Zone change still in the works for Berkshire store

CORNWALL - Last year’s controversy over a zone change request by owners of the Berkshire Country Store may be back on track — and could come to a conclusion that will satisfy everyone.

There was an outcry of support last summer for a business and a family considered valuable to the town. The few who spoke against it raised valid zoning issues.

Even though a business has operated there since long before the town had zoning regulations, changes in the nature of the business over the years negated its "grandfathered" status.

It was an issue that was never looked at that closely - until Rick and Beth Cochran, who bought the store and gas station a year ago, sought to improve it with a small expansion, new gas pumps and better parking. They also wanted to build a family home at the back of the 5-acre lot.

The property is zoned residential and the various business uses have been non-conforming since zoning was initiated. The Cochrans want the lot changed to a general business zone. Rick Cochran told the commission he couldn’t get a business loan without the change.

But from a regulatory standpoint, their stated intent to not develop the property further is not enough to protect the property now or down the road. The Planning and Zoning Commission felt compelled to deny the application.

The commission has begun looking at a zone change that would address the unique aspects of the property. Town planning consultant Tom McGowan is working on the draft regulation.

"It is definitely on our radar to work on this," Planning and Zoning Chair Anne Kosciusko told The Journal. "We intend to work with the owners and for this to be an ongoing agenda item."

Kosciusko said it was mainly a matter of current regulations that are too broad to prevent business-related expansion of the lot beyond the store.

Writing a piece of zoning regulations specifically for one piece of property may be the only way to address this particular situation. The Planning and Zoning Commission will work on that despite a lack of a pending application.

Martin Connor, a planning consultant for the Cochrans, told The Journal a new application will follow the creation of the new regulation by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Connor said that the regulation won’t likely apply elsewhere — where else in town can you find the convergence of three state highways? — but it is the most logical approach to the problem.

"This is why we sought a zone change in the first place. That property is so unique with those three highways, and the way it’s been used over the years. I think they are on the right track to allowing a business use that is more restrictive than what they have in other general business zones."

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