Sutton Town Planner previews town’s Master Plan for board
BY TOM REILLY
Sutton Town Planner Jen Hager and Kris Bradner of the Birchwood Design Group made a presentation of the town’s Master Plan. Town Administrator Jim Smith said that Bradner, formally of Gates Leighton, had been involved in projects in Manchaug and at Marion’s Camp.
Hager said the Planning Board in every town is responsible for creating a master plan and also periodically updating that plan. She said Sutton’s last master plan was in 1992 and 20 years was about the norm between plans. She noted that in November 2010 the Planning Board appointed a committee made up of department heads, board and committee members and residents at large to work on a new master plan. The group began having public hearings in February of 2011 to gather input for the plan. Birchwood and its sub-planners were responsible for tackling three of the seven areas that a master plan is supposed to focus on, as well as an introduction, a conclusion, and the overall “package.”
Hager said that Mass General Law says that a master plan is the process of identifying trends, shared values and goals. It is a guide to assist a municipality in decision making and implementation of bylaws and policies. The master plan concerns itself with land use, housing, economic development, natural and cultural resources, open space and recreation, community services and facilities, and transportation and circulation.
Gathering information was a combination of community outreach, a charrette and a survey, which Hager said generated a 17 percent response, double what is normally expected. This data was gathered into a draft master plan and a final meeting was held before the Planning Board two weeks ago. Hager said Smith asked Birchwood to come before the selectmen to make a presentation.
Bradner told the selectmen that there were very specific goals in the master plan in each of the seven mandated areas. She noted that many of these things could be worked on a little at a time as part of the overall strategy. Under land use, the goal is to maintain the rural and historic character of the various neighborhoods and areas within the town, particularly the villages. She said this could include village specific zoning that would attract small businesses while retaining the unique character of these locations.
The goal for housing was to encourage the development of housing that would meet the varied needs of the residents. Bradner said it would look to mesh the needs of an aging population with the needs of new families coming into town. She said this was a sensitive topic and a lot of time was spent talking about it.
In the area of economic development, Bradner said the main need is to strengthen and improve existing commercial and industrial areas. Expanding water and sewer service went hand in hand with this goal, she said, adding that infrastructure is vital to attracting new business. She said the current trend toward creating local, state and regional partnerships needs to be encouraged.
The biggest issue with communality services and facilities was to do a better job of letting know about these services and programs, said Hager. In other words, it was paramount to make sure residents got the most for their tax dollars, she said. Among the areas needing improvement according to the survey were education, waste management, public transportation, youth programs, programs for the elderly, and other social services. Hager said another, shorter survey would be needed because the larger survey was not designed to provide specific information as to what changes were needed in these areas.
Hager also noted there was a general consensus that there needed to be improved municipal facilities for the police department, the public library, and the department of public works in order to accommodate needed space and upgrades for the provision of essential community services. Buildings need to up to code and adequate to provide the needs of residents and visitors to the community. It was also important to everything possible in the realm of conservation and green energy, said Hager.
Under transportation and circulation, the first goal was to improve the maintenance and safety of roads and bridges. She said there were serious issues with bridges in both Manchaug and Wilkinsonville on Depot Street and Blackstone Street. The steel in those bridges are not long enough for the spans, said Hager.
Another goal was to improve traffic flow and safety, especially in high traffic and congestion areas. She said the survey response in this area was “massive” and the town would continue to work with the Department of Transportation and the town’s legislators to make changes in the Boston Road area. She also noted that sidewalks and the bridge near the post office in Manchaug were also noted as candidates for attention. There was also a hope for expansion of other forms of transportation such as bikeways, trains and buses.
Hager said there was a “plethora” of natural and cultural resources in Sutton and that the number one goal in this area is to protect and maintain the town’s existing natural and cultural resources. She said the word “maintenance” kept coming up “again and again and again,” with those responding saying that even though it was important to acquire more areas to preserve that it was even more vital to maintain what the town already owned. She said educating the public about these resources was key because many people were not even aware of the opportunities that already existed. She noted that it might be possible to do more with using tourism as a revenue generator.
Open space and recreation was, in some respects, a different offshoot, with recreation represented by locales such as Marion’s Camp while opens space dealt more with woodlands and waterways. Hager said that once again, the key word for respondents was “maintenance,” with people wanted to ensure that existing holdings were maintained before the town went after new ones. Again, there was a need to improve the way that information about these areas was communicated to residents, said Hager.
Hager said the implementation of the master plan was not up to any group, but rather it was a shared responsibility for everyone. She was recommending that there be a plan update every year at either the fall or spring town meeting. Kevin Geraghty said it was a very good job and Rick Hersom agreed that a yearly update would allow the town to stay on top of things.
Ken Stuart said he read it all the way through and the thing he liked was that it was not just goals and objectives—it was about implementation too. “The timing on this is perfect,” he said.
Hager said the Planning Board would officially adopt the plan at its first August meeting and then release it to the public. Mike Chizy said he had not been to as many meetings as he would have liked because of illness, but “I was able to get my solar power in there.” Hager said even when Chizy missed a meeting; he would be in her office the next day to give his input. “So he never really missed a meeting,” she said->