By Dustin Luca
---- — The town will ask voters to open up land near two highway interchanges for more than just industrial development.
After a developer-driven effort to rezone the River Road area for additional uses was pulled from the 2011 Annual Town Meeting warrant, three town committees have been working to provide a solution for expanding the use of land around the River Road and Dascomb Road Interstate 93 interchanges.
Known by officials as “ID2,” the to-be-presented industrial zoning district aims to expand the existing industrial zoning climate by allowing developers to build small businesses, services and amenities in the area.
For the time being, people who work in the area do not have convenient access to services, which Economic Development Council Chairman Timothy Vaill said makes the area less desirable for businesses looking to expand or move.
“When they get out of work, they want to go to the dry cleaners, to Starbucks. They want to go somewhere to take care of their daily needs,” Vaill said. “Right now, because we don’t have the zoning, they get out of work and drive to the next town.”
Many of these services are located elsewhere in Andover, but still considered out of convenient reach.
“If you and I were on our lunch break, for us to jump in our car and drive to these services... You don’t have the time,” Andover Planning Director Paul Materazzo said. “Allowing the flexibility in these specific areas in town would allow for some of these complimentary services to move forward.”
The new zoning is being proposed jointly by the Planning Board, Andover Green Advisory Board and recently created Economic Development Council, according to Materazzo. The zoning would be enforced via a special permit requiring Planning Board approval, meaning businesses would be approved on a case-by-case basis.
Materazzo said the type of businesses Andover is looking to attract have set up shop just over the border because of Andover’s strict zoning. He said that has left Andover residents with fewer in-town services than are typically offered.
“For every 10,000 population, you should have one full service grocer,” Materazzo said. With Andover having 34,000 residents and only two grocers, both in or around Shawsheen Plaza, “we’re really a grocer and a half short. From where I sit, and with the work the Planning Board and Economic Development Council has been doing, there has been grocers watching what we do with these two areas.”
“If the Town Meeting looks favorably on these two articles, we may have another grocer looking to come to town,” Materazzo added.
As it stands, the proposal would prohibit any services north of 25,000 square feet in size from opening up in the two areas. This would stop things like “big box stores” from coming to town while giving smaller-store chains, restaurants, stores and fitness centers more places to set up shop, according to Vaill.
The town is looking for “whatever it might be that you, as a worker, might want to shop after work, or maybe during lunch,” Vaill said. “What we’re trying to rule out is the big box Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, the big boxes that wouldn’t add to the culture in those areas.”
The 2011 proposal was presented to the town as the River Road Overlay District. It was brought forward privately by an employee of The Gutierrez Company, a developer that owned several of the 13 pieces of land affected by it. It was pulled from the warrant after the Planning Board opposed it and the Board of Selectmen declined to take a position.
While Vaill said he wasn’t fully aware of the Gutierrez proposal, the fact that it came from a developer with skin in the game may have caused people to look at it “with a little bit of skepticism, whereas this one is being created by the town.”
In this case, because the town put the plan together, the town’s in the driver seat, according to Vaill.
“We obviously have a chance to approve any development that wants to go there,” he said. “We specifically have not said we want this kind of store or that kind of store. The developers have to make their own cases as to why it would work or not.”
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