Planning Board against downtown rezoning proposal as-is

Sep 21, 2020

The Planning Board voted against endorsing the Redevelopment Authority’s plan to rezone Wareham Village to make it more appealing to investors at the board’s September 21 meeting.

Although they supported the goals of the rezoning, which will be up for a vote at the fall Town Meeting, most members expressed some discomfort with the increased building heights allowed by the plan.

Currently, the tallest building on Main Street is 191 Main Street, an office and apartment building that stands at about 40 feet tall.

The proposed rezoning initially would allow buildings up to 65 feet tall by right, which was negotiated down to 60 feet after some public outcry.

At the Planning Board meeting, Town Planner Ken Buckland proposed a possible amendment to the article that might make the plan more appealing to residents who are spooked by the idea of a Main Street lined by tall buildings.

He suggested modifying the zoning to allow for 50-foot-tall buildings by right, with the possibility of special permits for buildings up to 65 feet tall if developers meet guidelines to be determined by the Planning Board, that could include aesthetic considerations like a peaked roof or public amenities like public access to green space or physical access to the waterfront.

He also said that developers could build buildings with some of the height stepped back from the street. For example, the front of the building could be three stories tall, with an additional two stories of height that starts further back from the street. Stepped-back buildings would minimize the aesthetic impact from the street level.

Richard Swenson, a member of the Redevelopment Authority and the Planning Board, said that he was opposed to any conditions that would make it more difficult for developers to get projects approved.

Another board member pointed out that since site plan reviews would already be required for new buildings on Main Street, the special permit wouldn’t add to the developer’s workload.

Because the warrant article was proposed by the Redevelopment Authority, the Planning Board did not have the authority to modify it. However, most members of the board seemed to be in favor of passing the article if it was modified as Buckland suggested.

The board voted to support the passage of the other zoning articles up for votes at Town Meeting, including allowing Smithers Lab to test marijuana near the Decas School, modifying where drive-thrus are allowed in town, updating the town’s sign by-laws to incorporate changes mandated by the Attorney General, and a modification to zoning laws regarding storage facilities.

Town Meeting will be held on October 26.