Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for June, 2009

Walkability C

By Taryn Plumb
Turley Publications Reporter

STURBRIDGE – Early afternoon on a weekday: Route 131 whirs and hums, a blur of SUVs, compacts, trucks, service vehicles and school buses. In a constant parade, they rattle and whiz by. The lulls – when there are any – last mere seconds, silence abruptly overtaken by a growing rumble.
Want to cross? Wait…wait…wait…Now! Go! Dash!
No doubt, officials and residents say, Sturbridge isn’t the most pedestrian-friendly place.
But, as the town moves forward on several planning projects and a major overhaul of one of its busiest roads, the hope is that pedestrians can soon roam free.
“We really want to raise awareness of walkability,” said Town Planner Jean Bubon. “How walkable are our sidewalks?”
Right now? Not very.
Among the issues discovered during a recent walkability workshop hosted by the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission: Too few sidewalks, crosswalks and benches throughout town; too-narrow sidewalks; not enough public parking.
But ultimately, the hope is to eventually have a system in which people of all abilities (able-bodied, elderly, disabled, moms and dads pushing baby carriages and strollers) can walk around, poke in shops, and also sit when they want to.
Officials stressed that there is nothing in the works right now in terms of seeking grants or reconfiguring infrastructure to improve walkability. However, the goal is to incorporate pedestrian-friendly measures into several planning projects now in the works, including the master plan and the commercial tourist district revitalization plan, as well as the Burgess Elementary School project and the Route 131 reconstruction.
On the part of the planning board, it also means being cognizant of incorporating sidewalks and walk-throughs into new housing developments, which often (and inadvertently) discourage walking with cul-de-sacs and dead-ends, Bubon said.
Similarly, noted Jonathan Church, principal planner with CMRPC, parking lot entrances throughout town should be addressed – hardly any are oriented toward the pedestrian.
“When you go to cross them on they’re sidewalk, they’re designed to give the vehicles right-of-way, ” he explained, whereas they should be constructed to force cars to slow down and first allow pedestrians to pass.
CMRPC, which has explored walkability in Spencer, Hopedale and West Boylston, among other area towns, suggests sidewalks a minimum of five feet wide and crosswalks every 150 feet in the most heavily trafficked areas.
Another thing to keep in mind, Church said, is incorporating pedestrian traffic into urban design by linking sidewalks and crosswalks with trails and parks; Sturbridge might also consider capitalizing on its main tourist destination, Old Sturbridge Village, by directing sidewalks to its entrance.
All told, increasing walkability can help people to slow down and actually enjoy what’s out there, from shops to restaurants, Church explained. And, ultimately, it can help to increase tourism – something officials are constantly striving for. Similarly, amidst increased concerns about carbon footprints, it’s a positive way to promote green energy, he said.
“It’s really just coming up with a plan that allows people to circulate around town without the need of a motorized vehicle, ” said Church.
But, he and others noted, there are some issues to overcome before the town is privy to more foot traffic.
For instance, there’s the quandary of Route 20, which is a state-maintained road, explained Sandra Gibson-Quigley, vice chair of the town’s planning board.
If the town does indeed intend to make it more walkable, they would have to take back control of it, she explained. It’s an idea that’s been “kicked around” in the past, she explained, but there’s no plan in the works to actually move forward on it.
Ultimately, “we would like to see (Route 20) as a road where people can stop and shop, or get out of their cars and do things, ” she said.
But there’s also a question of destination.
“Where are you going to go?” said Gibson-Quigley, who described “nodes” of areas along the main roadways in town with big lapses of activity in between.
Clearly, the issue isn’t just as simple as laying down concrete or painting lines across the street.
“Creating a walkable community isn’t something you can just do,” she said. However, the different routes (both figural and literal) to walkability are now “percolating” as the town moves forward on its overarching projects.
“This is the perfect time to be bringing in these ideas,” she said.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

STURBRIDGE – Selectmen voted to briefly suspend the liquor licenses of three area businesses following their failure to pass alcohol compliance checks conducted by police earlier this spring.
Following a string of public hearings at their June 15 meeting the board suspended the liquor license of Empire Village restaurant for one-day and handed two-day suspensions to Heritage Xtra Mart and Village Mobile.
For Empire Village this was their first offence since opening four years ago. Village Mobile previously had two violations in 1998, while Heritage Xtra Mart failed a check in 2000.
Police Chief Thomas Ford reported employees at all three establishments either failed to ask for proof of age, or misread identification provided by the underage investigators.
Representatives from all three businesses were present. They told selectmen steps had been taken to prevent violations in the future, such as disciplinary action against employees or installing software at the cash register that requires entering a birthday before an alcohol sale is allowed.
After the hearings the board considered reevaluating the current policy on punishing liquor establishments. During the discussion members considered setting a time limit of a number of years that would forgive previous offences depending on how long ago they occurred, or if the liquor license changed hands.

Committee named

The Board of Selectmen named the five people who are expected to serve on the committee to screen candidates for the town administrator position.
From the pool of candidates selectmen voted to name, Barbara Barry, the town’s finance director, Tony Celuzza, a resident and member of the traffic committee, Selectman Scott Garieri, Reed Hillman, a resident and former state representative and Kevin Smith, the director of the finance committee, to the panel.
Town policy stipulates the panel be composed of one department head, one selectman and three at-large members who are not employed by the town.
Selectmen had praise for all the individuals who applied. All of the candidates except for Smith were approved unanimously. Chairwoman Mary Blanchard, Edward “Ted” Goodwin and Harold White voted in favor of Smith, while Garieri voted against and Thomas Creamer abstained.
Garieri said he would have preferred to see a resident who could bring an outsiders perspective to the hiring process. “I want to see someone represent the citizens,” he said prior to the vote.
White nominated Barry over the other department head that applied citing the fact two other heads supported her involvement. He also cited her financial acumen.
Creamer nominated Garieri for his participation in the business community. Creamer noted Garieri would bring, “A fresh approach, a business approach,” and believed he would act, “In a business like manner void of politics.”
The board took little time in appointing Hillman, who was a nominee for the august positions of lieutenant governor in 2006 and U.S. Marshall in 2009.
Celuzza was described by Creamer as, “a balanced individual,” while Blanchard commented he possessed a “wide variety of expertise.” She noted he served as acting town clerk for a time and worked with the fire department, among other service to the town.
Outgoing Town Administrator James Malloy said the committee’s first order of business would be to advertise the position.

Read Full Post »

Budget passes

By Taryn Plumb
Turley Publications Reporter

STURBRIDGE – Despite increased fears about just about everything having to do with finances in this turbulent economy, residents passed the town budget with little resistance or fanfare on Monday night.
The total town budget for Fiscal Year 2010 was approved at $8.7 million. Voters at the meeting also approved the Burgess Elementary School budget, at $8.6 million, and Sturbridge’s Tantasqua Regional School District assessment, at $5.7 million.
After a line-item reading, just 16 of 182 items were held for discussion.
As part of that, voters approved the transfer of a surplus of $356,241 from the Burgess budget to a town reserve fund.
At the request of the finance committee, residents also voted to increase expenses for the printing of the finance committee report – which has often been in short supply at town meetings – from $3,400 to $6,000.
Similarly, the meeting approved police department concessions – a department head salary decrease from $102,444 to $92,200; overtime expense from $222,154 to $208,934; and salaries/wages from the Quinn Bill incentive from $1,448,499 to $1,398,171.
All told, the town budget reflected several decreases: 35 percent – from $60,778 to $39,140 – for the building inspector, and 15 percent — $20,000 to $17,000 – for the electrical inspector. There was also a 17 percent decrease in fire department expenses, as well as $0 stipends implemented for the town moderator, selectmen, assessors and members of the conservation commission and the board of health.
Meanwhile, 3 percent increases were approved for many town employees, including the town accountant, finance director, town clerk, town planner, tree warden, council on aging director, director of the department of public works and head librarian at Joshua Hyde Library. There was also a 10 percent increase in group insurance.
In other business:
At a special town meeting following the budget discussion, residents approved the appropriation of $1.7 million for a water main replacement on Route 131. As part of this, they also rescinded a vote in April 2008 for $3.4 million for funding the Route 131 sewer force main.
Voters approved designating 413 and 419 Main Street – the former Basketville building – as an “economic opportunity area.” Pioneer Brewing, LLC, currently housed on Arnold Road, plans to renovate the site. Similarly, residents certified the endeavor as an “economic opportunity project,” meaning that it will have a reasonable chance of increasing employment opportunities for residents of the area, thereby reducing blight, economic depression and reliance on public assistance. As part of that certification, the town will enter into a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) agreement with the company; this will offer a staggered tax rate over 5 years starting at 50 percent.

Read Full Post »