WRENTHAM — If all goes according to plan, the town’s stretch of Route 1 from Plainville to Foxboro will feature a blend of natural and developed sites.
A consultant is working with local officials, town boards and residents to develop a plan to reduce to three the number of zoning districts in the roughly two-mile stretch of Route 1 that passes through town. There are currently seven.
Changes envisioned for the segment should improve traffic, support economic development, and preserve natural resources, officials say.
About 25 residents turned out to a recent public forum and were generally in favor of the proposals expected to go before a November town meeting.
Traffic safety, which many have expressed concerns over, would be enhanced with more turning lanes, medians, and signals, though the state would have to be involved because it’s a state road.
Some residents expressed deep concerns with the lack of a traffic signal at the new go-kart complex on Route 1 and the danger of taking left-hand turns across traffic.
“Something should be done at that particular area very quickly,” warned a resident who lives on Hawes Street. “There’s going to be a fatality.”
Town Administrator Kevin Sweet said the state determined the development didn’t warrant a traffic signal but right-hand turns are encouraged.
Residents also complained about more traffic, especially truck traffic, going up Madison and Thurston streets and onto East Street (Route 140).
“If you want development on Route 1, you need to look at zoning,” Cathy McCabe of consultant McCabe Enterprises of Roslindale said. “Your zoning gets you what you don’t want,” such as junkyards.
The town’s portion of Route 1 has long been considered underutilized compared to neighboring Plainville and Foxboro, and residents have long favored commercial development in that section of town over other areas.
Residents, on the whole, also have indicated in surveys and forums they support open space preservation in the area as well.
“People want more development and tax dollars but want to preserve open space,” McCabe said.
At the forum, the consultant outlined proposed changes that would merge the two desires.
The three new zoning districts would be: Commercial Route 1 South, basically from Thurston Street to Plainville; Commercial Route 1 North; and Conservation, Recreation, Schools and Parks, which already exists.
Route 1 South is earmarked to see more intense development, with Route 1 North more geared toward recreation and office development and land conservation.
The zoning districts eliminated would be Highway Commercial, Business, three commercial, and a residential zone.
Minimum frontage would be reduced from 200 to 150 feet for the new commercial zones. The amount of building and paving lot coverage would be increased in some instances and decreased in others. Wrentham’s lot coverage would still be less than many area communities.
Front, side and rear setback requirements would also be reduced in many cases. Also, five- and six-story buildings would be allowed. Up to four stories are now permitted in some districts. Parking standards would also be eased.
“Your zoning restrictions are so tight,” McCabe said. “Right now many projects are not viable and economical.”
“A lot of environmental and physical conditions make development a challenge,” McCabe said, adding lack of sewers and water are also drawbacks.
Advantages are the town’s location near Interstate 495 and proximity to the Providence and Boston labor markets, the consultant said.
“It’s not very visually appealing,” Jen Mecca, an architect/urban designer with the consultant, said of the town’s portion of Route 1. “There’s little green space, old clutter and old buildings.”
Landscaping, including of medians, and preserving as many trees and vegetation as possible would go a long way improving aesthetics and ecological preservation, it was pointed out.
“We heard people want that rural character,” McCabe said.
The consultant added the stretch has the “potential to be a scenic corridor,” mentioning state forest land.
Based on feedback, the plans could change. “It’s a work in progress,” McCabe said.
“I think there should be more flexibility,” said Chris Yarworth, the town planner in Plainville and a Wrentham resident. “We have a lot of the same problems Wrentham has. We have a hard time getting good-quality development.”
The Route 1 area in Wrentham contains 52 properties, represents just 1 percent of the town’s tax base, and encompasses only 5 percent of its land mass.
“It’s not Foxboro, and it’s not Plainville; it’s in between,” McCabe said. “There isn’t any identity yet.”