On the Tuesday ballot, besides voting for Town Officials, there are two Zoning Amendments to be considered. The following is “A Land Use Attorney’s Opinion on Article 3,” that is on the Ballot March 28. RAY BOAS, Publisher
I write this letter on behalf of Walpole residents, Tom and Christie Winmill, in response to the opinion piece submitted by Elana Baron in the Walpolean on March 14, 2023 entitled “Another Point of View” regarding Article 3 of the 2023 Walpole Town Meeting Warrant.
Ms. Baron’s interpretation of the proposed ordinance amendment regarding Formula Businesses is incorrect and her article is misleading. She contends that the proposed language would limit small local businesses from occurring in Town and suggests extreme examples of the zoning amendment’s effect on maple syrup and honey producers. Were Ms. Baron’s claims based on a rational interpretation of the proposed ordinance, it would indeed be concerning. However, Ms. Baron pointed to off-based and inaccurate grounds to support her claims.
The new zoning ordinance is intended to preserve Walpole’s unique and distinctive character while permitting commercial development. To achieve this purpose, the ordinance introduces a definition for Formula Business that establishes a two-part method for distinguishing businesses that have standardized/ homogenous services, appearances, and other features. For a business to be considered a Formula Business it would have to have two or more of the following standardized features as 10 or more other businesses:
(1) Array of services, menus or merchandises, with 50% or more of in-stock merchandise bearing uniform markings;
(2) Trademark, logo, or service mark;
(3) Architecture, façade, or exterior design;
(4) Décor or color scheme;
(5) Uniform (other than name tags)
Ms. Baron states that “…any maple syrup producer or local honey maker who puts a uniform marking on his or her products qualifies for element number 1.” First, comparisons with maple syrup and honey making are completely inappropriate and irrelevant, because these are agricultural uses protected by State law from being limited or restricted by local land use regulations (RSA 674:32-a, RSA 674:32-b, and RSA 21:34-a).
Second, even if maple syrup and honey producers were not exempt but used standardized packaging for their products, this feature alone does not classify a business as a Formula Business. Ms. Baron recognizes this and goes on to state: “Now let’s go to the second element; you need a trademark, logo, or service mark. How is this second element different from the first?Now, our local maple syrup producers or local honey makers have satisfied two elements.” But she conveniently glosses over the distinction and importance of the second feature and conflates it with the first feature regarding uniform markings. Packaging may be labeled with uniform markings such as a logo; however, for a maple syrup or honey producer to be considered a Formula Business it must share the same logo, trademark or service mark with 10 or more other businesses. It is implausible that a local small maple syrup or honey business, or any local small business in Walpole, shares the same logo, trademark or service mark with 10 or more other businesses. Logos, trademarks and service marks are symbols or words unique to a specific business to distinguish it from its competitors. Unlike Ms. Baron’s imprecise explanation, the ordinance is not vague about this distinction.
Ms. Baron’s article also fails to address other important elements of the proposed ordinance. The ordinance does not outright restrict Formula Businesses. It limits to 12 the number of Formula Businesses that can occur at one time in town, a reasonable threshold for a Town as small as Walpole. It also protects existing businesses that may become a Formula Business after the adoption of the ordinance.
Finally, if adopted, Walpole would not be the first community in the state to regulate Formula Businesses. The Towns of Jaffrey and Warner have adopted zoning regulations that define and restrict Formula Businesses. Many other communities in the state have adopted related regulations that seek to protect and promote their unique and special places from looking and feeling like anywhere else in the United States.
Walpole is a special place that people choose to visit and to call home. It is evident that many, including Ms. Baron, want to keep Walpole special. However, this will not happen on its own. The proposed ordinance, which is consistent with the purpose of the Town’s Zoning Regulations and the Master Plan, will be a tool for the Town to maintain and promote businesses that contribute to the Town’s vitality and singularity.
Thomas R. Hanna