Buckland, Shelburne residents weigh in on priorities for economic recovery plan

  • Andrew Baker, chair of the Shelburne Selectboard, votes on potential projects during Wednesday evening’s economic recovery meeting at Buckland Town Hall. FOR THE RECORDER/ELLA ADAMS

  • Jessica Atwood, Franklin Regional Council of Governments’ economic development program manager, was one of three FRCOG representatives who presented the economic recovery plan information at Buckland Town Hall on Wednesday evening. FOR THE RECORDER/ELLA ADAMS

For the Recorder
Published: 6/17/2021 4:38:04 PM

SHELBURNE FALLS — An economic recovery plan is in the works for the village, with community members turning out to Buckland Town Hall on Wednesday to prioritize projects to include, such as establishing publicly accessible bathrooms and organizing more cultural events.

Both Shelburne and Buckland, in partnership with the Greater Shelburne Falls Area Business Association (GSFABA), applied to be part of a program from the state Department of Housing and Community Development. It was announced in March that six Franklin County communities — Greenfield, Montague, Sunderland, Northfield, Shelburne and Buckland — were among the 125 across Massachusetts set to split $9.5 million in state-issued awards. Locally, the communities will create economic recovery plans with guidance from the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG).

Wednesday’s meeting also marked the towns’ first hybrid meeting since the pandemic began. Eighteen individuals were registered to participate online, while around 28 community members arrived to the meeting in person.

Buckland Town Administrator Heather Butler emphasized the importance of the meeting, saying, “It’s opportunities where Buckland and Shelburne can work together (that) I think will have the biggest impact on our communities as a whole.”

The meeting began with a presentation of baseline data, determining aspects of the area within four categories: physical environment, customer base, business environment and administrative capacity. Data was gathered regarding issues within public and private realms, as well as to highlight population and income demographics.

Surveys were used to help determine which projects are most important to implement to recover from COVID-19-based business impacts. Almost every individual surveyed described changes and decreases in revenue.

A conversation was initiated by attendees regarding whether money is available to support implementing the plan being discussed.

“At this point, this is a planning project,” FRCOG’s Economic Development Program Manager Jessica Atwood explained. “Part of developing projects is identifying funding sources, but at this point there isn’t a special dedicated funding source just for projects in the Local Rapid Recovery Plans.”

The more interactive portion of the meeting served to identify recommended priority projects through a community vote, where leaders hoped to determine what community members think would improve life within the towns.

“This is a community plan, so it is for property owners, for businesses,” Atwood said. “It is for what the community would like to see.”

A list was presented to attendees with 21 improvement options, as well as spaces to create their own. Questions were generated regarding greenspaces, outdoor seating, public restrooms and farmers markets. Participating online was glass blower Josh Simpson, owner of the lot that was Singley’s Furniture. With regard to the desire for a public greenspace or garden, Simpson spoke to being “totally happy to listen, or talk, or try to attempt to do those things” on the unused land.

Attendees voted on their top 10 choices from the list. Online participants voted via Google Forms and in-person participants voted with sticker placement. FRCOG leaders tallied the top 10 project ideas voters thought should be further developed and included in the recovery plan:

1. Establish publicly accessible bathrooms (available on weekends and evenings)

2. Increase administrative capacity for project implementation/a business association

3. Organize more cultural events/activities

4. Improve/develop public spaces and seating areas (such as a pocket park)

5. Painting and structural improvements at the Bridge of Flowers

6. Update and maintain the ShelburneFalls.com website

7. Create more opportunities for outdoor dining and selling

8. Create a trail connecting the village to the Deerfield River

9. Connect the farmers market to the village, and implement a rail yard parking lot redesign (these two proposals tied for ninth).

Next steps of the project include forming and speaking with stakeholder groups, gathering information related to the projects voted upon, and a follow-up meeting in August to see the draft plan.


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