Westminster's latest efforts to retain the character of its downtown and neighborhoods and foster business growth drew an overflow crowd to a meeting of the Common Council last night.
About three dozen people crowded into the council's cramped chambers for public hearings on two new zoning ordinances.
Most addressed the proposed ordinance to establish a neighborhood commercial zone - a new zoning category that would allow neighborhood stores that blend in with their surroundings .
"We want [stores] to be compatible with residential areas while providing services residents need," said town planner Katrina L. Tucker.
Under the proposal, buildings would be restricted to three stories and could be no larger than 55,000 square feet. Signs and facades would have to be muted and on a smaller scale, and the architecture would have to blend with the area, with trees and shrubs as a buffer. The proposed ordinance includes several pages of permitted uses, such as banks, dry cleaners, grocery stores and package stores.
Todd Brown of Westminster took issue with the size limit of stores, saying it was too large for a residential neighborhood. He recommended 25,000 square feet. "I think there's sufficient property commercially zoned ... to accommodate any large regional store of the 55,000-foot variety," he said.
Rich Bowie agreed. "When you put a big store, a big parking lot and lights in, it does detract from a neighborhood," he said.
The second hearing concerned a proposed ordinance to rezone properties into a new downtown business zone.
The zone, developed as part of Westminster's comprehensive plan, is meant to reflect the idea that downtown businesses need different zoning requirements from those in suburban or heavily commercial and industrial areas.
"Downtown has a different character - the scale, the pedestrian orientation, the historic nature is very different from the suburban highway design that is part of Route 140," Tucker said. The text and regulations of the downtown business zone were adopted in December.
The downtown business zone would be more restrictive than the business and restricted industrial zones it would replace. Only those types on businesses listed in the ordinance would be allowed.
Auto parts stores would be permitted, but not auto dealers. Clothing stores and restaurants would be permitted, but not drive-through restaurants. Existing businesses that do not conform - such as tattoo parlors - could stay in operation.
"This would not force someone to close his or her doors," Tucker said. "But if they stop operation, they will lose that grandfather status."