Planning Board votes down condos at old police station site

By Douglas McCulloch | Jul 11, 2017
Source: Google Maps Town officials are considering a zoning change that would allow condos at 249 Russells Mills Road, where the shuttered police station currently sits.

The Planning Board shot down a proposal to rezone the Dartmouth Police Department’s Russells Mills Road headquarters to allow for condominiums.

At its July 10 meeting, the board voted to not move forward with the proposal to rezone the department’s 249 Russells Mills Road location from single-family residences to neighborhood businesses. The neighborhood business zoning district currently covers the opposite side of Russells Mills Road, from just west of Elm Street to the junction with Slocum Road, and includes Cumberland Farms and several small businesses in that area.

The department plans to move into a new police station located on Tucker Road at the site of the former Gidley School, which was demolished earlier in the year to make room for the new police station. The current headquarters building was shuttered after an officer became ill with Legionnaires' disease from the building's water system, leaving the department operating out of modular units.

The goal of the zoning change, according to a letter from Town Administrator David Cressman, was to increase the land value of the site to entice private parties to cover the estimated $400,000 cost of demolishing the now-condemned building.

According to the letter, the property with no change is valued at $215,000, but if the town does not pay to demolish the headquarters building, the town would be unlikely to sell it. With the change allowing for a theoretical ten-unit condominium development matching the blueprint of the existing police station, the value of the property would increase to $385,000.

In order to avoid issues with spot zoning – zoning of one single parcel to benefit a single owner or company – members noted the zoning change might need to be applied to several neighboring parcels around the Elm Street-Russells Mills Road intersection. But members worried that could have unintended consequences.

“I don’t think it’s a smart move,” member John Sousa said. “It’ll drastically change that district. I’m not willing to change the whole district for $170,000,” he said, referencing the difference in land values.

Others worried about the ability of the board to juggle the complex proposal along with other items in the works, including the multi-family housing proposal intended to head to a vote at the fall Town Meeting.

“This came out of the blue and we have so many priorities that we need to address,” chairman Joel Avila said, adding that the town does not own a lot of land, and he felt it didn’t seem in the town’s best interest to sell the police station site to private developers.

Member Lorri-Ann Miller was in favor of the proposal, and voted against tabling the idea, noting that the building has to come down either way, and the change could help recoup those costs or pass them along to private developers.

Cressman said that since the proposal will not move forward at this time, other ideas for potential uses of the property will need to be developed.

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