Even as they stump for a $31 million project that would expand sewer and water along the Route 6 corridor, Westport officials are planning a new zoning district that they believe will also help …
Even as they stump for a $31 million project that would expand sewer and water along the Route 6 corridor, Westport officials are planning a new zoning district that they believe will also help revitalize the north end — with or without updated sewer or water.
Later this month, the planning board will hold a public hearing on a new proposed section of code titled the “Westport Gateway District (WGD).” Running over 10 pages of the zoning ordinance, the new section of code, if passed by voters at Town Meeting in May, would give the town new tools to promote and facilitate development in the north end, making it easier for businesses to open and thrive and making the area more palatable to residential development and to pedestrians.
According to the proposed code, the purpose of the WGD is to:
• Create a district that promotes flexible and creative development and redevelopment of the Route 6 Corridor properties while balancing the character of the nearby residential and commercial neighborhoods.
• Offer a regulatory pathway that promotes creative use (and) reuse of properties.
• Whenever possible, to promote a sense of place and the pedestrian experience.
• Promote diversified economic development opportunities, cultural, recreational, open space and other uses appropriate for the property and compatible with its surroundings.
Town planner Michael Burris said the town has been working on developing the district for about a year, and sees it serving as one of three tools that have the potential to change the Route 6 corridor forever — along with improvements to Route 6 itself planned by the state DOT, and those that would be accomplished in part by a $31 million sewer and water project proposed by Westport’s Infrastructure Oversight Committee (IOC). That project, which would require voter and Town Meeting approval to borrow up to $31 million in bonds, would see new water and sewer service expand from Fall River, near White’s of Westport, all the way to the Dartmouth town line. The project would be broken into three separate contracts, and the first phase is already shovel-ready — it just needs funding from the town and potentially, other funding sources including the state and federal governments.
Burris said it became clear early on that as the IOC studied the water and sewer issue, the town would need to take a larger look at the zoning district.
“It’s part of a larger effort to have investment in that gateway area,” Burris said. “To be complementary to (the sewer and water project) in our zoning, we wanted to come up with a zoning district that would be able to take advantage of that capacity” if the project is build out as well.
“And we wanted this to be complementary of (state DOT) upgrades as well.”
But Burris believes that even if the IOC plan is never funded, the new Gateway zoning district has its own tools and can stand on its own as a positive addition to the north end.
“It’ll still provide flexibility in the same way if there is water and sewer or not,” he said.
Among the most beneficial features of the zoning district, he said, is the flexibility built into allowed uses. For example, bakery is one allowed use, but if an entrepreneur approaches the town with a plan for a cafe, that could be allowed via a simple appearance before the zoning board, Burris said.
“There will be a lot more flexibility with the types of uses that will be allowed,” he said.
The district also has new standards that Burris said will try to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment, with buildings closer to the street, landscaping standards and the like.
The proposed zoning changes will appear before the planning board for a public hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 20. If no substantial changes are proposed, the new zoning district will be presented to voters at Town Meeting in May, for approval.