March 13, 2006

Framingham Planning Board Candidate Stephen Meltzer’s Vision

Challenger Stephen Meltzer is the first Planning Board candidate to respond to my series of questions on his vision for the community:

Because I perceive the solutions to many of the issues raised by your questions as interdependent, I will outline my vision as a whole, in hopes that the questions are addressed. I apologize that I cannot intelligently comment on the grant money question.

The Town of Framingham needs to look forward with realistic expectations. Growth is inevitable. Framingham needs to be cautiously at the cutting edge of zoning and planning. Downtown, Nobscot, Saxonville and other village areas need to be injected with significant planning initiatives.

The solutions should probably be modeled on mixed-use zoning concepts. An example of a well-executed but poorly conceived plan of growth can be seen in places like Downtown Worcester. During the 1970's and 1980's, commercial growth was rampant and exciting in Worcester. As the corner turned and the Downtown area was becoming built out with commercial development, it became clear that something was missing. With dusk each evening and the closing-of-shop of the commercial enterprises came the desertion of Downtown - a virtual ghost-town. Since the mid-1990's, Worcester has been working, with some success, to bring residences back to Downtown.

Another example is our own Golden Triangle. There is much to proud of in the growth of this retail Mecca but it has, like Worcester, become one-dimensional. The only way to maintain the area and its ongoing viability is to carefully control the aesthetics, as the Planning Board has strived to do, and carefully monitor traffic flow and safety issues.

These examples highlight two important points. First, how essential planning is to the process. We cannot just hope the proper chemistry will bring what is needed to re-develop Downtown, Nobscot and Saxonville. Second, how important it is to be multi-dimensional in our concept of zoning. Mixed-use models incorporating all aspects of the daily life-cycle are essential. Can the Planning Board do this planning? Not without help. This is a highly complicated process and we need to rely upon and engage professional planning staff to assist in this process with input from all sectors of our local government and community as a whole. This planning is a community issue that needs broad-based initiative and support.

Traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, need to be an integral part of the equation. Parking, walking, driving and safety issues are all intertwined with and impact the success of the planning. If more people are pedestrians then parking and traffic are eased. If more pedestrians feel safer then they are more likely to forego the long trip to elsewhere and enjoy the amenities within their neighborhood.

The changes to the Zoning Laws need to help approach this utopia. While I am realistic that the vision is probably too ambitious to hope for, it is, nevertheless, our obligation to strive for it.

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