In its latest effort to revitalize Milton's downtown district, town council amended its code Oct. 7 to make it easier for restaurateurs to open in the town center.
By making restaurants a permitted use, prospective business owners would no longer need to go before the planning and zoning commission for a special use permit.
“I think we're putting an undue burden on those people who want to open a restaurant in the town center, considering we have four other restaurants in the town center,” said Vice Mayor John Booros. “If we're going to allow them [downtown], we should allow them [in the code].”
Irish Eyes and Vintage Café are both well-established restaurants on Union Street in what is considered the town center.
Resident Ellen Passman said the code change is much needed.
“We need people downtown,” she said. “It's a bowling alley, and it has to stop. If it takes passing an ordinance so that it's somewhere in the 21st century, then I think that would be a very good thing for Milton.”
In recent weeks, two town center property owners informed tenants of their intentions to renovate their buildings. One of the property owners is planning to open a restaurant.
Some residents were concerned that making it easier for both standard and fast-food restaurants to open downtown would open the door for a franchise to open in one of the most historic parts of Milton.
“I am looking forward to restaurants and stuff opening in downtown Milton,” said resident Ginny Weeks. “I would love it, but you have to protect the goose laying the golden eggs, and it's Union and Federal streets.”
Resident Jeff Dailey said he would prefer the town take measures to protect itself from franchises.
“If we don't have restrictions in place to make sure franchises are not like billboards in the center of our town then we really have to be extremely careful,” he said. “If you look at the winners of Best Small Towns in America, I guarantee you you're not going to see Taco Bell, you're not going to see McDonalds, you're not going to see drive-thru windows onto the main historic streets of those towns.”
Councilman John Collier referenced the code before voting, saying it's unlikely a franchise would meet requirements to open anywhere in the downtown district. The code requires fast-food restaurants to have a minimum lot size of 15,000 square feet and at least one lot frontage shall be a minimum of 100 feet.
“I think it's really a stretch of the imagination for the golden arches or anything else to appear in our downtown,” he said.
The code change passed 6-1; the only dissenting vote was cast by Councilman Michael Coté who did not disagree with the code change, but wanted to follow the recommendation of Town Solicitor Seth Thompson to receive the planning and zoning commission's opinion before voting.
Councilwoman Stell Parker-Selby said she hopes the measure allows the town to continue to grow.
“Seeing the progress Milton has made since I've been on council, I think it's only fair we allow freedom for other restaurants to come to Milton and make our town like a little DC where you can sit out on the street,” she said.