Westborough Town Planner lays out plans for retirement


Westborough Town Planner lays out plans for retirement
Come March 31, Jim Robbins will roll up the blueprints and wrap up a 31-year stint as the town planner for Westborough. (Photo/Maureen Sullivan)

WESTBOROUGH – For more than three decades, Jim Robbins has helped set the tempo for a changing community.

Factory sites to apartments. Farmland into housing. The arrival of high-tech companies.

The challenge to keep Westborough diverse and welcoming for everyone.

On March 31, Robbins will wrap up a 31-year stint as town planner. As the head of the Planning Department, Robbins helped to oversee the town’s zoning bylaws, subdivision rules and regulations, master plan, open space and recreation plan and housing plan.

That meant a lot of meetings, a lot of blueprints and knowledge about a lot of rules and regulations.

“Jim’s been a wonderful visionary in terms of planning to the town,” said Select Board member Ian Johnson. “He probably knows more about the physical nature of Westborough than anyone in town.”

Westborough development

Robbins’ knowledge and longevity are such that, in the context of a meeting, he can recall projects that took place 20 years ago and even the rules that were in effect back then.

“It’s been an interesting journey,” he said.

That journey started 10 years before he put Westborough on his map when he worked in the mayor’s office for the city of Boston – for three different mayors.

“I worked for Kevin White, Ray Flynn and Tom Menino,” said Robbins.

He also worked on Menino’s first campaign.

He and his wife, Nora, moved to Westborough in 1993 because they “wanted out of the city.”

He became town planner just when the town’s farms were being converted into family housing.

“Data General was in town, and there were 11-13 active construction projects,” said Robbins.

He also recalled when EMC was building a new corporate campus. 

“They were a big presence,” he said.

In the early 2000s, housing and office developments sprang up along Flanders Road and Friberg Parkway. But there was also an effort to build up downtown.

“There were a lot of vacancies,” said Robbins.

With help from the Design Review Board, a former factory became Bay State Commons, a mixed-used development.

“The town encourages downtown growth,” he said.

More recent developments include Amazon (including three fulfillment centers) and Cold Harbor brewery/restaurant on Otis Street.

“Westborough is a dynamic town with a strong school system,” said Robbins on what makes the town so attractive to residents and businesses alike. “It’s really a diverse town.”

Robbins credited the many municipal boards – and the volunteers who comprise them – for the town’s success.

“The government is very responsive to the needs of the town,” he said, adding that he “had a great Planning Board to work for.”

Current needs include housing and making downtown more walkable. He said that 25 West Main Street is “one of the best accomplishments” over the past 20 years.

“It’s a great place,” he said.

Another challenge, according to Robbins – how to keep the young demographic in town.

“Jim’s been instrumental in the town’s growth,” said Economic Development Coordinator Zachary Boughner.

A new start for Jim Robbins

Once the calendar turns to April, Robbins said he has no immediate plans.

“I’m going to reassess and re-embark on a new start,” he said.

Away from the blueprints, Robbins likes gardening, fishing and cycling, and is a big jazz fan. He’s also a fan of the Red Sox, although his enthusiasm for them has cooled over the past two seasons.

The town’s search for Robbins’ replacement is under way.

A retirement party is planned for March 30.


Search for new Westborough town planner underway

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