Southborough Town Meeting Approves City Center District By-Law

ByShannon J. Cortes

Nov 4, 2021

By Laura Hayes, Senior community reporter

Members of the municipal assembly brandish their red cards to vote at the special municipal assembly on November 1. (Photo / Laura Hayes)

SOUTHBOROUGH – Voters at the Town of Southborough meeting approved bylaws to add a downtown district on November 1, after several hours of debate and proposed amendments.

The regulations required a two-thirds majority to pass.

“We think this is a huge improvement over what we have now,” said Julie Connelly, member of the Economic Development Committee (EDC). “We believe that it will allow responsible development. This doesn’t mean that something is going to happen tomorrow, but it is an absolutely essential first step in opening the door to maybe having something in the future.

What the regulation proposes

A selected council member, Martin Healey, said the regulation encourages investment in the city and the city center.

“I hadn’t realized the statistics, but nothing has been done there, built there, for over 40 years,” Healey said of the downtown area.

The city established its EDC, and Healey said one of the areas they focused on was downtown.

A number of surveys, in turn, have indicated that the city should take steps to attract small businesses to the city center.

Board member Martin Healey speaks at a town meeting at Trottier Middle School. (Photo / Laura Hayes)

Southborough looked at what other communities, including Hudson, have done to promote economic development. One of the ways that cities can make downtown improvements is through zoning, Healey said.

The current downtown zoning bylaw is over 60 years old, Connelly said. This regulation added a downtown district to the Southborough zoning map. The neighborhood map indicated that it would be located north of the current village business district and would include parts of Main and Newton streets.

Healey said the downtown zoning was mostly special permit zoning.

“In other words, there isn’t a lot of zoning on the right,” he said.

The settlement included a number of uses permitted by law, including mixed-use developments, bakeries, offices and banks, for example. It also included uses permitted after receiving a special permit from the Planning Council or Zoning Appeal Board, such as microbreweries, exercise facilities, and veterinary clinics.

Voters react

Before the by-law was finally approved, several members of the municipal assembly proposed to postpone it indefinitely.

Others proposed amendments, some of which were accepted.

One of these changes increased the ratio of floor area per right and the depth of commercial spaces to street level.

Tim Martel, a member of the advisory committee, wanted to withdraw part of the regulation that would have allowed multi-family dwellings of up to 10 units.

Tim Martel, member of the advisory committee, speaks at the town meeting. (Photo / Laura Hayes)

He expressed concern with the way this part was worded, fearing that this would undermine other objectives aimed at promoting mixed-use development.

Multi-family dwellings would still be permitted for mixed use. But they wouldn’t be residential-only structures, Martel said. The paragraph competes with the main purpose of the regulation, he said.

“The point is that if we want to change our housing structure in the city, that should be its own regulation,” Martel said.

Board chair Lisa Braccio said Southborough spoke about the possibilities for diverse and affordable housing.

“By taking that away, you are seizing an opportunity to have affordable housing in our downtown area on a smaller scale,” said Braccio.

Martel’s amendment ultimately failed.

Other approvals

While debate over the inner city district bylaws dominated the day, voters in Southborough also weighed in on a number of other items at the November 1 town hall meeting.

The municipal assembly approved the name change from the board of directors to the board of directors.

Voters also gave the green light to a request to add a senior IT specialist to the IT department.

Voters then approved an amendment, which removed a $ 99,682 increase from the Board of Health and Benefits budgets.

Chelsea Malinowski, who is chair of the board of health and vice chair of the select board, said there was consensus among members of the board of health and the advisory committee to use other sources of funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2022.

The original article requested funds to give full-time status to two board of health positions. This boost will always take place. It will now be funded from different sources.

“Even if we remove the increase in the budget, it does not decrease the need for public health personnel, who will arrive for the fiscal year. [2023] budget, ”said Malinowski.