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Lexington Center Could Get Taller, with More People and Shared Parking

The Lexington Center Committee last week introduced three zoning initiatives that could increase height of buildings, allow more residential units above street-level storefronts and attach parking requirements to square-footage expansions.

Annual Town Meeting this spring may be asked to decide if it wants taller buildings, more residential units and new way of looking at parking in Lexington Center.

At the League of Women Voters’ First Friday forum last week, Lexington Center Committee member Howard Levin introduced three zoning initiatives, which he described as remedies for leftover issues from the 1980s that are in line with the committee’s goals of improving the Center for residents and businesses.

The first would increase he allowable height of buildings, which Levin said would bring Lexington Center more in line with surrounding areas. The second initiative would change the mix of commercial and residential uses to allow more residential units above street-level storefronts.

And the third initiative would treat parking as a share resource, grandfather existing parking and amend requirements based on things like square-footage increases rather than changes in use.

“These things are intended actually to be on the warrant,” said Levin, noting the initial drafts are likely to be more general than the actual articles to go before Town Meeting.

Regarding building height, Levin said the current proposal is to allow buildings to reach 40 feet or three stories with a special permit. “We believe there are enough safeguards in place that there will be responsible architecture,” he said, referring to setbacks from the street.

The Center Committee anticipates several buildings could be rebuilt in the next decade or so, according to Levin and through allowing more residential above storefronts, there’s the possibility of these buildings being refreshed and benefitting the downtown area by improving the mix of uses.

A key to successfully increasing building height and residential units in Lexington Center will be managing parking and traffic. To do that, Levin said the Center Committee is recommending looking at parking as a shared resource instead of the aggressive grab to claim spaces promoted by zoning changes from 25 years ago.

“It’s a mess,” he said. “It restricts businesses from opening and/or expanding for the betterment of the town. … The proposal will encourage existing landowners to think about parking in more creative ways on and even under their properties.”

While some buildings are suitable for underground parking, Levin said there are other options for dealing with potential density increases related to fourth floors and more residential, such as using open areas and private spaces on the peripheries of the downtown area as employee parking.  

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