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Planning Board to look at use of Rose land

CONWAY — The selectmen have now given the Planning Board full control over making a recommendation for the future use of the controversial Rose property.

“It’s up to the Planning Board to put together a plan and put forward a recommendation to the (Board of Selectmen),” said selectmen’s Chairman John O’Rourke to Planning Board Chairwoman Diane Poland on Monday.

The shift comes after the Planning Board hosted its first of several all-committees meetings at the Town Hall last week to discuss different proposals for the 11-acre riverfront property off Shelburne Falls Road.

O’Rourke’s statement in the crowded meeting room at the Town Office clears up the roles of the selectmen and planners in determining the final use of the Rose property.

In December, the town planners learned the selectboard was quietly developing a proposal to build a multi-use complex combining town offices, the highway garage and public safety departments on the Rose property. Since the town acquired the property in 2006, several town boards and committees have researched the land for possible uses, such as affordable housing or soccer fields.

At the time, when Poland asked former Town Administrator Ed MacDonald, who resigned last week, why the planners were not involved, he told her they had no statutory role in the project.

According to state law, the Planning Board is charged to make “careful studies of the resources, possibilities and needs of the town...and make plans for the development of the municipality, with special reference to proper housing of its inhabitants.”

The issue for the planners was not the proposal itself, but their exclusion from the early planning stages.

“Our only issue was, as a Planning Board, we should have been brought into the discussion very early on,” Poland said.

The five-member Planning Board will gather information on possible uses and restrictions of the Rose property through the all-committees meetings. After building a town consensus on the use of the property, the planners will deliver a report to the selectmen. The town will make its final decision on the property’s use at the annual town meeting this May.

“We’re not a decision-making body. Our role is to gather information about use and make a recommendation,” Poland said. “We want this to be a community forum and build consensus and really hear what people in town are thinking.”

First on the planners’ agenda is to discuss how to proceed with a $212,500 state grant to address flooding and erosion along the South River.

The total project cost is $354,166, and the town is required to match $100,000. But a state Department of Environmental Protection representative indicated the town has until April to accept the grant.

The selectmen have also left it up to the Planning Board to recommend the acceptance of the grant.

“We’d consider a special town meeting if its the recommendation of the Planning Board,” O’Rourke told the planners.

The Planning Board will discuss the grant at its meeting on Thursday. Selectman Rick Bean, the board’s liason to the planners, will attend.

The next all-committee meeting will be hosted by the town Conservation Commission on Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall. At this meeting, a representative from the Department of Environmental Protection will inform residents of restrictions associated with different uses of the land.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
kmckiernan@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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