Zoning changes aim to boost Island redevelopment

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BELLOWS FALLS — A zoning change to help foster the redevelopment of the old Robertson Paper Mill site got preliminary approval this week.

The sprawling, long-closed paper mill may be gone, but the redevelopment of The Island is a big priority for the town.

The old paper mill was demolished this year, and the contamination cleaned up with the help of local, state and federal funding. Since then, the 1-acre site has been seeded, opening up a view of nearby Fall Mountain in New Hampshire, and the owner of the Robertson site - the Bellows Falls Area Development Corp. - has put it up for sale.

The Rockingham Select Board on Tuesday evening gave its approval to proposed zoning changes that include the creation of a new Island zoning district. Town Manager Wendy Harrison and Zoning Administrator Chuck Wise said the changes would put the emphasis on job creation, and not just any commercial use.

Deborah Wright, who is vice chairwoman of the Rockingham Planning Commission and Bellows Falls village president, said The Island offers "a clear and present development opportunity." The zoning regulations are designed to support the best uses for The Island, she said.

"No one wanted additional housing on The Island, Wise said. Buffering people's homes from industrial noise was a consideration, he said. The Island will be open to general commercial uses, Wise said.

Robin Sweetapple, an economic development consultant, said having gas stations in the middle of village centers was being discouraged, and that gas stations are being pushed to village outskirts in an effort to keep that kind of traffic out of downtown areas.

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As a result, for instance, while gas stations used to be a permitted use, no new gas station would be allowed to open there.

Kelly Cota Tully of Cota & Cota Oil, which runs a gas station on The Island as part of its larger plumbing, heating and fuels business, questioned whether that would ban its gas station, in the unlikely event the Cota company is ever sold.

But Wise said the Cota fuel station would be grandfathered, but if it was closed for 18 months it wouldn't be allowed to reopen. Ross' gas station also exists on The Island.

One of the handful of gas and fuel stations in the town of Rockingham is located on The Island, with three in the village of Bellows Falls and two in rural Rockingham.

Peter Golec, chairman of the Rockingham Select Board, had several questions about the proposed changes, such as the allowed height of new buildings, and why there was no definition of "professional services" for the new Island Industrial district, and parking requirements for home occupations.

Wise said the goal is to keep parking off rural streets while encouraging on-street parking in the village areas.

The proposed zoning changes now go to a public hearing, Wise said. He said the town's subdivision regulations are largely unchanged after the review by the board.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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