Proposed zoning changes in Chester: Part I, Districts added, altered, eliminated

At 7 p.m. Monday May 19, the Chester Planning Commission will hold a public hearing at Chester Town Hall, 556 Elm St., to receive comments on the latest draft of the  Unified Development Bylaws, which combines the rules for zoning, subdivision and flood hazard mitigation and has been in the works for about four years. In this and articles over the next few weeks, we will compare the previous versions of these regulations with the new bylaws. This week, we look at zoning districts.

By Shawn Cunningham

There are nine classes of zoning districts in the current version of Chester’s zoning regulations. The Planning Commission has proposed raising that number to 12 with the following changes and additions to the current districts. (Click here to find the proposed zoning map and here for the current map. The text of the proposed bylaw s can be found here. To make navigation easier through the bylaws, here’s its Table of Contents.)

  • Eliminate the Mining and Mineral Processing District off Route 103 north of Gassetts and in two large blocks in the northwest corner of town.
  • Raise the minimum lot size for the Conservation-Residential District from 80,000 square feet (1.837 acres) to 5 acres. This district is made up mainly of large parcels in the north and west of town including the Smokeshire, Sugar Bush and Wymans Falls Road areas.
  • Raise the minimum lot size for the R80 (Residential 80) District from 80,000 square feet (1.837 acres) to 3 acres and rename the district R3.  This represents the vast majority of the land throughout Chester.
  • Change Commercial to Commercial-Industrial. The new Commercial-Industrial area would run along Elm Street and the railroad tracks from Pleasant Street to the Village Center District, then continue on three properties just west of First Street at the railroad tracks. This district is smaller than the current Commercial District and is focused on the railroad corridor. Gassetts, which is currently zoned Commercial, will be changed to Residential-Commercial and a large section of Route 103 South will change from Commercial to Residential-Commercial and Residential 40,000.  The small field just west of Balch Road at Route 11 West is currently zoned Commercial but would change to Adaptive 3 (see below) with the new rules.
  • Create a new Village Center District.  This district would start just east of Lovers Lane and follow Route 11 to St. Joseph’s Church (included) and turn north along Depot Street to Town Hall. The VC District is intended to be the highest density development area in town with a focus on historic preservation and pedestrian streetscape, but it is not exactly the same area that the state officially granted “Village Center Designation.” See that area here. Click here to see the town Village Center District.
  • Create a new Stone Village District. This district would start at Town Hall and follow Route 103 North to the northwestern leg of the Y that becomes Church Street. It includes Church Street south to the railroad corridor. This new district is intended to preserve the character of this historic neighborhood with higher density and compatible commercial uses.
  • Create a new Adaptive 3 District for the area around the Armory on Route 11 including Motel in the Meadow and Stone Hearth Inn. This district is intended to make the vacant Armory complex more attractive for development. According to Bob Flint of the Springfield Regional Development Corp., there have been a half dozen inquiries about developing the Armory for uses ranging from food production to low impact light industrial. “Only one got beyond the tire kicking stage,” according to Flint. “But that’s gone by the wayside now.” Most uses of the Armory would involve the extension of town sewer service to the site. The sewer along Route 11 west currently ends at Baba a Louis Bakery.
  • The remaining districts — Residential 20,000, Residential 40,000, Forest, Aquifer Protection and Flood Damage Protection — have not seen substantial changes.

The public hearing on the proposed development bylaws will be held 7 p.m. Monday May 19, at Chester Town Hall, 556 Elm St.

NEXT WEEK: Should the bylaws pass as written, what would you be able to do with your property under them? We’ll look at the changes in “permitted” and “conditional” uses for each district. Got questions? Let us know and we’ll look into them: Please put ZONING QUESTION in the subject line. 

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