By Chelsea Feinstein

cfeinstein@nashobapub.com

PEPPERELL -- Planning Board members voted 3-2 Monday to recommend a citizen's petition to rezone a portion of Hollis Street at Annual Town Meeting.

The petition, filed by a group of residents who own businesses in the area, calls for 16 parcels to be rezoned from residential to commercial. Many of the properties already house businesses.

By rezoning the parcels, the lots could be sold to make way for other businesses, rather than only the business types currently located there or residential units. But some residents have raised concerns about rezoning a residential area in close proximity to Varnum Brook Elementary School.

Member Richard McHugh, who voted in support of the petition, said the rezoning falls in line with the board's goal of bringing more businesses into town in a responsible way.

"I think this citizen's petition promotes exactly what this board has been looking at for seven or eight years. If we decide not to recommend this, I can't understand how we as Planning Board members can look at ourselves in the mirror and say we're doing our due diligence for the people of this town," McHugh said.

Member Anna MacDonald said the Hollis Street route makes sense for commercial zoning, and could potentially keep customers in town who would otherwise shop tax-free in New Hampshire.

"It's already got so many businesses down there now and it's a numbered highway. It's not a side street, it's not off in a neighborhood with cul-de-sacs. It's a numbered highway that goes into New Hampshire. To me it's ideal," she said.

Chairman Matthew Nesbit and Joseph Helfter were the dissenting votes.

Nesbit said he believed the board's intention is to focus development in the Railroad Square area.

"The idea was to drive vehicle and foot traffic down to the Main Street area. I am a little concerned that if we're opening up other areas, if we already have a commercial zone with other vacant properties, small properties, but a lot of them, I'm just a little concerned that it's a distraction," Nesbit said.

Member Al Patenaude said there is no solution that would satisfy everyone. And with vacancies on the Planning Board, he asked that some residents take the opportunity to help make the difficult decisions.

"A lot of people love to step up and complain at Town Meeting. I wish more people would step up, complain, and sit down and be part of it," Patenaude said.

Medical marijuana dispensaries, lot shapes

The board also voted 5-0 to recommend a warrant article that would establish a permanent town bylaw regulating medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation. A medical marijuana moratorium, voted in at last year's Annual Town Meeting, expires May 6.

The bylaw prohibits dispensaries within 500 feet of any residential district, school or child care establishment, drug or alcohol rehabilitation facility or correctional facility.

A motion to recommend a third warrant article, on lot shape changes, passed 4-1, with Nesbit dissenting.

The change would allow the Planning Board to waive requirements on lot shape if they deem it beneficial.

"The lot shape change is strictly to allow the Planning Board to waive strict compliance if they feel the topography or the design of an overall project could benefit from not having to meet the rule of the equation for the lot shape," Planning Administrator Susan Snyder said.

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