Orange residents to take survey on downtown aesthetics, village bylaw

Staff Writer
Published: 1/23/2020 10:34:39 PM

ORANGE — A survey of residents next month will help form the language for a new bylaw, and potentially set some rules for new businesses in downtown Orange.

A “village bylaw” designating downtown Orange as a district with specific aesthetic standards is expected to be up for a vote at Annual Town Meeting in June.

What those standards, or “benchmarks,” might be is as yet to be determined, according to Community Development Director Alec Wade.

In February, a survey will be available to residents to fill out online or in person, the results of which will help direct the Village Bylaw Committee, a subcommittee of the Planning Board that has been working on the idea.

A grandfather clause is to be included in any proposed bylaw, and existing businesses would be allowed to remain unchanged.

“We have received feedback for several years, going back to before I was hired, that people are concerned with the aesthetic downtown, especially the commercial storefronts,” Wade said.

“The idea is to set benchmarks, so owners can bring the buildings up to aesthetic standards,” he added. “It’s so they can have a distinct feel, that this is downtown.”

While existing businesses won’t be touched, a “village bylaw” will apply to any new businesses or new buildings, as well as any business that is being more than 50 percent renovated.

“We’re not going to impose it on people,” said Wade. “Our hope is they’d be encouraged by it and on their own they would want to follow it.”

The survey will be posted online Feb. 3, and a link will be made available on the town website.

Surveys will also be available for residents to fill out manually, and Wade said he is considering locations like Town Hall or Wheeler Memorial Library for paper surveys. Wade also said he would like to have students at Orange’s public schools bring home surveys to their parents, and he will be going to various senior events to get the elderly involved. The goal is to get as many residents to respond as possible, with the hope that at least a few hundred will.

The online survey will close Feb. 28.

Orange residents have taken a similar survey before. In 2009, a consulting group asked residents to answer questions about proposed guidelines for downtown storefronts. That survey addressed things like “facade goals” and “exterior materials” for the downtown area.

Wade said the new survey is necessary to ensure the town’s data on residents’ preferences is up to date.

While taking the survey, residents should expect to read a paragraph, then answer whether they “strongly agree,” “agree,” “disagree” or “strongly disagree” with that paragraph.

A box for “extended answers” will be available, and Wade encourages people to share their thoughts, especially if they choose “disagree” or “strongly disagree.”

For example, one paragraph might state that the signs on adjacent buildings shouldn’t be too close or mimic each other; another might state building facades should be harmonious with their surroundings.

The data collected in the survey will help inform any bylaw that appears on the Annual Town Meeting warrant.

However, the survey isn’t residents’ only way to weigh in. Wade said there will be outreach, including public hearings, allowing residents to voice any concerns or ideas they have about a potential village bylaw.

“The name itself ignites certain thoughts in people, like, ‘I live in the village,’” Wade said.

The idea of a district and corresponding bylaw regarding the area’s aesthetics is common, Wade said.

In Orange, the idea is in line with the Downtown Orange Riverfront Revitalization Study, conducted by a team of consultants and funded by MassDevelopment. That study’s final report, released in 2015, suggested the town attempt to keep its downtown area aesthetically consistent, while at the same time beautifying the area.

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.




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