cspd zoning report april 1

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The Concord Square Planning & Development Study was funded thru a chapter 43d grant the town received for Katrina Road. Part of the criteria for this grant allowed for the town to select a few parcels for study related to zoning challenges. The community development department handled the process and selected the subject areas for study.


Chelmsford zoning report v17.pub


MEMORANDUM To: Evan Belansky, AICP, Community Development Director

From: Karen M. Cullen, AICP, Principal Planner

Date: April 1, 2010

RE: Report on Zoning Analysis for Redevelopment

Executive Summary

Introduction Concord Square has prepared this memo in accordance with our contract for services to review the Town of Chelmsford Zoning By-law pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 43D Expedited Permitting. The scope of our review and a summary of our project approach for this work are outlined as follows:

Section 1 Redevelopment policy objectives & benefits of redevelopment Section 2 Analysis of existing zoning provisions and processes as they apply to redevelopment Section 3 Case studies to examine the potential result of current zoning on redevelopment pro-

jects Section 4 Recommended amendments to existing zoning that would advance the Towns redevel-

opment objectives Section 5 Framework for implementation

Our work scope did not include the preparation of specific zoning language, and it is understood that the Town is in the process of preparing a Master Plan that will lead to recommendations for zoning amendments. It is anticipated that our work will be considered within future discussions of zoning and land use policy reforms to implement the Towns economic development priorities, and this memo was prepared with the intent to support such consideration.

Concord Square has completed an analysis of the Chelmsford Zoning Bylaw as well as parcel and asses-sor data to provide the Town with recommendations for zoning amendments and ideas for creating new overlay districts to encourage redevelopment of vacant and underutilized commercial and industrial properties throughout the town. We have found there are numerous parcels which would benefit from reduced site design standards, and modifying current permitting requirements would increase the chances that developers seeking redevelopment opportunities in the region would seriously contemplate locating in Chelmsford. There appear to be two primary categories in which parcels can be classified: existing commercial and industrial sites of any size and in any zoning district and small or undersized commercial parcels that cannot meet the stringent site design standards of the zoning bylaw.

Concord Square recommends that two overlay districts be created, one for each of the above mentioned conditions. Within these overlay districts, some or all of the current site design standards could be re-duced or eliminated, and uses not currently permitted in the underlying zoning district could be permit-ted if certain conditions are met (which could include increased buffering, etc.). In addition, we recom-mend that some of the current site design standards be revised within the current zoning, thus applicable to all development in all districts.

This report addresses each of these issues and offers recommendations on how Chelmsford can deal with them to encourage economic growth and revitalization.


Redevelopment Policy Objectives Chelmsfords planning documents indicate that the Town is interested in facilitating redevelopment of underutilized commercial properties in a manner that enhances the municipal tax base while ensuring that redevelopment meets the Towns standards for design and construction. One of the prioritized ac-tions in the January 2009 Chelmsford Economic Development Plan (EDP) is to encourage the development of underutilized commercial and industrial buildings. Two other goals of importance in the EDP are to encourage the growth of small businesses in Chelmsford and to grow and enhance the village busi-ness districts. The EDP indicates that the Chelmsford commercial tax base has been stable over the past twenty-five years, and has contributed a predictable and substantial portion to the communitys local revenue stream. The Chelmsford commercial share of property valuation is the second highest in the Lowell area, next only to Billerica. Commercial growth has continued in recent years, but at a slower rate. Our intent in this analysis was to determine the extent to which existing permitting processes and re-quirements may be a disincentive to redevelopment of certain parcels, and to recommend modifications to facilitate such redevelopment consistent with Town planning objectives. Benefits of Redevelopment

Increased property values. Increased compliance with zoning standards many sites pre-date current zoning standards

such as landscaping, parking, lighting, etc. Environmental improvements many sites have limited or no stormwater management controls

or systems, and redevelopment would ensure compliance with DEP stormwater regs to the maximum extent feasible.

Aesthetic improvements where none currently exists, the addition of landscaping along public ways.

Architectural improvements redevelopment may result in buildings with higher quality archi-tecture that reflects a more appropriate community character.

Section 1 Redevelopment Objectives


The intent of our analysis was to determine whether the existing zoning provisions and permitting proc-ess are appropriate to encourage redevelopment of commercial and industrial properties. Dimensional and Site Design Standards There are many sites that could be redeveloped, however, the zoning provisions are such that redevelop-ment of many of these sites is impractical, if not impossible. Currently, redeveloping a commercial site can be challenging and usually requires several special permits. Our examination of the zoning by-law and the permitting history of prior commercial developments indicates that most of the required special permits for commercial redevelopment pertain to parking and landscaping. These special permit require-ments apply even when the proposed use is allowed in a zoning district as-of-right. One of the stated policy objectives in Chelmsfords planning is to channel new investment toward devel-oped sites and to encourage redevelopment of underutilized sites. However, the existing commercial zoning applies uniformly (in a one size fits all approach) to new development as well as redevelopment, and, because of the issues raised above does not provide positive reinforcement of this policy intent. These standards include lot sizes, parking ratios, and landscaping. Conversely, the Center Village (CV) district seems to have been strategically crafted based upon the unique characteristics of the district and the desired redevelopment objectives. This type of specialized zoning could serve as a model for rede-velopment of commercial or industrial properties throughout the town. Current zoning requirements include specific prescriptive site design standards, and any reductions re-quire a special permit. Often, a domino effect occurs where multiple special permits are needed for a development that does not meet the minimum requirements of one item. Section 4 of this report, Rec-ommended Amendments, will provide details on this. The requirements for parking and loading (Sections 195-16 through 21) and landscaping (Sections 195-41 through 46), while written with good intentions to protect adjacent residential uses, lack flexibility (without a special permit) and inadvertently encourage project designers to design for zoning compliance rather than what makes the most sense for the particular site and its situation. Furthermore, it is likely that for redevelopment projects, one or more special permits to gain approval of a plan that cannot physically meet all of these parking and land-scaping requirements is the rule rather than the exception. This results in there being no predictable out-comes since each special permit decision is based on site specific circumstances and the Special Permit Granting Authority (SPGA) has the discretion to grant approval or not. If everyone must seek special permits to reduce the requirements in one fashion or another, then the zoning requirements themselves are too strict, at least for redevelopment projects on smaller parcels. Some common challenges for redevelopment proposals include:

For some parcels, when all the required setbacks and buffers are complied with, the maximum amount of space left for building on is significantly smaller than the FAR standard.

For sites abutting a residential use or property, an additional 20 side and rear yard is required. Site design is often limited to locating the building in the middle of the lot due to the setback

and landscaping requirements. Requirement for 150 separation between curb cuts is not achievable in many cases. Parking lot design can be limited by the restriction that dead-end parking aisles cannot exceed

five parking spaces. Parking ratios are higher than common standards.

Section 2 Analysis


Analysis of Permitting Process First, a brief discussion of how special permits influence redevelopment is in order. Commercial devel-opers favor by-right permitting (approval by site plan only, without special permits) because of the im-proved predictability and shorter process that it offers. Not only does this matter for the actual permit-ting process, it also plays a significant role in a commercial developers decision whether to pursue per-mitting in the first place. A developers initial investment in site acquisition, due diligence and project design is all at risk up until a project is constructed and occupied, and that risk is perceived as substan-tially greater when one or more special permits are required. The allowance for more by-right develop-ment in Chelmsford can be expected to affect the development decisions of comme


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