.

"I want to see the downtown thrive," Bettencourt said.

Precinct 7 Town Meeting member Mark Zuberek said he studied the regulations and called it "over-regulation." He proposed to amend the Finance Committee's motion in favor of the article, to one of "no action."

"We need to resolve the issues which were brought up," Zuberek said, of density, parking and traffic issues.

"The motion is not to kill this, but we need to determine what is the best fit for that stretch of road that we travel everyday," he said. 

After Selectman Diane Langlais, who has announced she does not plan to run again, and others spoke out in favor of the main motion, Zuberek's amendment failed on a voice vote.

The rezoning of the downtown and the High Street corridor, which takes in an area of about 75 acres, follows the creation of Maple Street Traditional Neighborhood smart growth overlay district just to the north in 2017; and the creation of a mixed used zoning overlay district in the Tapleyville neighborhood of Pine and Holten streets in 2014.

The rezoning mulled Monday was not the creation of an overlay, but a change in the underlying zoning of the downtown and High Street corridor, however, much of the work that into the 2017 zoning, such as design standards, became a template for the new rezoning. 

Proponents pointed out that it was two years of work to get there, and it included a dozen meetings and other workshops.

Town Meeting also passed articles to pay two unpaid bills totaling less than $500, approve budget transfers of $30,000, spend about $90,000 on public works projects — subject to state reimbursement — and a home rule petition to the legislature for a land swap with the Danvers Historical Society and the town involving four parcels of land between Ingersoll and Forest streets. A past Town Meeting had approved the land swap in 1986, but it was never executed.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2534, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews. Find us at 300 Rosewood Drive, Suite 107, Danvers, Mass.



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