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Many favor zone change

CORNWALL — A public hearing on a proposed zone change for the Berkshire Country Store property was closed after additional comments Tuesday night.

The hearing before the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) opened Aug. 14 with a large turnout. Most of the comments were in favor of finding a way to allow store owners Beth and Rick Cochran to expand and improve the convenience store, deli and gas station. While residents appreciate the nearby services, they said, they also fear for the long-range future of the property and neighborhood. Some suggested the zone change will plant the seeds of a new commercial district.

The Cochrans, who purchased the business in January, are seeking a zone change from residential to general business. They also want to build a home for their family at the back of the 5-acre lot on the corner of routes 4, 43 and 128.

In August, a workable solution was urged, and many residents offered suggestions or consulted with the professional planners on hand.

This week, the 20 people who made up the public mostly listened. Comments against the zone change came in three letters. Hendon Chubb, Tim Prentice and Nora Prentice all spoke of the potential creation of a commercial district and the possibility of up to four new commercial buildings that would be allowed in a general business zone should that lot be subdivided. There were also suggestions to approve the zone change with the condition the Cochrans donate land there for affordable housing.

But before those letters were read into the record by P&Z Chairman Anne Kosciusko, the applicant’s consultant read a “compromise solution” devised to address those concerns.

Consultant Martin Connor said the Cochrans, who do business as BROC Enterprises LLC, wanted to respond to the concerns raised in August with a voluntary conditional proposal.

Under current zoning regulations, more than one non-residential use is allowed on a property in a business zone. However, those uses have to be in one structure, such as a strip mall or office building.

“The Cochrans believe they can adequately expand their business under those guidelines and would be willing to accept restrictions on development of the rest of the property,” Connor said. “If the commission determines they cannot have a business and residential use on the same lot, they are willing to subdivide to create two lots.”

The idea would be to carve out a residential lot on which they would build a home. Connor noted that approach would ease concerns about the potential for future growth there. Keeping a portion of the property residential would leave less commercial acreage. And any construction on the property would need permitting from the town. A zone change would not eliminate future oversight of changes there.

Connor also submitted a final version of a petition in support of allowing the Cochrans to expand their business and build a home. In August, more than 600 signatures were presented. The number now stands at about 900.

P&Z has received extensive feedback from its own consultant, Tom McGowan. Among his various suggested approaches and cautions was that P&Z cannot put conditions on a zone change. It is an amendment to the regulations that applies to everyone. But an applicant can offer a condition that applies to their property. P&Z would have to consider those conditions exactly as presented, without setting conditions of its own.

Upon closing the hearing, Kosciusko made it clear the commission had 65 days to consider the application, and that they would not rush to a decision.

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