ASHLAND —The Planning Board and selectmen last night talked about making it easier for businesses to set up shop downtown, where they say exceptionally sticky zoning bylaws send many retailers running in the other direction.
"You have to make these decisions up front," said Town Manager John Petrin. "Do you want to be business-friendly or not?"
The Planning Board wants to revamp downtown zoning rules to make the town more friendly to businesses, but officials said last night they also want to make sure people have a say in downtown development.
"We're balancing streamlining against public involvement," Town Planner David Manugian said.
He said the town could easily change the laws and reduce a business's wait time for a permit from eight weeks to two, but that would eliminate time for public comment.
"The thing that gets lost is significant opportunity for public input," Manugian said.
The Planning Board said Ashland created its stringent zoning laws several years ago, while the economy was booming, in hopes of creating a historic but retail-oriented center like those in Wellesley or Lexington.
The town has 300 different uses in the zoning bylaws and 12 different definitions of a restaurant.
One Ashland property owner at the meeting said the town's plethora of rules makes it impossible for businesses to develop.
"If you want to truly get businesses in town, don't put hurdles people have to jump through," Steve Hickey said.
Members of the two boards said the public should have a voice in any changes to the bylaws.
Town Manager Petrin suggested a special Town Meeting with zoning as the only article, which the groups said most likely won't happen until next fall.
The first public hearing about zoning changes will be held on Dec. 8.
Also at last night's meeting, the Planning Board, selectmen and town employees discussed whether the town's building inspector, who recently became part-time, is able to do a good enough job working only 16 hours.
As far as hiring a FULL time building inspector, I would wait! This is a case of creating more GOVERNMENT jobs with no money to do so!