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Fall River officials seek input on proposed zoning revamp

FALL RIVER – From new medical and mill districts to wind turbine regulations and a state enabling law to upgrade housing, the proposed amended zoning ordinance reviewed by the planning director and a City Council subcommittee Tuesday night represented the most far-reaching changes in years.

Two of the three members of the public responding asked the council Committee on Ordinances and Legislation to slow down the process before holding hearings.

Committee Chairman Raymond Mitchell said the hearings the City Council and Planning Board must hold by May 16 would provide ample time and opportunity for input.

Mitchell said he proposes the two boards hold the future public hearings on the same night and, if allowed, at the same time.

“This has been going on for 4½ years,” Mitchell said during an hourlong discussion after an overview from Planning Director Elizabeth Dennehy.

Dennehy said only a pair of recommendations were omitted from the work submitted by the Master Plan Committee in 2009, along with input from the Fall River Area Chamber of Commerce, Fall River Office of Economic Development, city departments and a continuing committee review of the Master Plan.

The two recommendations not used pertained to increasing lot sizes, along with amending the site plan review process Dennehy said had been worked out between the planning and zoning boards that she oversees.

“I think this is an important step forward for the city,” said City Councilor David Dennis, who has been heavily involved with improving tourism to bolster the city economy.

The changes, with specific regulations, Dennehy highlighted in a five-minute presentation included:

• Eliminating redundant business and multi-family districts.

• Integrating the arts overlay and waterfront districts.

• Establishing the medical district around Charlton Memorial and St. Anne’s hospitals and Prima Care medical center to allow development in those areas “by right” rather than by zoning reviews.

• Streamlining the process for signage requests.

• Creating a new and streamlined table of allowed uses in various districts.

• A four-page dimensional table to readily see requirements like frontage and lot sizes.
• Creation of an expanded research and development district to encompass the Fall River Industrial Park, Commerce Park and the new biopark.

• Creation of a new mill district for mixed uses, which includes an overlay district for multi-use mill buildings incorporating the new Chapter 40V housing incentive development state law.

The Chapter 40V law would use “market rate” rentals to kick in a series of local and state tax incentives. Those monthly rates would be in the range of $850 to $1,200 a week, Mayor Will Flanagan said earlier this week. He strongly supports the concept as a means to improve the city.

Some councilors questioned the concept.

“I do frown upon mills being converted into housing. That is not what we need. We need jobs in this area,” Councilor Daniel Rego said.

But Rego said using languishing mill spaces for an age 55 or 62 housing complex would be better without the burden of adding children to the schools.

Dennis called the concept “smart urban growth.”

Robert Mellion, president/CEO of the Fall River Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the zoning ordinance reflects what the chamber has sought for years: standardized permitting procedures and a revised zoning ordinance “that is consistent and easy to understand.”
Alfred Lima of Save Our Neighborhoods and Brian Curt of 118 E. Main St. both advocated the City Council put on the brakes until there’s more citizen input.

“The general public doesn’t have the same opportunity before it gets put out. The devil is in the details,” Curt said.

The committee voted 5-0 to forward the zoning ordinance to the full council to set a public hearing and refer it to the Planning Board.