New dimensions in Chester zoning proposal

March 17: Huge changes possible in Chester’s proposed new bylaws
March 24: Proposed zoning bylaws raise questions of uses, costs

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The current zoning map of Chester

Allowed uses — such as single family home, restaurant, retail shop or light industry to name just a few —  are not the only way of crafting desired land use outcomes through zoning. Dimensional standards are regulations that control the size and shape of a land uses in each zoning district and thus shape the way those lands will look and how useful they will be to landowners. An example of this is in instituting “setbacks.”

Houses and other buildings built before Chester instituted zoning in the early 1970s tended to be closer to the roads – even in rural areas – but in the intervening years these setbacks, which control how far a building must be from the front, rear and sides of a lot in each district, have moved buildings back within their lots.

Minimum lot size and the maximum percent of building coverage allowed on a lot are also important factors in what can be built in each district. Each district has its own dimensional standards. Under the proposed new bylaws, these would change to support greater density in the village area and less in the rural areas.

This is a good place to say that the bylaws are a work in progress, there is work still to be done and public hearings to be held before they can even be sent to the Select Board for a vote. The Planning Commission meets to work on the bylaws at 6:30 p.m. on the first and third Monday of each month. The meetings are currently being held via Zoom and the public can attend by clicking here.

Comparing existing and proposed districts

The proposed zoning map of Chester

It’s difficult to make a direct comparison of dimensional specifications between the zoning districts of the current bylaws and those being proposed by the Planning Commission. So first, let’s look at the general layout of the new districts. There are links to maps below.

In a nutshell:

  • Village 12 is the south side of the Green between School and Cobleigh streets.
  • Village 6 is most of the current Village Center, which is Main Street from just east of Lovers Lane to the Post Office and turning up Maple to Depot Street as far as the Yosemite Fire House.
  • Village 4 is the area south of the Green between V12 and the Williams River. It also contains part of Church Street to Meadow Road and also Gassetts.
  • Residential 2 contains some of the most densely developed parts of town including Mountainview, Kevadus Circle, Orcutt Drive, Meadow Road and Marcs Drive, but it’s also made up of large tracts of land.
  • Residential 4 is roughly River Street, Putnam Hill and High Street.

The small R18 area inside the loop made by Reservoir and Goldthwaite Roads

Put very simply, when you leave the area around the downtown:

  • Rural 3 runs along the paved roads,
  • Rural 6 along the dirt roads and
  • Rural 18 is a combination of the current Conservation Residential and Forest districts, mostly in the northwest part of town plus a dozen and a half or so areas carved out between the roads. Those areas are generally 1,000 feet from the roads that surround them. For example, there is a small area designated as Rural 18 near the top of the loop made by Reservoir and Goldthwaite roads.
  • The General Business district runs along the railroad from Route 103 South to Smitty’s Market with most of the land south and east of Pleasant Street susceptible to flooding.
  • And finally, the Mixed Use district includes the Dollar General/Country Girl Diner/gas station area, the area around Erskine’s,  Route 103 south from Stone House Antiques to just beyond Drew’s and Route 11 West in the area of the Stone Hearth Inn, Motel in the Meadow and the former armory.

Click here for a very detailed pdf map of the proposed zoning  and here is a map that shows the current zoning districts.  Readers can get a good idea of what district(s) their properties are in and compare the dimensional numbers below. Note that the maps may take a few moments to load and there is are color keys to help identify the districts.

Dimensional differences raise or lower density

Readers who would like to follow along with the numbers can click to find a current dimensional chart compiled by The Telegraph and also the dimensional chart from the proposed bylaws .

By and large, those districts within the Village and Residential districts will find it easier and less restrictive to build under the proposed bylaws. For example, all of the Residential districts downtown would see a drop in the minimum lot size. The area on the Green would drop from 20,000 sq. ft. to 4,000. Other parts of downtown would drop to 8,000 and 12,000.

Minimum street frontage – the measure of the lot along its street or road – would drop for residential uses throughout the proposed regulations, but it drops most in the Village districts where, for example, on the Green the frontage is reduced from 100 to 30 feet. But in some areas the proposed bylaws create a difference between residential and non-residential street frontage. For example in current Residential 120 and Conservation districts the frontage is 200 and 250 feet respectively and under the proposed bylaws those would drop to 150 feet for a residential use. But if the same lot has a non-residential use, the frontage in the proposed Rural 6 and Rural 18 would increase to 300 and 450 feet respectively.

At the same time, the percentage of a lot that can be covered by the footprint of buildings or other “impervious surfaces” — those that shed water due to roofs and pavement — rises dramatically in the Village districts and becomes more complex in the Rural ones. For example the portion of a lot that can be covered in what is now the Village Center would increase from 35 percent to as much as 90 percent while landowners in Rural 3 and Rural 6 areas will be allowed to build more for the first 3 acre-home parcels and a drop to 5 percent for the remainder of the lot. However, the proposed bylaws only allow Rural 18 lots to have 5 percent coverage.

All setbacks would be reduced under the proposed bylaws, dropping to a maximum of 40 feet compared with as much as 50 feet currently. The most striking changes are in the Village 12 district where front setbacks would be reduced from 20 feet to zero and side setbacks would also drop to zero from 15 feet.

The one thing that does not change however is the maximum structure height of 35 feet throughout the town. This however does not include non-structural elements like cupolas or spires.

New dimensions

The proposed bylaws also contain several new dimensions that are not in the current bylaws. Several of these pertain to the Village 12 and Village 6 districts. These include maximum front setbacks of 16 and 20 feet respectively and minimum height for the principal building of 24 feet. The new maximum setback and minimum height rules will have the effect of keeping any new development in those districts similar to the existing buildings.

The proposed bylaws also include something new — “maximum density,” which is the number of dwelling units or other principal uses per an amount of area. This ranges from one dwelling unit per 4,000 sq. ft. (less than 1/10 of one acre) in Village 12 to 1 dwelling unit per 18 acres (or 784,080 sq. ft.) in Residential 18 with the scale of greatest to least density going from the Chester Green to a number of rural areas that are approximately 1,000 feet removed from roads. Which means those in the vast rural areas could have to do less with their land than those in the Village and Residential districts.

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  1. Hi Bob,
    These are the zoning maps provided by the town. We took
    half a dozen or so of the smaller new maps, then cut them
    together and had them scanned. We are a small operation and
    do not have the staff time to put in all the road names. What
    we have done in our own analysis is use a google map of the
    town to look at the roads. You could also use the town’s taxmap as a reference. Hope this helps.

  2. Bob Sartini says:

    Is there an actually coherent map with the zones and roads named so you can read it. The maps you post are just not easy to follow for anyone who isn’t constructing it.