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Conway board finishes master plan

  • The town is planning to place a new highway garage behind the salt shed on the property of the Conway Grammar School, a project the newly formed Garage Committee has been working on. In May, townspeople approved $175,000 forin engineering designs and permitting for the project. (Recorder file photo)

    The town is planning to place a new highway garage behind the salt shed on the property of the Conway Grammar School, a project the newly formed Garage Committee has been working on. In May, townspeople approved $175,000 forin engineering designs and permitting for the project. (Recorder file photo)

  • The town is planning to place a new highway garage behind the salt shed on the property of the Conway Grammar School, a project the newly formed Garage Committee has been working on. In May, townspeople approved $175,000 forin engineering designs and permitting for the project. (Recorder file photo)

CONWAY — For the first time in the town’s 246-year history, Conway has an official plan.

The Planning Board has developed the town’s first adopted master plan, a document the state asks all cities and towns to create for its residents.

The master plan is different from that of most cities and towns in that it takes a realistic approach to the future, say its drafters.

“A lot of master plans are characterized by the assumption that they’re in the 20th century,” explained Sue Bridges, a Board of Health member who helped write and edit the plan. “Ours is for the 21st century. It is an attempt to look at trends in energy and growth. We can’t solve those but we try to put them into the mix of the planning process.”

Although the previous Planning Board developed a plan in the early 2000s, the former group never adopted the plan. In January, the current Planning Board members decided to create a new plan, noting that the town faces a different future from that of 10 years ago.

The theme for the five-year master plan from 2014 to 2018 is sustainability.

It takes many of the town’s problem areas, such as lack of business, affordable housing and town facilities, and offers recommendations to change Conway’s future, reinvigorate the town center and provide a community space for local business. The plan also takes into account many issues impacting cities and towns across the country.

In compiling the master plan, the Planning Board made three assumptions for the future.

The town assumed the housing boom of the last 50 years is over and will no longer pose a threat to the town’s rural character. And planners assumed government grants and subsidies will be less available in the future, unfunded mandates will become the new norm, and inflation will likely accelerate.

The town planners are up front with the impending challenges: a stagnated, aging population, a fluctuating energy market and a lack of available credit for residents and small businesses.

The master plan is based on the concerns of the townspeople.

Major concerns include broadening the tax base beyond residential real estate taxes, siting necessary town services, affordable and elder housing within the narrow confines of the small downtown and growing and selling more food local in anticipation of a future with higher fuel and transportation costs.

Other issues are protecting the town from repeated flooding as experienced during Tropical Storm Irene and conserving energy.

Finding a consensus among the townspeople wasn’t easy. The population of Conway is made up of old-timers and newcomers, those who work in town and those who work in the five-college area and there is considerable difference in household incomes.

The master plan breaks down into four categories with recommendations: revitalization of the downtown, energy, agriculture and public health.

The Planning Board proposes several priorities for downtown projects that the town has grappled with for years. This includes modernizing the town offices with either a renovated town hall or new facility and building a new police, fire and ambulance facility near the town center. Elderly housing remains a goal with the 11-acre Shelburne Falls Road property.

A solar farm could come to town. Several sites have been discussed, according to the planners, including property behind the Conway Grammar School. An improved map of recreational trails for hikers, snowmobilers and cross-country skiers would also be desired.

Some of these ideas, the Planning Board reported, would help bring back some of the bustle to Conway by creating a strong infrastructure.

In the next five years, the Planning Board recommends that the town residents work together to realize several objectives:

■  First, review and update the town’s protective bylaws to allow multi-unit housing and to include right-to-farm provisions, zoning provisions for solar arrays and wind turbines and a provision forbidding any hydraulic fracturing.

■  Second, create a plan for the revitalization of Conway’s downtown to renovate the town hall, create at least 10 apartments of senior affordable housing, site and build a town market for locally grown food year-round and conduct a review of outdated septic and water systems and provide modern sewage treatment.

■  Thirdly, build a town garage behind the town salt shed and a new public safety facility using land vacated by town equipment, and facilitate broadband Internet access throughout Conway.

Other goals include doubling the pool of residents who volunteer, promoting installation of solar arrays in private homes and encouraging measures to improve local and regional food security.

To achieve these goals, the planners suggested creating focused working groups to draw on wider community expertise and execute projects.

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