Hampton planners envision downtown 'village'
By Nick B. Reid
Hampton Union, November 5, 2013
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
The Downtown Village Corridor Advisory Committee met last week
to put the finishing touches on a proposed zoning ordinance
amendment targeting downtown Hampton.
HAMPTON — Planners are working on a zoning amendment to promote a quaint New England feeling downtown and more pedestrian-friendly measures that encourage people to park in municipal lots then walk the downtown as they shop and dine.
The Hampton Downtown Village Corridor Advisory Committee is made up of planning consultant Jack Mettee, Rockingham Planning Commission Director Cliff Sinnott, Planning Board member Brendan McNamara, Galley Hatch owner John Tinios and Selectman Mike Pierce. It met last week to put the finishing touches on a proposed zoning ordinance amendment that designates the area between Winnacunnet Road and High Street on either side of Lafayette Road as the Historic Center sub-district, with restrictions as to what is allowed in that space. On either side of that district would be the South sub-district and the North sub-district, which have more lax standards and stretch south to the interchange of routes 1 and 101 and north to the area of the McDonald's restaurant, respectively.
Voters would have to accept the zoning changes for usage and dimensional requirements at Town Meeting; however, other initiatives, such as the adoption of specified design principles for the Historic Center district, could be approved by the Planning Board after a public hearing and would be enforced during the Planning Board's site plan reviews.
On Nov. 20, the Planning Board is expected to have its proposed zoning amendments on the agenda, at which time the public will have a chance to offer its opinions on the changes.
The planners' vision for the downtown is one that maintains traditional New England architecture, unifies the design of discrete shops, incorporates elements that create pedestrian interest and easy access, and reuses buildings with historical value whenever possible.
The Historic Center sub-district permits uses such as cafes, art galleries, convenience stores and pharmacies, professional offices, banks, restaurants, retail sales and services, hotels and bed and breakfasts. It specifically prohibits uses that are tailored to the North and South zones, such as storage, theaters, health clubs, warehouses, large daycare facilities, cemeteries, private schools and gas stations.
Storefronts in the Historic Center are intended to be less than 40 feet wide and broken up into smaller visual elements that provide additional variety and depth, and architectural embellishments such as dormers and cupolas are encouraged. Single-story structures would be prohibited in the Historic Center, and flat-roofed buildings would be required to be shorter than gable-roofed buildings. The size and shape of windows and the materials used in wall building should foster the historic New England feel.
Storefronts would be required to have large window openings to create visual interest for pedestrians in the Historic Center, such that 60 percent of the area between 2 and 9 feet above the sidewalk would be windowed.
As planners envision the bustling downtown of the future, they're also thinking about where the visitors are going to park. They tossed around the idea of putting a parking garage on the municipal lot downtown and combining the separate lots behind the west side businesses on Lafayette Road, saying that there's adequate parking downtown, it's just not properly utilized.
Tinios said it may be a good idea to start charging a small fee for the municipal lot, so as to begin raising money for a potential parking garage or buying up other parking opportunities and acclimate people to the idea that there's limited parking space and it's valuable.
"If you want to improve Hampton, beautify Hampton, make it a pedestrian-friendly town ...; if you can sell them on that idea I think they're going to maybe down the road say, 'Hey, this has worked out pretty darn good; let's do it'," he said.
McNamara said there's at least one business owner on the west side of Lafayette Road who is amenable to the idea of offering up his parking lot to be connected with other lots behind the businesses on the street.
Pierce wondered who would be responsible for plowing and sanding those lots if that plan were carried out, suggesting that it'd probably fall to the town.
Tinios said any town investment should be paid for through parking fees, and McNamara said "some of the businesses are going to have to step up and agree to plow and sand."
Tinios said especially considering some of the "ridiculous amounts of money for parking at Hampton Beach," there's a real benefit to having a public-private partnership that keeps prices reasonable. He said metering the municipal lot is "a strategy that says we don't want to be competing with the private sector, but we want to be part of the solution for making Hampton better."
McNamara said the selectmen would have to put forth another warrant article a year after this March asking whether the townspeople would support a plan to install a kiosk, like at the beach parking, where you'd pay with a credit card and display a ticket on your dashboard at the municipal lot in town.