Town commissioners took a cautious tone to a proposal from the town staff to reinstitute a downtown overlay district in Wendell’s downtown core.
The proposal explained by Planning Director David Bergmark would help the town prevent undesirable businesses from settling in the town’s historic shopping area.
“The town had a downtown overlay district several years ago, but that was included in the unified development ordinance when that was passed,” Bergmark said. “When we were in the middle of the recession the fact that this had gone away didn’t really concern us, but now that we are coming out of that, we were worried that some uses in the downtown (area) might not be what we want. Not having this in place leaves downtown Wendell exposed to having undesirable uses locating in that core district.”
The planning department’s proposal, which was rejected by the planning board earlier this month, called for the creation of a downtown district that was considerably smaller than the one previously in place. For the most part, it would include properties along Main and Third streets. The former district stretch from Wendell Boulevard to Third Street and from Cypress Street to Pine.
The proposed plan also limited the use of ground floors of buildings to retail and certain kinds of office uses. Other uses, such as newspaper production and car dealerships would be disallowed, though exisiting operations like The Total Connection and Universal Chevrolet would be allowed to continue to operate under an existing use clause.
The rules would also limit bars and nightclubs within the district. They would be required to derive a certain percentage of their revenue from food sales, Bergmark added. Civic uses would also be restricted to upstairs portions of buildings. Some manufacturing would be allowed as long as their was a retail component attached to the manufacturing use.
Commissioners peppered Bergmark with questions and comments after his presentation.
“How do current occupants feel about it? Bergmark said the reaction has been mixed. Some business owners have approved of the idea. “This is meant to help existing businesses. For existing businesses to survive, they need to have businesses around them that attracting customers,” Bergmark said.
Commissioner David Myrick questioned the need for the restrictive rules. “If a current business leaves and there wasn’t a demand for retail, I don’t see how that vacant building is helping the remaining businesses that are still there. It’s a bit of an overreach, sort of like hunting squirrels with a cannon instead of a .22,” Myrick said.
Commissioner John Boyette said the rules seemed to offer little in the way of flexibility. “When I look at this, it reminds me of a conditional use permit. There doesn’t seem to be any give on the part of the town.... If this is too onerous, we should look at it during the mid-year retreat,” Boyette said.
Other board members agreed with Boyette and the matter will come back to the board during a Jan. 21 retreat.