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A new plan that requires new approach

FRCOG ‘shaking things up’ for public presentation of its draft proposal on sustainability

If you’re not enticed by the idea of planning for “greener” communities, with future development built around existing services and away from farmland and forests to preserve them, then, maybe, you are up for winning a birdhouse, a T-shirt or some marinara sauce.

That’s the hope of regional planners, trying to convey that the Franklin County Sustainable Master Plan they’ve been working on is not just another master plan by shaking up the format for three upcoming informational “workshops.”

The sessions, planned for Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon at Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange, March 13 in Greenfield and March 21 in Shelburne Falls, will present the draft master plan exhibit-hall style, with booths people can visit to learn about any of the six different sections.

“We’re shaking things up a little,” said Franklin Regional Council of Governments planner Megan Rhodes, explaining that tables will be set up with summaries of the findings about housing, transportation, economic development and energy as well as natural and cultural resources. Planners will be available with copies of the draft plan and will be able to answer questions and listen to public comments.

Planners are pulling out all the stops to get as many people as possible involved in the process, by offering door prizes like COG T-shirts, Franklin County Community Development Corp. marinara sauce and birdhouses donated by North Quabbin Woods. If that’s not enough, the Greenfield workshop, from 4 to 6 p.m. in the John W. Olver Transit Center, will feature the formal unveiling of a public art project by Buckland mosaic artist Cynthia Fisher.

The “Sustainable Franklin County” project, which portrays the vision and goals of the plan, was funded as part of the $425,000 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant that paid for the planning effort. And some of the same area youth who were involved in the art project are scheduled to perform a choreographed dance on that sustainability theme at the March 13 workshop.

The March 21 workshop is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Shelburne-Buckland Community Center, 53 Main St., Shelburne Falls.

“We’re hoping to get more feedback with a format that’s less formal,” said Rhodes.

The sustainable master plan addresses how the region can prepare for its projected growth of 3,500 additional households over the next 25 years or so, along with an aging population and rising energy costs. The plan addresses ways to maintain the region’s rural character and protect its natural resources by encouraging reuse of existing, vacant or under-utilized mill buildings for industry and for housing near town centers and bus and train lines. It also points to steps for a greater share of multi-family housing that’s more energy efficient and steps to protect farm, forest, water and other natural resources.

Census projections call for an increase in the over-65 population, from 14 percent to 25 percent by 2035.

“Even if the county doesn’t grow, we’re going to need to change to accommodate that older population,” Rhodes said. “Elders are not going to necessarily want to live in large single-family homes 30 miles from the grocery store, so we need to provide options. There are very few options right now. Do we have the public transit available for them?”

Following the three upcoming workshops, the regional planning board will incorporate public comments and consider a revised master plan sometimes this summer, Rhodes said.

But no matter how good the effort is, the regional planning agency can’t implement the master plan by itself. A third phase funded as part of the HUD grant calls for working with Greenfield, Montague, Orange and Deerfield to help implement some of the regional plan’s goals.

Deerfield, for example, recently completed a draft “complete streets plan,” and Greenfield has begun writing is own sustainable master plan. The regional plan’s goals are also reflected in an updating of Orange’s zoning bylaws, said Rhodes, and Montague has begun work on a “downtown liveability” plan to create a more welcoming village center in Turners Falls. Ultimately it will be up to those communities to adopt changes, according to their particular needs, said Rhodes.

“What we’re trying to get across is that every town is part of this region, with water quality or transportation, for example, not stopping at one border,” she said. “Everything is connected — jobs, everything — so we need to work together in ways that everyone can have their situation improved.”

On the Web: www.frcog.org/services/landuse/landuse_HUD.php

You can reach Richie Davis at
rdavis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 269

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