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Local Infrastructure Under Pressure of Growing Population

Saturday, August 11, 2012

 

The Central Mass Regional Planning Commission (CMRPC) is trying to help local communities as they face the pressure of growing population. Their regional plan for thirteen local towns will raise common concerns to help the area receive all the potential public and private money they can.

Vera Kolias, the principal planner for the CMRPC’s “Central Thirteen” venture says that this will not only fix problems that have been raised in local communities but also put these areas on the map for future development.

“The goal is to create a regional framework for local priorities and look at what they mean regionally – look at those scales at the same time,” Kolias said. “We’re tying dollars to planning.”

The group has just completed their local sets of meeting, which included meeting with all thirteen communities twice and asking for their priorities. The areas include Boylston, Holden, Paxton, Spencer, Leicester, Auburn, Sturbridge, Southbridge, Charlton, Oxford, Webster, and Dudley.

The project is guided by six principles, the first being the need to tackle major transportation and infrastructure upgrades that will need to take place with continued growth. The plans also include a focus on workforce housing, and sustainable decisions in transportation in compliance with the Global Warming Solutions Act and GreenDOT.

Problems Being Voiced

Kolias said that they don’t just “magically come up with money” but work to set up a regional plan involving the area’s stakeholders so that when they file for grants, they will be in better shape.

During work in the previous 425/MetroWest Development Compact Plan, Kolais said that Littleton’s fix involved an $1.8 million investment to roads and water main improvement. This time around, the CMRPC was approached local town managers who were hoping to bring the same effect to their area.

“Now, some folks are identifying there’s a need for public water in Sturbridge on Route 15. That’s an area that has been identified that if we had that (public water) in this area we could then create more opportunity for development there,” she said, adding that the project is all about pulling in investment.

Kolias said that Leicester identified intersections on Route 9 that could use some reworking, and better signals so that moving traffic stays safe.

“Sometimes all it takes for a developer to want to come to an area that is putting that in,” Kolais said. “The idea is that if there are things we know, if we can kick start that, and the private investment will follow. And it’s usually a must bigger investment if we can get the utility taken care of.”

She said there have been many talking about roadway work and hardscape infrastructure, as well as water, waste water, and underground work.

“These thirteen already have existing working relationships between the town managers and they already have community meetings,” she said. “We’re capitalizing on some already working relationships.”

The Next Step

Kolias said that the next step will be a regional forum held to see where these issues overlap. She said that if they can show that they have been doing their research to see what projects will be most beneficial, they will be more likely to get what they’re after.

“The idea is to filter up and see what these local priorities might also be regional priorities,” she said. “

The thirteen town group will meet with CMRPC members on Tuesday, September 11th at the Publick House in Sturbridge. The open house will be held from 5:45-6:45 p.m., with the public meeting at 7–9 p.m.

The Project that Laid the Foundation

Kolias said that the previous plan helped lay the ground work and establish the scale and scope of the current endeavor.

“This is a regional planning project, modeled after some state initiatives including the 495/MetroWest Development Compact Plan which was put into effect a few years ago,” Kolias said. “The primary objective in that case was to create regional planning around the commuter rail line.”

Besides connecting good infrastructure to transportation, the project also focused on when and where to keep open space available. Now CMRPC has two similar projects going, the “Central Thirteen” and one for the Blackstone Valley area.

“The process was to start at the local level and meet with the communities and identify their needs for infrastructure and sustainability and planning processes,” she said. “That happened with local land trusts, and boards in 32 communities who identified local priorities, maps were developed.”

 

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