A range of city residents — from natives to newcomers — participated in Monday's master planning process at All Saints Episcopal Church.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Some 40 residents came together on Monday night to brainstorm priorities and set goals to transform the former mill city into a modern, forward-thinking community.
Among the priorities identified were capitalizing on the city's history and natural resources; sustaining and encouraging the local arts community; updating the city's 50-year-old zoning; reviving the Hoosic River; supporing local agriculture and community gardens; making the city more accessible and pedestrian friendly; improving signage; promoting healthy lifestyles and preserving the hospital; changing its mill-town attitude; pursuing green ideas and technology; and holding landlords and property owners accountable for blight.
Participants discussed the city's needs then broke into groups to determine priorities in categories ranging from health to natural resources to energy.
It's the first time in decades that North Adams has developed a long-range blueprint; it will be used to guide the city over the next 20 to 30 years. And this time, it's taking into consideration a far wider variety of resources and more progressive goals.
"I think people know this planning process was a passion of mine as I came into office and even beforehand," said Mayor Richard Alcombright, who participated in the visioning session along with City Councilors Keith Bona, David Lamarre and Lisa Blackmer, among others. "It's been 40-plus years since the city had a formal document that kind cast it's future out there. ...
"I think this is really important and I'm really glad we have such a great representation here tonight."
The master planning process is being done in conjunction with Sustainable Berkshires, an updated countywide plan being led by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. Over the next three years, the city and Great Barrington will follow closely the county plan's timeline and "piggyback" on its workshops.
"There is a better turnout here than for the entire region workshop, which is great," said BRPC senior planner Amy Kacala, who facilitated the meeting. "It speaks well for the city and how much interest there is behind this effort."
She said there is some truth to the saying that plans just gather dust but they can be effective if used.
"If everyone is aware what's in it and wants to see the things implemented that are in the plan, there's more support and momentum behind it to make sure things happen," said Kacala.
The planning started last year with the appointment of a steering committee representing a broad range of interests and built on a once-dormant Community Development Advisory Group. While the plan will be three years in the making, implementation of certain elements could begin as early as next year.
Several questioned the absence of education in the visioning process. Kacala said improvements in standardized scores and other benchmarks had lowered education as a priority but a number of participants said that education connected many of the goals and should be included.
While the groups mostly outlined broad goals, there were several specifics mentioned. For instance, Phil Sellers, a local potter and community activist, said his group thought the development of an artists' district and incentives for artists to buy homes here would spur growth.
Mayor Richard Alcombright, a believer in the planning process, sat in on the visioning session.
Michael Bedford, who attended last week's county session, said residents should think twice before sending money out of the city through big-box stores and national chains. "We need to feed our local enterprises with local money," he said.
Alcombright said a few things on the priority list are getting close: the city's just a couple steps away from being designated a state Green Community and a couple years away from having the most solar power per capita in the state. "We're working on those contracts right now," said the mayor.
But the city won't reach its goals overnight. "I think we got a strong start ... we need to know that the public sector moves very, very slowly," he said.
Residents will have more chances to comment as the process continues; information will be added to the city's website.
Steering Committee: Lisa Bassi, Jonathan Secor, John Greenbush, Donald Pecor, Steve Green, Joanne DeRose, Brian Miksic, Michael Nuvallie, Paul Hopkins, Alan Marden, Glenn Maloney, Michael Boland, Judith Grinnell, David Willette and Mayor Richard Alcombright.
North Adams Planning Priorities 2011