Northfield master plan nears completion

NORTHFIELD — The town’s new 20-year master plan is nearly complete, with dozens of possible projects listed and prioritized and implementation plans taking root.

About 20 residents added their opinions and picked their favorite projects at a townwide forum this week.

The master plan is broken into eight goals, each with several subsections containing possible projects and available resources. Each subsection was given a priority level from one to three, corresponding to a suggested implementation schedule.

The goals are: open space preservation; promote opportunities for recreation and community gathering; promote economic development townwide; preserve and revitalize Main Street; maintain public facilities, improve public service, and enhance communication; expand housing opportunities and support neighborhoods; enhance transportation; and promote the town’s history and culture.

Some of the master plan’s proposals are promoted as “ripe apples,” projects that could be achieved with little to no cost or effort.

Some of these were as simple as encouraging local farms to preserve their farmland by way of agricultural preservation restrictions.

The action steps and resources were detailed on one of several large posters that hung in Northfield Elementary School’s cafeteria at Wednesday’s hearing, each goal given its own section. Residents were given stickers to place on the items they found most important and sticky notes to add comments or concerns.

Favorite “ripe apples” picked by residents at the forum included seeking inclusion in tourism websites and publications, putting up an informative townwide bulletin board and creating markers and maps to highlight Northfield’s history.

“I’d like to see more of a central focus on our Native American history,” said Annie Chappell. “It’s scattered and there’s no central interpretation of it.”

Chappell said she’d like to see local children, residents, and visitors to be able to learn about the town’s Native American past.

Several other residents said they’d like to showcase and capitalize on the history of Northfield native D.L. Moody, worldwide evangelist and founder of the Northfield Mount Hermon School.

Though the easy-to-accomplish projects drew much interest from the crowd, they were also in favor of several harder-to-attain endeavors.

One popular project would establish design guidelines for residential and commercial construction.

Others endorsed a plan to make the town more attractive to manufacturing and other industries. Currently, select industrial uses are allowed in town, by special permit. Northfield could make it easier for industries to set up shop by establishing an industrial zone, creating a permitting guide and expanding broadband access.

Both projects were given a suggested timeline of one to three years.

Though guidelines and permissive zoning districts could help to preserve the look and feel of the pastoral town while inviting economic development, zoning changes are often a tough sell at Northfield annual town meetings.

Planning Board and Master Plan Roundtable Chairman Richard Fitzgerald has said that the key to success in zoning changes is public participation and encouraged residents to attend Planning Board hearings. There, they can add comments, raise concerns or simply seek clarification on proposed changes.

Other proposals present their own unique difficulties.

Much of the master plan focuses on Main Street, from its historic buildings to possible traffic mitigation. However, anything that pertains to the road itself is largely out of the town’s hands. Since Main Street is also routes 10 and 63, the state has control over the downtown thoroughfare, from allowing curb cuts and placing signs to setting speed limits and plowing the road.

Residents of downtown have expressed their displeasure with the high number of trucks that use their Main Street as a throughway.

“The noise of the trucks bothers me the most,” said William McGee, of 9 Main St. “When they use their engine brakes at 5 a.m., the whole house shakes.”

The road slopes near his house, and truckers often use loud engine brakes to slow their vehicles when going downhill. However, the town has been told by the state Department of Transportation that it can’t forbid use of the noisy equipment.

The uncertain future of the former Northfield Mount Hermon School is another area where the town has little control. The master plan suggests that Northfield do all it can to work with the new owners of the 217-acre campus, whoever they might be, to ensure that the town’s hopes and concerns are addressed.

The town, along with consultant Martha Lyon and her team, has spent about a year putting together the 20-year plan. Community input has been vital to the process, along with several townwide forums, two smaller ones and a survey of local students have all helped shape the master plan.

It’s cost the town $79,000, after an initial $74,000 contract with Lyon, and a supplemental $5,000 approved by town meeting to hold additional forums.

Several master plan documents, including the recent draft implementation plan, can be seen at goo.gl/WiwvKp. The Master Plan Roundtable Committee seeks residents comments on the plan. They are due by Dec. 1 to northfieldmasterplan@comcast.net.

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