PEPPERELL -- A citizen's petition to rezone a section of Hollis Street is expected to go before voters at May's Annual Town Meeting.

The proposal would change 16 parcels, some of which already house businesses, from residential to commercial. The proposed rezoning stretches from Franklin Street to Conway Service and Sales Center, on Hollis Street.

Town Administrator John Moak said that the lots, which already house businesses, were grandfathered in to the residential zone, which means they can only be used for the same type of business they are currently used for, or for residential purposes. The petition was filed by a group of residents who own businesses in the commercial area.

Rezoning the property would provide more opportunities for those looking to resell their businesses, Moak said.

The proposed rezoning would continue a stretch of commercial properties that stems off of Main Street, Moak said.

"It seems like that particular road is sort of the flow of the commercial district," Moak said.

At its April 7 meeting, the Planning Board voted 3-2 to recommend the petition at Annual Town Meeting May 5.

Selectman Michael Green expressed support for the rezoning, which he said could bring much needed business into Pepperell.

"There are plenty of people out there that would like to open up a business and capture a piece of that revenue. 'Why aren't they doing it then?' you might ask. The answer is simple, and the same as before: There is nowhere to do it," Green said.

By allowing for more businesses to open in the center of town, Green said he envisions the proposal bringing in millions of dollars that residents are currently spending in other towns.

"We enjoy and value our small-town charm so I have no illusions that the kind of development needed to capture all that $80 million will ever happen, nor should it in my opinion," Green said, citing a survey that reported Pepperell residents spending $80 million at out-of-town businesses each year. "On the other hand, most residents I talk to positively want more of their needs met closer to home."

Green said the rezoning wouldn't affect current homeowners, who could stay on their property for as long as they choose to. But the costs of not rezoning, he said, could be high.

"If we do not allow some commercial expansion, there will be continued negative effects for the town as a whole. Businesses will not be able to expand to meet our needs, new businesses will not be able to enter our market and Pepperell's economy will continue to degrade," he said.

But some in town are concerned by the possibility of a commercial district so close to Varnum Brook Elementary School.

Susan Whittemore, a Pepperell resident who lives in the area, said the property owners should ask for their individual parcels to be rezoned, rather than the entire district.

"I am struggling with the precedent this would set allowing a handful of citizens, not our elected boards, to propose a large-scale re-zoning effort in a residential and partial school-zoned area which will have a permanent impact to the town going forward," Whittemore said.

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