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Caretakers Of Our Character

Published: November 30, 2017

Residents will have an opportunity to influence the direction of growth in our town on December 7, at the Planning & Zoning meeting to address the proposal for a veterinary/boarding facility at 94 South Main Street.

This is a chance to support or question changes affecting this piece of our world.

We love that our Main Street is the heart of so many events that draw our community together. We form a human border from the top of the street to Queen Street every Labor Day, with historic homes as our backdrop. Thousands of ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties haunt the sidewalks — some slabs dating to the 18th Century — every Halloween.

Come December, this weekend, as a matter of fact, residents and visitors absorb our history through house tours and trolley rides during the annual Holiday Festival to support Newtown Youth & Family Services.

We love our historic street and its New England character watched over by residents and borough agents.

We love our outlying districts, too; we count on our town officials and zoning laws to see that they, too, retain the rural charm that draws people to Newtown.

Most recently, though, the section of Route 25 between Borough Lane and Orchard Hill Road has begun to take on characteristics more like the homogenous strips further south. Zoning regulations, intended to “conserve the value of the buildings, and land” as well as “encourage the most appropriate use of land” seem secondary to swift development aided by overlay zones.

This newest proposal would be the fifth in a series of those benefiting from the South Main Village Design District overlay zone, which has introduced behemoth properties such as Walgreens and Tractor Supply to our landscape. A few peaked entryways thrown into the plans are deemed to “protect the distinctive character, landscape and historic structures within the South Main Street corridor,” as stipulated in SMVDD regulations. It is no wonder we are wary.

Oversight lies with the Design Advisory Board… a board that is underrepresented. When developers are accommodated through overlay zones, designs must comply with the intent of the regulation. Without input from people with expertise in the area of aesthetics, designs that are less than stellar representations of what makes our town special slip through. Without community input, decisions made may be surprising when design becomes reality.

It could be that this recent proposal respects the spirit of the SMVDD; but if it does not, or if future proposals veer off, the character of Newtown will gradually become one less recognizable than what it is today.

There are two things residents can do to ensure that zoning decisions comply with what regulations intend: volunteer to be on the Design Advisory Board and attend the public hearings that lay out exactly what can be expected of new construction. Then educated suggestions can be offered regarding the suitability of proposals — or determine if development is fudging the intentions of zoning and overlay zoning requirements.

The Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to meet Thursday, December 7, at 7:30 pm, at the Newtown Municipal Center, 3 Primrose Street.

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