Monson Reconsiders Zoning Laws After Tornado

It’s edging close to a year since a tornado devastated the small Massachusetts town of Monson, and residents are still rebuilding their commercial district, a half-mile stretch of the town’s main road. And they’re hoping the tornadoes have at least given them an opportunity to improve what was there before.

At a small public meeting in the town office building this week, residents listened to an overview of their zoning ordinances and started to compare them to their own, emerging ideas about what the new Monson Center should look like.

“All of our trees are gone in the downtown area so people are thinking now, when we rebuild trees, where will they be replanted?”

Karen King is a Monson resident and member of the Planning Board. It’s not just trees that must be replaced – it’s also historic buildings and new ones and…

“The electric pole, the telephone poles, people are talking about putting them underground possibly, commercial buildings and how we want them to be looking in the future. They are the gateway to our town so it’s just important that now’s the time to do it right.”

The  Pioneer Valley Planning Commission is holding the meetings, and promoting an online survey for residents who can’t make it to the meetings. Danielle McKahn is a land use planner for the Commission.

“If you have a nonconforming structure that gets destroyed and you don’t want to change the footprint, you can rebuild it in the same way without any changes to the zoning. If you want to expand the footprint or change the use, that’s when the zoning comes into play.”

McKahn says the Commission will hold another meeting next month to discuss visions for the new downtown — and possible zoning changes.