Designer has ideas for Rose property

CONWAY — Tom O’Brien, a land use designer and Conway resident, recently held a public meeting at the Conway Historical Society Museum to present his vision for use of the riverfront former Rose property in the center of town. It incorporates elements from the ideas of other town boards, including the Housing Committee, the Parks and Recreation Committee, Planning Board and selectmen.

On the 11-acre site on Shelburne Falls Road, O’Brien envisions ball fields, a picnic area, a large community garden, a parking lot for 100 vehicles, a senior housing development and a town office building.

In developing his design, O’Brien, had to consider several factors, including the 200-foot buffer along the South River, where no building can be built. The Natural Heritage has also identified a part of the site as habitat for an endangered species of turtle. This limits what can be built on the land. Also, much of the property is considered a floodplain by the state, which would require any building to be on raised land.

By making a proposal, O’Brien hoped to get the town moving. The town exchanged a house near the Grammar School for the property six years ago. Since that time, the town has not decided what to do with the land.

“I live here. I’m interested in something vital to the town used on the property,” O’Brien said. “There has been a lot of talk. This is the first time something has been brought forth.”

Using a copy of the town assessors map, O’Brien’s design includes 18 single-bedroom townhouses, which would likely be used for senior affordable housing. To compensate for the floodplain, these town houses would be over an open area or basement where flood water from the South River could flow without inundating living space.

O’Brien’s proposal also includes a two-story town office building in an area located off the troublesome floodplain and a three-quarter-acre picnic area. There would also be one 200-foot-by-300-foot ballfield and one smaller 175-foot-by-250-foot ballfield.

The design addresses many different town committees’ wishes for the land. For instance, the Parks and Recreation Committee has hoped to put a soccer field at the site. And the proposed townhouses address interests by the Housing Committee to build senior affordable housing on the property. And the selectmen have considered placing all town offices, highway and fire department facilities there.

The ultimate goal of O’Brien’s proposal would be to expand the downtown center and increase public use of the land. To address this, O’Brien planned to create a footbridge leading to the town center.

“The idea I had is to take a list of items the town had and find which uses could take advantage of what the property had to offer,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien’s proposal emphasizes a space for recreation. The land would not be used for industrial purposes, such as a town garage or waste treatment plant, two ideas discussed in different circles.

O’Brien is a Conway resident who has worked on more than 500 designs in western Massachusetts, including 12 projects in Conway. His private company is O’Brien Design, run out of his self-built solar home on Whately Road. He also served on the Planning Board in Greenfield when plans for a Walmart were presented.

Planning Board Chairwoman Diane Poland attended O’Brien’s meeting to hear his ideas.

“It has a lot of positive features, especially by addressing senior housing,” Poland commented.

O’Brien still has to make a formal proposal to the Planning Board, however.

Competing with his design may be a proposal by the Board of Selectmen to build a multiple-use complex for virtually all town functions on the property. In November, Selectman Rick Bean, Town Administrator Ed MacDonald and engineers from R. Levesque Associates in Westfield analyzed town property for a building that could include all town departments — a move that stunned dozens of town board members who have been working on other ideas and had not been told what the selectmen and their new town administrator were considering. The selectmen, who other town officials feared were on the verge of hiring the engineers to do a feasibility study of their plan, backpedaled when confronted by about 25 townspeople and officials at their meeting this week.

Both O’Brien and Bean’s proposals need to be vetted by the Planning Board before moving forward.

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

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