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Northfield hires master plan consultant

NORTHFIELD — The Selectboard has signed a contract to bring in a consultant to help draft its master plan.

Martha Lyon Landscape Architecture of Northampton was awarded the $74,000 contract.

“We’re really excited. My teammates and I are looking forward to working with Northfield,” said Lyon.

Lyon was chosen out of four candidates interviewed by the Master Plan Steering Committee.

She will work with a team of four other professionals. Lyon is the sole person in her firm, and custom-tailors her teams to suit each project’s needs.

Lyon has 22 years of experience as a landscape architect, and has worked on master plans for towns all over Massachusetts and some in New Hampshire.

She’s also worked on several historical preservation projects for towns, including Amherst.

“Those towns were really invested in trying to make the best of their historical resources,” she said. “We worked on ways to capitalize on those assets, to bolster their economies.” Lyon said she thinks that’s a big reason she was selected for Northfield.

“The Master Plan Steering Committee’s members are very concerned with the history of the town,” she said. “We’re looking into how the town can hold onto its historical resources, but add to them to accommodate growth, while at the same time keeping the town’s lovely character.”

When Lyon was brought in for an interview, Grand Canyon University was set to take over the former Northfield Mount Hermon School campus, and planned to grow the 500-student prep school property to accommodate 5,000 college students. In October, GCU backed out of the deal, leaving the 217-acre campus’ fate in limbo.

The property’s owners have gone back to the drawing board, and say it could take a year to find a suitable Christian recipient, preferably a nonprofit one. Whether that recipient will be another college, a collective of nonprofits, a parochial school, or something else entirely is uncertain.

In that uncertainty, Lyon sees opportunity.

“In some ways, the town is really lucky that the transition has been delayed,” said Lyon. “If it hadn’t, (the campus) would’ve taken over the whole (master planning) process. The campus is such a big issue for the town.”

“Not knowing what will come to the campus provides the opportunity for the town to take the bull by the horns, and think it through,” she continued. “As an outgrowth of that, we will help formulate zoning regulations and policies to guide the development of the property.”

The master plan process will include a minimum of three public forums, where Lyon and her team will ask residents what they think their town should look like.

The master plan will serve as a vision for Northfield, with suggested plans that will cover the next 20 years and will break that 20-year vision into smaller chunks, setting benchmarks and goals throughout the next two decades, and designating who’s in charge of seeing each goal through. The planning process itself will take between 10 months and one year, said Lyon.

Along with an outline of those goals, Lyon said she will likely include illustrations for the plan’s recommendations, to show, rather than tell, what the town could look like if they’re followed.

The $74,000 contract is $1,000 less than approved by voters at the May annual town meeting, and $26,000 less than a typical master-plan costs, according to Richard Fitzgerald, chairman of the Master Plan Steering Committee.

Fitzgerald said costs were kept low because of recent work done by other town bodies.

“We took $25,000 right off the top, knowing what has gone into the open space plan,” he said. “There’s a new version out. I have a lot of faith in it. It just needs to be folded into the master plan.”

The committee will have a kickoff meeting with Lyon and her team in early January, preceded by a tour of the town.

While Lyon starts her part of the project, the Planning Board seeks to create a larger Master Plan Committee, with several subcommittees focusing on different areas.

Those interested in serving on the Master Plan Committee may contact Town Administrator Tom Hutcheson, at 413 498-2901.

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