EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 5, 2013

Business-friendly zoning pitch returns

2011 plan to come to 2013 Town Meeting with town authorship

By Dustin Luca

---- — ANDOVER — After a developer-driven River Road Overlay District plan was pulled from Town Meeting in 2011, a similar proposal — now with town authorship — is ready for the public spotlight.

Known by officials as “ID2,” the to-be-presented industrial zoning district plan seeks to expand business options in two areas of town: the Interstate 93 interchanges off of River Road and Dascomb Road.

It is being proposed jointly by the Planning Board, Andover Green Advisory Board and the recently created Economic Development Council, according to Planning Director Paul 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.

The two targeted areas have already-established industrial cores buzzing with life on a daily basis. But for now, they’re short on amenities and services like coffee shops, small stores, fitness centers and more, according to Economic Development Council Chairman Tim Vaill.

“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.”

In many cases, these things are out of reach — they may be built elsewhere in town, but far away, where zoning allows for them.

“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,” Materazzo said. “Allowing the flexibility in these specific areas in town would allow for some of these complimentary services to move forward.”

There’s a regional market for small businesses and services around the two I-93 interchanges, but “the market knows Andover is starved for these services,” Materazzo said.

“The services want to be in the community, in Andover,” he said. “Unfortunately, our zoning doesn’t want this to be in town, so what have other communities done? Set up these services right on our borders.”

A private developer saw the demand and drafted a similar plan for the town’s Annual Town Meeting in 2011. The plan, which targeted land around River Road, was withdrawn before residents could vote after the Planning Board voted against recommending it.

That process was a learning experience for town officials, according to Materazzo.

“What we heard from the residents is they’re not opposed to the services, but we don’t want a big box store to open up,” Materazzo said.

The largest restriction in the plan is that nothing above 25,000 square feet could be built in the two zoning areas. That would block out “big box stores” while giving smaller chains, restaurants, stores and fitness centers a place 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, Lowes, the big boxes that wouldn’t add to the culture in those areas.”

For more Andover news, follow @DustinLucaET on Twitter. For more on this story or story-related inquiries, email dluca@eagletribune.com.