City Councilor's questions remained unanswered following a discussion of overlay districts in zoning.
Mark Racicot, the Manager of the Land Use Division for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, made a presentation to the council on overlay districts, but was limited to a general discussion of the topic.
"It is something a community can use to focus development and build a new village," said Racicot of a mixed use overlay district.
Councilors attempted to ask questions to get at the core of issues around a proposed mixed use overlay that would affect 100 acres of industrial land and allow over 300 units of proposed housing off of Forest Street.
Councilor Mark Oram asked whether mixed use overlay districts were often used in situations with such large numbers of housing units. Racicot answered that they can be, citing that Waltham had 281 units of housing developed in a mixed use overlay.
The more numerous examples during his presentation focused on rehabilitation of downtown areas and the creation of village-like areas that had both shopping and housing with attractive spaces in which to walk. The zoning can be shaped to suit the needs of the city and should be aimed at the goals of the master plan of the city, said Racicot.
The overlay district can be configured in many ways, but at its core it is an additional piece of zoning that allows for different uses or applies additional restrictions. The overlay may be mandatory for the areas affected or can be by choice, but the underlying zoning remains in place. In case where there is a mixed use overlay, the goal is to reinvigerate development while also benefitting the city, said Racicot.
One of the concerns raised by Councilor Joseph Delano was that the zoning language had come directly from those looking to develop the property. This is not uncommon, said Racicot, and listed a number of cases where this had happened. The language should be reviewed and worded in such a way that it ensures what the city wants to happen on the property is what takes place, he said.
Councilor Edward Clancy raised concerns with the very nature of the overlay for a community such as Marlborough that has no public transportation. Without a public transportation line, any additional housing such as this brings a strain on the infrastructure.
"With density comes people. With people comes cars," said Clancy. "We have to move people around."
Councilor Delano mentioned the potential strain on the school system as well.
The issue will be discussed by a subcommittee of the council before it is reviewed again by the full council.