Critique zoners’ ‘architechural guidelines’
Published 10:16 pm, Thursday, June 11, 2015
To the Editor:
At first glance, the New Milford Zoning Commission’s recently adopted architectural guidelines seem to be a good start to control the look of big-box retailers and national chains that now dominate Route 7.
However, a closer reading of the guidelines reveals a document that lacks teeth, and cannot be enforced.
With the impending closure of John Pettibone School, the town may see yet another big-box retailer in its place. Zoning should revisit this issue now and enact architectural guidelines that will protect the heritage and rural appeal of New Milford.
Many towns have enacted strong architectural zoning to control the sprawl and the look of big-box and chain stores.
These towns have not suffered for it.
National chains will conform to enforceable architectural guidelines if they want to locate in a town but, without the enforceable guidelines, they can do as they please.
Local government will have you believe big-box and national chain stores generate tax revenue, but these stores are not the gold at the end of the rainbow.
A report for the Cape Cod Economic Development Commission showed "local economies dominated by chain stores become less competitive and generate less economic growth than those dominated by independent and local businesses … numerous studies indicate that spending in a local store generates significantly more economic growth than spending in a chain store."
This is true all over the country. New Milford is behind the curve on this and should remedy the situation with stronger architectural zoning.
The town loses another piece of its heritage every time a beautiful, older building is demolished to make way for a national chain, or fast-food outlet.
Big-box stores are obscuring our lovely vistas. Route 7 has been nearly destroyed by this, and Route 202 is now vulnerable.
The big-box Family Dollar Store is now the cornerstone at the entry to historic downtown New Milford. The look of Family Dollar store has nothing in common with the ongoing restoration of downtown.
The appeal of downtown New Milford has been dwarfed by the sprawl of big-box and national chain stores that could have looked better if strong, enforceable architectural zoning had been in place.
The Litchfield Crossings mall is another example.
The original plans submitted to the Zoning Commission showed a "pedestrian friendly, European-style village" that would encourage shoppers to walk around the mall.
There would be no bland architecture of big-box stores. This development was supposed to be something "different," and more in keeping with the "New England Character" of New Milford.
Fast forward to 2015 and Litchfield Crossings mall resembles everything that developers said it wouldn’t. The big-box stores of Kohl’s, Petco and Home Goods look like all the other big-box stores in suburbs across America.
It is not a pedestrian- friendly mall.
Big-box stores and national chains are an inevitable part of rural and suburban life, but their presence need not disturb the local character and historic origins of a community.
Preservation of the landscape is within the power of strong architectural zoning guidelines. It is imperative our zoning board be on the cutting edge of meaningful and empowered codes that ensure our community changes with the times but retains its unique character.
We strongly urge the Zoning Commission to create enforceable, architectural guidelines before New Milford becomes just another anonymous suburb on the way to somewhere else.
We will all have lost a significant part of our heritage if that happens.
Dr. Erich Doubek
Board of Directors