Visions for Turners Falls development subject of Feb. 1 forum

  • The former Railroad Salvage building in Turners Falls has been identified as a potential priority for redevelopment. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 1/29/2020 8:54:43 AM

TURNERS FALLS — Development in the Canal District and on the southern section of Avenue A have been identified as new priorities for municipal planning, along with establishing a coherent vision for public art in downtown Turners Falls.

Residents and other local stakeholders are being asked to weigh in on how the town Planning Department should strategize regarding these three points. A public forum is set for Saturday, Feb. 1, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Great Falls Discovery Center.

The main purpose of the forum, said Town Planner Walter Ramsey, is to discuss what progress the town has made on the Turners Falls Livability Plan, a document written in 2013 that outlines goals for development in Turners Falls; and to present options and take public input on the three new priorities, which are to be written into the Livability Plan this spring.

The forum will also include a panel discussion on the Turners Falls “brand,” Ramsey said. This will cover issues about the affordability of living and working in town, places for improvement and hopes for the future. The panelists, who Ramsey said were chosen to represent different points of view, are Nova Motorcycles co-owner Peter Chilton, Shea Theater Arts Center board member Lisa Davol, Franklin County Regional Housing Authority Director Gina Govoni and Montague Reporter Editor Mike Jackson.

The three new priorities for town planning — the Canal District, the southern part of Avenue A and public art in downtown Turners Falls — will be discussed in break-out sessions. Each of these three points were beyond the scope of the 2013 Livability Plan, Ramsey said; but in each of the three cases there are changing factors that have since made them especially relevant. For all three, Ramsey will discuss a few hypothetical strategies the town might pursue, and take comments and questions.

The Canal District is considered to be the stretch between the Connecticut River and the power canal from the former Railroad Salvage building to the northern section by the Turners Falls-Gill Bridge, Ramsey clarified.

In 2013, it generally was not seen as a cohesive district, he said. Thinking has since changed, however. Recently, the idea of a cohesive Canal District was leveraged to get $2.17 million from the state to replace the defunct Fifth Street pedestrian bridge. That project is expected to be finished by the end of the year.

The question then is, what should be the town’s next project in the Canal District? The major ideas being discussed, Ramsey said, are redevelopment of the former Strathmore mill building, which the town owns; redevelopment of the former Railroad Salvage building, likely through some sort of partnership with a private developer; and development of the northern portion of the Canal District into some sort of recreational space.

The area of Avenue A being talked about is from 11th Street to Rastallis Street, where the Public Works building and the Montague Machine Co. are. But with the Public Works Department moving this year to a new building at the corner of Turnpike Road and Turners Falls Road, the Avenue A site will become a good candidate for redevelopment, Ramsey said.

This may involve changing the zoning of that area, which is now designated for industrial use. As evidenced by places like Brick & Feather Brewery and the Replay music store, there is interest in other uses, Ramsey said.

“We need to think about whether the zoning is right for that vision,” he said.

The public art strategy is meant to establish overarching parameters for projects in downtown Turners Falls, Ramsey said. As it is now, there is no clear strategy, and projects are being done “piecemeal,” as funding allows, he said.

The strategy may identify locations to prioritize for art projects, or it may identify themes that the town wants to focus on, like certain stories or certain aesthetic concepts.

“We want to make sure our public art projects are lining up with community priorities,” Ramsey said.

Forum schedule

■11 a.m. — Presentation on the 2013 Livability Plan, accomplishments from the plan, an outline of projects for 2020 and a question and answer session with the town Planning Department.

■Noon — Lunch.

■12:20 p.m. — Panel discussion with Nova Motorcycles co-owner Peter Chilton, Shea Theater Arts Center board member Lisa Davol, Franklin County Regional Housing Authority Director Gina Govoni and Montague Reporter Editor Mike Jackson, facilitated by Town Planner Walter Ramsey.

■1:30 p.m. — Break-out sessions on the three new priorities.

■2:30 p.m. — Final recommendations and closing discussions.

Reach Max Marcus at or 413-772-0261, ext. 261.

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