PEPPERELL -- Proposed zoning amendments were hotly contested at the Annual Town Meeting Monday night.
The changes, if passed, would have increased the amount of land available for commercial use from 60 to 90 acres.
The series of articles was intended to make a responsible zoning plan for the town, said Selectman Michael Green.
Increasing commercial use would help Pepperell shift some of the tax burden from homeowners to businesses, said Melissa Tzanoudakis of the Finance Committee. She asked if voters want their household taxes to go up or to shop local.
"You can't do both," she said.
Before discussion on the zoning articles, Tzanoudakis presented a a five-year revenue/expense projection. If expenses and taxes continue as projected, without an increase in revenue, by Fiscal 2018 the town's budget will be an estimated quarter-million-dollars in the red.
This year the budget was balanced by the use of free cash after the town's assessment for the North Middlesex Regional School District was increased by the state, she said. If more revenue is not generated, tax rates could rise.
Proposed zoning changes moved more land into commercial and residential districts. Three parcels, just under four acres, were rezoned from urban residential to commercial. The petition was brought by Chris Bozicas, the property owner.
Using the land at 62, 64 and 66 Main St. as commercial property is consistent with the use of abutting properties, according to the explanation of the petition.
"I honestly believe we need more businesses in town. It makes sense to add land to the area that's primarily commercial," Bozicas said.
Others disagreed. Ron Karr, a past member of the Planning Board, said that the property would become a "free fire" zone where big box stores and bowling alleys could move in. The change might not result in an increase in business; the existing businesses in town might sprawl into the new area.
A lot on Nashua Road was partially rezoned for industrial use. The lot at the entrance to Lomar Park was zoned residential in the front. The lot is not buildable as a residence and any commercial use would not affect nearby landowners, said Douglas Deschenes, attorney for K.B. Properties, LLC, the owner.
An article to create a new zoning district, Neighborhood Business, was defeated. "We wanted to maintain the character of this town. We wanted to maintain the aura of this town," said Planning Board Chairman Rick McHugh.
The article was criticized for not being ready. Roger Goscombe, owner/broker of Century 21 Nashoba, said the district had no provisions for building homes.
"I think there's work that needs to be done," he said.
An amendment to the article allowing warehouse activity in the proposed district was allowed but the article was defeated 60 to 63.
The following article specifying areas, including Peter Fitzpatrick School, that would fall into a neighborhood business district was withdrawn.
Zoning for the establishment of a medical marijuana treatment center was established on the recommendation of Police Chief David Scott. Towns are required by the attorney general to allow zoning for the centers, but can regulate them. A center would require a special permit; the article provides a temporary restriction until May 6, 2014.
Another zoning bylaw, allowing construction of two-family dwellings that maintain the appearance of a single-family home, was approved.
All other articles on the warrant were approved.