Clarification on ZBA’s 2018 decision on 2 E Main St

Above: It appears that I misunderstood (and therefore misreported) the ZBA’s decision on approved permit uses for the lot at the corner of Main and Newton. (photo by Beth Melo)

Last week, I posted an update on the proposed project at 2 East Main Street. Within the post, I recapped the history of the project. It turns out that part of that background – details of the Zoning Board of Appeals’ permit approval last fall – was inaccurate. A ZBA member reached out to clarify what their approval did and didn’t mean.

In October 2018, the ZBA granted a special permit for mixed commercial uses at the downtown Main Street corner lot. Since then, I’ve written that the board approved the applicant’s proposal for commercial use downstairs and upper floor “non-transient hotel units”. In fact, the board did not specifically approve that plan.

ZBA member Debbie DeMuria explained that the board instead approved the ability for the project to have mixed uses, but constrained those to the ones listed as allowed in the zoning bylaws. She said that Bemis agreed to ZBA’s request to remove the specific wording for non-transient hotels from his application.

DeMuria furthered that the board sided with Town Counsel (and against the former Building Commissioner) in finding that non-transient hotel rooms weren’t an allowed use. I can’t assert what each board member’s opinion was. But it now seems clear that they didn’t vote specifically to approve the non-transient hotel use at the October 17th hearing. So, my statement that they approved it over advice of Town Counsel was wrong.

Since the project required Major Site Plan Review, if developer Peter Bemis wanted to pursue non-transient hotel units, he would have had to convince the Planning Board that the plan fit within the zoning uses under the permit. (Since Planning member Meme Luttrell publicly opined that it didn’t, Bemis changed his approach and proposed a building with upstairs offices instead.)

DeMuria noted that the project has taken twists and turns since it left the ZBA. She wasn’t sure it was worth posting a clarification on the seemingly moot history. But since the ZBA is often criticized for its decisions, I feel the correction is important. My apologies to the board for the error.

At this point, Bemis is still appealing the Planning Board’s denial of a Special Permit for his revised project. The appeal is scheduled for a Case Management conference on December 18th.

Meanwhile, the Economic Development Committee has been championing efforts to change the bylaws to allow mixed commercial and residential projects downtown. Bemis had indicated that he didn’t want to hold his project to wait for Town Meeting Approval of new bylaws. But it will be interesting to see what happens if the Town actually manages to pass a mixed use bylaw before the appeal plays out.

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