WRENTHAM — Residents have voted overwhelming to rezone Route 1 in their town, hoping it will make the two-mile stretch of the state road more economically viable, environmentally friendly and safer.
Voters at this week’s town meeting easily passed a new zoning bylaw, which required a two-thirds affirmative vote.
The new zoning reduces seven districts to three, makes the bylaw language easier to understand and streamlines the commercial development process which, officials say, has often been too restrictive.
The three new zoning districts are:
Route 1 South, basically from Thurston Street to Plainville. The aim is to encourage office, entertainment and retail development.
Route 1 North, where minimal impact uses such as offices, recreation and senior housing north of Thurston would be allowed.
And Conservation, Recreation, Schools and Parks, the last of which had existed for Crocker Pond and the state forest.
Route 1 South is earmarked to see more intense development, with Route 1 North geared more toward recreation and office development, with land conservation and protection of water supplies.
A consultant worked with local officials, town boards and residents to develop the rezoning plan, which officials say should improve traffic, support economic development, and preserve natural resources.
Planning board Chairman Michael McKnight said the changes should ensure Route 1 becomes less of a retail thoroughfare.
“That’s what Route 1 primarily is, it’s a retail commercial road,” resident Harvey Gordon said.
Previous zoning had allowed for undesirable uses, including junkyards, it was pointed out.
“We felt Route 1 has an opportunity to be different,” McKnight said.
“We’re stretched every year with finances in town,” said Kelly Williams, who was attending his last town meeting as a finance committee member after 15 years. “The problem is we don’t have enough development.”
Other residents were eager for anticipated safety improvements that could include more turning lanes, medians, and signalization.
“We all know it is a scary road to drive,” Joanna McFarlane said. “We’re really looking to expand our commercial base.”
About 25 residents turned out to a public forum last summer and were generally in favor of the changes.
The town’s portion of Route 1 has long been considered underutilized compared to neighboring Plainville and Foxboro, and in some places blighted with old buildings. Residents have long favored commercial development in that section of town over other areas.
Residents also have indicated in surveys and forums they support open space preservation in the area.