By John Swinconeck, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – The town of Shrewsbury will be taking a long look at the future, and has started the process of deciding what to protect, what to strengthen, and what to transform.
A public workshop was held Nov. 18 in order to update the town's Master Plan, a document that will help guide development, conservation, transportation, and other services and elements.
The new Master Plan will take about 18 months to complete, according to Nathan E. Kelly, senior planner with Horsley Witten Group, a Rhode Island firm with which the town has contracted to help form the plan. The Nov. 18 meeting would be the first in what Kelly hoped would be a “continued community discussion to learn what the key issues are here in Shrewsbury,” he said.
“Things are changing everywhere,” Kelly said. “We'se emerging from a recession, and the economy is different from what anyone has seen before.”
As a result, there may be “interesting opportunities” for communities such as Shrewsbury.
Monday's workshop focused on what residents would like to see transformed in town.
“Some of these transformations can take decades,” Kelly said.
It's important to think those transformations through, according to Master Plan Steering Committee member Ellen Dolan.
“A town happens whether you plan or not,” Dolan said. “When you plan ahead, you end up with a better product.”
About 60 members of the public attended the workshop, whose discussion focused on what aspects of the town residents may want to change. Kelly said it was too early to form a consensus, but he said residents appeared to have gravitated toward preserving their current neighborhoods while transforming economic development “into something more vibrant.”
“They love their neighborhoods, but they'se very aware of the commercial vacancies,” Kelly said.
For example, some residents at the meeting said they want to explore transforming areas of Route 20, or Route 9, and encouraging more upscale, mixed-use development.
Many communities in Massachusetts do not utilize master plans, said Kelly, in part because the plans are not mandated by the state. However, a Master Plan can serve as a guidepost to town officials when making difficult decisions.
A Master Plan can be used as leverage for state and federal funding, and lays out a strategic plan for a community's future, according to Kelly.
“A Master Plan is policy that should establish a clear vision of how residents see their community,” Kelly said.
The town's last Master Plan was adopted in 2001, according to Shrewsbury Principal Planner and Economic Development Coordinator Kristen D. Las.
Las referred to the Master Plan as a “living document,” one that can inform decisions as far as Shrewsbury's future, but not one that binds those decisions.
Several initiatives were developed under the previous Master Plan, including the Lakeway Business District, and the Edgemere and Route 20 Overlay districts.
The Master Plan Steering Committee will meet next in January, and begin drafting elements of the plan.
The Planning Board will vote on whether to adopt the Master Plan, but Las said the steering committee will also look for support from the Board of Selectmen and also Town Meeting Members. Las said she anticipated the plan will be adopted by spring 2015.
“We want this to be a public process,” Las said. “We want to hear from everyone.”