ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT NEWS: Town Officials Try To Make It Easier For Breweries & Sit-Down Restaurants To Open In Wilmington

WILMINGTON, MA — At last week’s Wilmington Economic Development Committee, members unanimously supported two proposed zoning bylaw changes that would make it easier for restaurants and breweries to open in town.

The bylaw changes, proposed by Planning Director Valerie Gingrich, will soon be brought to the Planning Board for their endorsement. The changes would then be captured in an article that would be placed on the 2021 Annual Town Meeting warrant by the Board of Selectmen. After a 2/3 approval from voters at Town Meeting, the bylaw changes would be sent to the State Attorney General’s Office for legal review.

Currently, the owner of any proposed general service restaurant (sit-down restaurant with at least 100 seats) needs to go through a special permit process in front of the Zoning Board of Appeals. Additionally, those restaurants must meet certain requirements relative to landscaping and lot size that are “strange” and “not typical” to other towns.

“When folks look are out zoning bylaws, they’re not being encouraged to come to town. It’s something that’s not very encouraging for folks who are looking at restaurant uses,” Planning Director Valerie Gingrich told the Committee, who noted some of the bylaw language was even hard for her to understand.

Gingrich is proposing that general service restaurants be allowed as a right in Neighborhood Mixed Use, General Business (e.g., Main Street & Lowell Street), Central Business and Highway Industrial (e.g., Ballardvale Street, Fordham Road) zoning, so restaurant owners would not have to go through the rigorous special permit process with the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Gingrich noted this would apply to general service restaurants only, not drive-thru restaurants, and general service restaurants would still need to go through site plan review with the Planning Board to review parking, stormwater, lighting, landscaping and more.

A zoning bylaw change is also being proposed surrounding breweries.

Currently, the town’s zoning bylaws consider breweries as an industrial use that must be located in an industrial zone.

Under the new proposed language, breweries — which would be referred to a “brew pubs” (restaurants that make their own beer and sell on site, plus retail and/or wholesale) — would be allowed as a right in the same zoning areas proposed for general service restaurants — Neighborhood Mixed Use, General Business, Central Business, and Highway Industrial, bypassing the Zoning Board of Appeals special permit process.

“This change would be both business friendly and residential friendly,” said Economic Development Committee Chair Mike Champoux. “This is the experimental entertainment that residents are interested in seeing more of. In absence of making this kind of adjustment to our zoning, barriers would exist for small business owners that would want to open a brew pub in town.”

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