Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Planning Downtown Enhancements - Team Effort

Attention to the Hopkinton downtown area has long been identified as a priority in various town meeting discussions and surveys.

On July 7th, the Hopkinton Planning Board hosted a 1-hour dialogue with the Downtown Revitalization Committee (who presented a summary report of the challenges and solutions they see, which you should get a copy of), and DPW (who shared expertise on infrastructure upgrade challenges). Also, some key stakeholders were represented in the audience, including the Hopkinton Library, the Friends of the Common, the DPW Board, Legacy Farms LLC, the Historic District Commission, Parks and Rec (the Common), and the Garden Club, amongst others.

The Town Manager proposed that DPW be the lead on examining what is needed from an infrastructure point of view, and after discussion indicated support for the Planning Department to partner with DPW as a single point of contact within town hall -- a place where the various stakeholders can report their plans and a point of leadership on providing vision and planning coordination. Pulling together all the various initiatives is the best way to examine and identify points of dependency and commonality of objectives amongst various stakeholders.

The Downtown Revitalization Committee gladly welcomed this approach and is interested in a single place in Town Hall where they can go to piece together the various individual visions to identify the points of commonality (e.g., "both these groups are applying for grants or seeking actions for similar things"), the dependencies ("this can't be done until that is done," etc), and independent items ("flower pots and benches don't need to wait for new roads or water main replacement"). Until now, it was mentioned, the lack of coordination has created hesitancy amongst all parties to take any actions. Also, the Downtown Revitalization Committee expressed interest in Town Hall helping provide process expertise and execution when it comes to preparing for future Town Meetings.

An interesting component to all this is the Host Community Agreement (HCA) between Hopkinton and Legacy Farms LLC, in particular the commitment to complete specified 85/135 intersection improvements by May 2009. The goal of the town boards, committees and key stakeholders would be to identify as much other interdependent work that can be done at the same time, in order make the most of the one-time disruption that work will cause ("if we're already digging up the road for the HCA specified improvements, perhaps it's the best time to do this or that at the same time").

Our next step will be the August-25th Planning Board meeting, at which Legacy Farms LLC will present design charets for the intersection improvements. The idea being that work performed in the 250ft radius of that intersection would set a theme for other improvements eyed by the DRC. By then we expect many stakeholders to have shared additional ideas and plans with the Planning Department (and we asked this of those in the room). The HCA work will provide a forcing function to coordinate the many other downtown improvements.

The Planning Board recognizes this is a complicated set of projects, and not everything the town wants or needs may be possible in the time frames or with the resources available, but that trying to coordinate and plan proactively is a better solution than to do nothing. We envision a gant chart of sorts, listing the various projects, time lines, and dependencies, and then quantifying the steps and resources needed to complete; as Ken W put it in recognizing the broad support for downtown improvements, let's get it all out there, see what it would take, and sell this to the town.

Like the marathon that starts its long journey with a slow crowded jog right through the area we're talking about, right now full articulation and implementation of the vision for downtown feels far away, but from a planning point of view, we've started and we expect the pace to pick up quickly.

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