BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. — The Rockingham Selectboard will consider proposed zoning changes in the Island industrial district, which Town Planner Chuck Wise said will expand the range of commercial land uses on the island.
Last night the selectboard unanimously approved the language changes to bylaws proposals by the Rockingham Planning Commission to move to a public hearing next month for further consideration. The planning commission worked extensively over the summer to update the island’s zoning bylaws to include more types of land uses and amend regulations that posed barriers to economic development, according to Wise.
“Our [mantra] was jobs, jobs and jobs,” Wise said to the board. “We want to make sure that we get jobs over there.”
The island is a water-locked land area between the Connecticut River and Bellows Falls canal, which historically housed manufacturing companies and functions today primarily as an industrial district. The island connects to the town via two bridges: the Bridge Street Bridge and Depot Street Bridge. The Depot Street Bridge is slated to be replaced with a replica at the same location by 2023. The Vilas Bridge, the island’s only direct connection to New Hampshire, remains closed from damage obtained during Hurricane Irene.
The planning commission proposes revising the island’s stated purpose to say, “to promote the greatest potential for redevelopment and to reclaim the island’s role as a tourist destination and employment center for the community.”
Existing businesses on the island include Cota & Cola Heating and Plumbing, NAPA Auto Parts and Sherwin Art Glass. The island also holds the Bellows Falls Amtrak station.
The proposed zoning draft adds to the existing land purposes to include: public, municipal or educational facilities; restaurants, hotels or recreation facilities; and professional services.
The draft also allows commercial uses to include “multiple family dwelling units only as an accessory use.” The bylaws will only permit residential units that serve the primary commercial use, such as a residency for the business owner, according to Wise.
“No one wanted to have additional housing on the island,” Wise said. “The applicant [for adding a residential use] has to show that the [residential and commercial] are compatible.”
The proposed draft also amends the existing regulations to allow on-street parking as the island is only zoned for parking off-street. While the commission still encourages off-street parking, they seek to provide broader, more business-friendly standards, according to Wise.
“We have some larger buildings that will only attract interest if there are places for people to park,” Wise said.
Selectboard wants lighting restored to Arch Bridge
The selectboard also decided to delay signing a new financing and maintenance agreement with the Vermont Agency of Transportation for the Arch Bridge project, saying they still hope to include an agreement to restore the lighting on the bridge.
On Oct. 4, the Agency of Transportation presented an upcoming maintenance project for the Arch Bridge, which crosses the Connecticut River between Rockingham, Vt. and Walpole, N.H. Part of the project is to remove three of the four street lights on the bridge, which have been inactive since 2012.
The state of New Hampshire, who owns the bridge, shut off the bridge lighting as a cost-saving measure.
The only active street light is on Rockingham’s side of the bridge. Under the current bridge agreement with Vermont, the street light may remain active so long as Rockingham pays the electricity cost.
The selectboard voiced their desire to restore lighting across the entire bridge for the numerous pedestrians that use the bridge at night. Per the board’s understanding, officials in Walpole also expressed an interest in restoring the lights.
The selectboard already plan to meet with the Walpole Selectboard to discuss the Vilas Bridge, which both communities would like to see reopened. The bridge is also owned by the state of New Hampshire, which still has not funded its repair.
Vice-Chair Gaetano Putignano suggested that each town could pay the electricity bill for two lights. The board also wants to explore operating the lights on solar power, which they believe will reduce the cost.
Town Manager Wendy Harrison said that waiting to sign the new agreement was not an issue.
The current one can remain in effect in the meantime.