EDC Puzzles Over Fundamental Differences on Zoning Project
The Economic Development Committee met Wednesday evening at 5:45 for nearly an hour. Called to order by Chair, Melanie Hamblen, the session was nominally a preparation for the May 16 forum at the Black Box, during which MAPC will present their research and recommendations on rezoning the downtown, characterized as “zoning reform.”
But the meeting turned into a wide ranging, and free-wheeling discussion on the process and priorities that showcased real diversity of visions and views. In response to an off-hand remark by Bruce Hunchard from the Zoning Board of Appeals, Planning Board Member Beth Wierling stated “we need to listen to all the different views, even if we don’t agree with them.”
Greg Rondeau, Chair of the Planning Board, said he felt the study should have looked further down East and West Central streets, where there are more undeveloped or under-developed parcels, rather than just focusing on the central business district.
Town Planner Bryan Taberner said the downtown focus was a starting point but also was based on trying to align with MBTA zoning requirements.
“It won’t be hard to check the box for density in the central area,” noted Hunchard, given that there is already a lot of housing in the area.
But Town Councilor Cobi Frongillo took issues with just focusing on “checking a box” and said he didn’t want to “lose sight of the larger picture,” which for him means the broader benefits of the project: saving the town infrastructure costs by building more densely, improving walkability, sustainability and accessibility. “The reason to focus on that is because it is better for Franklin,” he said.
Chair Hamblen asked Frongillo how he would achieve that? To which he and others answered, in part, but from there the discussion wander to a wish list of things that would make Franklin better. A movie theater, Councilor Jones suggested, for example, noting that the town used to have one before redevelopment.
Frongillo said the zoning changes would allow people to build the same kind of denser housing that people say they like in the neighborhoods near the downtown.
But, again, Wierling questioned what the “15 units per acre” (one of the options for zoning) would actually look the way people hope.
Similarly, she questioned what density would really work in the business district, such as Main Street. “If we have five stories, won’t there be shadows,” she asked? And she noted that people have expressed a preference for the “look” of the town in its old postcards.
There was some frustration expressed toward the end of the meeting with whether the EDC was really prepared to discuss the options or really needs more time to process. Also unclear to members was whether MAPC will provide them material about the presentation in advance of May 16.