DERRY - The planning board is coming closer to a consensus on changes to the town's general commercial district along Rockingham Road, but a number of property owners are still upset by changes that they feel could limit the uses of their properties.
Earlier this year, the planning board held several workshop meetings on a proposed change to an office/medical/business zone for the current general commercial zone in anticipation of public water and sewer coming to the area. Planning and town officials undertook the proposed changes as a way to enhance the development of the district.
That change was scrapped, however when many of the property owners objected to the proposed exclusion of gas stations and automobile sales and service businesses in the district.
In an effort to take the property owners concerns into account, the board has begun looking at keeping the district zoned general commercial while considering the possibility of a buffer zone between automotive businesses.
In addition, the planning board also wanted to begin consideration of whether it should allow single-family homes in the district and whether the town would consider mixed-used overlay districts for some of the larger properties along Rockingham Road.
At a workshop meeting last week, the majority of planning board members polled stated they were in favor of a 1,000-foot buffer zone between automotive businesses and wanted to exclude single-family homes as an allowable use in the district.
Planning board member John O'Connor said the master plan process from 2010 showed that people wanted to keep that district open for commercial and not residential development. However, he noted that property owners who wanted to put a single-family home on their property could still apply for a variance through the zoning board of adjustment.
However, several people spoke out during the workshop meeting claiming that the buffer zone combined with not allowing single-family homes by right would have an adverse effect on their property values.
"Business and residential uses have co-existed in that area," said attorney Morgan Hollis, representing the owners of 45 and 49 South Main Street. "Once you remove (single-family homes) as a permitted use, their use goes from a lawful use to a permitted non-conforming use. It would have a significant impact on at least 10 homes in that area."
Sheldon Wolff noted that at least 50 people from the area had signed petitions protesting the potential zoning change.
"You are limiting and removing the rights of property owners," Wolff said.
He said the town should not discriminate against automotive businesses.
However, Philip Abirached, owner of the Metro Mart plaza and Shell station on Ryan Hill said he was in favor of the buffer zones for automotive businesses.
While most of the planning board members said they were in favor of buffer zones from 1,000 to 2,000 feet, board member Darrell Park said he would rather see no buffer zones.
"Personally, I hate the thought of any buffer zone at all," he said. "Let the market dictate. If the board feels we truly need a buffer zone, then at the most it should be 1,000 feet, but I'm not in favor of a buffer at all."
The planning board will hold its next workshop on the zoning issues on Jan. 16.