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Designer sought for Lower Village

By Ann Needle

The Stow Planning Board is looking for someone to help propel Lower Village business into life after the road project is complete.

The Planning Board reviewed changes at its meeting Aug. 6 to a draft request for a proposal seeking a consultant to make design recommendations for Lower Village, and to recommend any zoning changes for the area.

Planning Board Chair Lori Clark explained, with the Lower Village road project aiming to finish in November, the next few months are ideal for looking into what possible zoning bylaw changes could help make Lower Village a more vibrant business center. The Board wants to use a consultant to help channel feedback from residents and business owners on what they envision for Lower Village’s future, she said.

Clark added that if there are any zoning changes recommended from the study, these could be presented at the 2020 Stow Annual Town Meeting for approval.

Town Planner Jesse Steadman said the first step would be to work with a consultant to conduct an audit of the zoning bylaws and consider the Lower Village Revitalization Committee’s final report and other Planning Board documents.

After that, Steadman explained the consultant would produce a zoning strategy report focusing on “how to use the key pieces of the bylaw that we would want to get to our goal.” The aim would be to “come back with the difference between what there is [in Lower Village] and what there could be.”

Planning would then decide whether to contract the consultant to finish all or pieces of the job, which would include proposed design guidelines for the area, he said. 

Thanks to a grant from the Community Compact Program, Steadman estimated Planning has about $9,300 to use on these tasks. However, he stressed the Town of Stow would lose the money if it is not used in the next year, a timeline that includes an already-extended deadline. And, while that grant likely will not pay the whole bill, Steadman noted there could be about $6,500 additional available from Planning’s consulting budget.

Steadman said, if needed, asking Annual Town Meeting to approve some of the funds could be a reasonable move. Except for the initial design of the Lower Village road project,“Since I’ve been in Stow, we have never asked for funds [for planning work.] Everything else has been done with grant funds. In seven years, that’s pretty impressive.”

The Board’s Len Golder cautioned ATM may be reluctant to approve funds for design guidelines for Lower Village, given the road project’s challenges. However, Lori Clark pointed out that any money requested should not be a big amount.

Lower Village Road Project Update

In an update on the Lower Village road work, Steadman reported, “Eversource has been giving us the cold shoulder on the gas line we need to re-locate.” In Steadman’s words, Eversource has “impacted far bigger projects. But I think we’re going to get there,” with Town Administrator William Wrigley speaking with contacts within Eversource, he said. Steadman assured, “If they don’t [move it], we do have an alternative design” involving installing a few more catch basins.

As for the overall project, Steadman said the approach to keeping down traffic disruptions has been to aim to finish high-impact items by the time school opens in late August. The construction team is also patching most needed road fixes on Fridays, smoothing them over in the meantime with gravel fill, rather than doing them on an as-you-go basis, he said.

Café for Rent

Not far from Lower Village, the former Stowaway Inn on Great Road is looking to get back in business after extensive renovations.

According to Steadman, the property’s owners told him they originally planned for their daughter and son-in-law to re-open the Inn as a café and retail store. But, given this couple encountered health issues, the owners are now looking to lease it to someone willing to manage at least the café portion, but hopefully both that and the retail space, he said.

“They’re just waiting to hear the interest,” Steadman added. “If they find the right lessee, maybe they would want to live there, too.”