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Bennington to deliberate zoning changes

BENNINGTON — Dollar General may have ended the process that would have brought a new store to Bennington, but the deliberations may have a lasting effect on the town’s zoning ordinance.

The Planning Board will hold a public hearing in the Town Hall on Thursday to outline six proposed zoning ordinance changes that will be on the ballot in March. One would make some recent interpretations of the town’s zoning, arrived at during the Planning Board’s review of Dollar General’s site plans for a proposed store on Route 202, a permanent addition to the ordinance.

The Planning Board agreed with Dollar General representatives that a business could be constructed in the water resource protection zone. The current ordinance states that the water resource protection zone is meant only for single family homes.

Ray D’Amante, Dollar General’s representative in the proceedings, pointed out that elsewhere in the ordinance on the protection zone, there is a list of prohibited businesses that could be harmful to the aquifer. He argued that the existence of such a list assumes there are some acceptable businesses for the zone. .

The Planning Board agreed with D’Amante’s assessment, and although the board ultimately rejected Dollar General’s site plans based on the lot size and amount of impervious surface proposed for the store, one of the zoning amendments that will be on this year’s ballot reflects that.

If amended, Article X of the town’s ordinance would allow either one single-family home or one commercial business per three-acre lot. It also eliminates a frontage requirement.

“The way it’s read now, it’s not clear,” said Planning Board Chair David McKenzie. “It could be interpreted to only allow single-family homes, and that was never the intent. It’s really trying to clarify that. This way, a business can be put on the property, but the business has to follow the same guidelines as a single-family home.”

Three of the proposed ordinance changes have to do with Article IX, which outlines the town’s requirements for signs. The first would allow businesses to have one portable sign for their establishment, as long as it is smaller than 10 square feet. It also adds a definition of what constitutes a portable sign: Any sign that is not firmly or permanently attached to either the ground or a structure.

The current ordinance does not allow portable signs, said McKenzie. The Planning Board began to look at the ordinance when the Select Board requested they define a portable sign. While discussing the ordinance, the Planning Board agreed that many area businesses already use portable signs, such as sandwich boards, and the ordinance had not been enforced in the past.

“There isn’t a point in having an ordinance if we aren’t going to enforce it,” McKenzie said.

Another proposed change to the sign ordinance would allow businesses which share lots to have one freestanding sign and one sign attached to the building. It does clarify that the freestanding signs must all be mounted on the same structure.

In the current ordinance, businesses are only allowed one sign, either freestanding or attached to the building.

Another proposed ordinance change would require freestanding sign structure can be no more than 16 feet tall. There is already an ordinance in place that limits freestanding signs to 16 feet, said McKenzie, and this would just clarify that a structure supporting multiple signs would fall under the same restriction.

Voters will be asked to remove two articles from the ordinance. The reason for the Planning Board asking for their removal is that both ordinances are made moot by state law, said McKenzie.

The first, Article VII, K.3, of the ordinance, requires a permit to build a septic system. That’s unnecessary to require at the local level, McKenzie said, because the state already has the same requirement.

Another section Article VII, K.4, which allows two connecting lots with the same owner that don’t meet district requirements for use individually will be considered as a single lot and can’t be sold separately. That ordinance is now prohibited by a newly passed state law, RSA 674:39-aa, which forbids such “involuntary merging,” and so is proposed to be removed entirely from the town’s ordinance.

The board will hold a public hearing on the sx proposed changes on Dec. 27 at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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