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Townwide forum on Northfield master plan

Thursday, 7 p.m., at Northfield Elementary

NORTHFIELD — The town’s master plan is taking shape, and residents are again invited to share their thoughts on the future of Northfield.

The Master Plan Roundtable will hold its second townwide forum from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, in Northfield Elementary School. There will be refreshments and door prizes.

The committee and consultants will discuss the work that’s been done thus far, and collect comments and input from the community.

The master plan will sum up where Northfield is today, where it’s been, and where it could go, with an emphasis on the next 10 years.

After a brief summary of the work done so far, Thursday’s forum will focus on 10 topics. They are: expanding community gathering opportunities, preserving the natural beauty in town, preserving and enhancing the town’s historic character, reuse of the former Northfield Mount Hermon School campus, increasing economic activity, improving communication within town, increasing access to the river, increasing recreational activities, and improving transportation and circulation in town.

“We’re going to be working on these 10 issues at separate tables, and people will have a short period of time at each table to work on them,” said Richard Fitzgerald, chairman of the Master Plan Steering Committee.

The workshop portion of the forum will be split into 10 short sessions, so everyone can address each topic. If, however, one person has a lot to say about a certain subject, they’re welcome to spend more than one session at its table, said Fitzgerald.

He said the town is about halfway through the master plan process. By October, he said, he hopes it will be closer to completion. Another forum is planned for that month, though there may be one this summer as well, said Fitzgerald.

What’s been done so far?

The master plan process was approved by the 2012 annual town meeting, which set aside $75,000 for the project. Northampton-based landscape architect Martha Lyon was hired for the project, along with a team she custom-fit to help craft Northfield’s plan.

The 2013 annual town meeting approved an additional $5,000 to be used for public participation in the process.

“Inventory chapters” on historic and cultural resources, open space, land use, housing, economic development, transportation and public facilities have been drafted and are ready for viewing.

They were created with data gathered at forums, facts found in research, and input from residents and groups in town.

Each in-depth draft delves into past and present details of its subject, giving a glimpse of how the town is doing in that area, defining recent trends, and outlining opportunities for the future.

For example, the chapter on economic development gives statistics on businesses in town, from large ones like Lane Construction Corp., with more than 100 employees, to smaller businesses like the Notch, which employs from 5 to 9 workers.

Statistics like income, unemployment, and spending — most of an estimated $20 million spent annually by residents is spent out of town, according to the draft.

The chapter also notes that more of that money could stay in town with the development of more shops and offices in a compact, walkable downtown area. There’s also ample opportunity to attract industry to town, bringing more jobs to the area and expanding the tax base, according to the draft.

The final plan will also include a chapter or chapters of recommendations for the town, giving goals and suggesting how to get there.

The first forum, held March 6, served as a workshop. It was attended by about 60 residents young and old, who were asked to identify their town’s strengths, weaknesses and needs. There have also been smaller forums, focusing on specific neighborhood populations and community groups. There was even a kids’ forum at Northfield Elementary School.

If you’d like to study up before Thursday’s forum, you’re in luck.

You can find full draft chapters, a summary of each, and the results of the March 6 public forum at the Master Plan Roundtable’s page on the town website, at www.northfield.ma.us/?id=1154.

Some of the draft chapters are lengthy; the one on public facilities alone weighs in at four dozen pages.

Fitzgerald and crew are eager to hear residents’ feedback on the drafts. You can email the master plan team at northfieldmasterplan@comcast.net.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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