Certain entities in Framingham are beginning to move in the direction of revitalizing the downtown area, an issue that has concerned town officials for decades.
Alison Steinfeld, director of Framingham Community and Economic Development, reported on initiatives that are underway or have been put in place during the past few years that will move the town closer to a vibrant downtown district. She made her remarks during her presentation before the Board of Selectmen Tuesday night.
She brought forward three ongoing efforts that will aid in attracting development downtown:
- Developing a plan for significant traffic and streetscape improvements.
- Rezoning of downtown, which occurred “four or five years ago,” Steinfeld said.
- Planning for resolution to the railroad crossing situation. “That is at the state level right now, said Steinfeld.
- A long term vision for downtown, which Steinfeld said could be in the Master Plan that will be released later this summer.
Regarding future efforts, Steinfeld gave three examples of emphasis that would further the progress of a revitalized downtown:
- Developing comprehensive design guidelines. She indicated that because of the high cost of consultants, she would “like to take on this project in-house.”
- Modify the permitting process and work toward a system of expedited permitting. “Expedited permitting gives the planning board control up front,” said Steinfeld. “It sets the parameters and then the developers come in.”
- Consider further rezoning to allow for greater density and predictability. “We need to revisit the zoning codes downtown,” said Steinfeld.
“The town has to provide more predictable permitting process and make developers aware that we are open for business,” said Steinfeld. “The town needs to set the framework for development.”
The reaction of the Selectmen was positive.
“I’m glad you brought up the expedited permitting,” said Selectmen Chair Jason Smith. An easier way to navigate the permitting process will help attract viable projects to downtown, he said.
“I would suggest that the Town Manager and Community and Economic Development think about what we want in downtown and come up with a plan to look at the permitting process and streamlining it. Worry about the long-term vision for Framingham,” he said.
As a point of information, Steinfeld gave an overview of how the city of Quincy formed a redevelopment plan. She said Quincy’s plan could be used as a model for Framingham and elements could be modified to suit the unique characteristics of Framingham.
She related that planning for a massive redevelopment project in Quincy began in earnest in 2004 after a series of plans and crucial elements were in place. Among the efforts adopted by Quincy before it launched its redevelopment plan were:
- A downtown vision;
- Amended zoning ordinances;
- A downtown parking study;
- Detailed design guidelines;
- An urban revitalization plan;
- A District Improvement Plan (DIF)
- A master Tax Increment Finance plan (TIF)
- A land disposition agreement;
- And a public art ordinance.
Once the vision and parameters for redevelopment were in place, a developer agreed to advance the infrastructure costs of $300 million. When the infrastructure work is completed, the city will float bonds to purchase the infrastructure improvements.
Steinfeld emphasized that economic development is an evolutionary process that takes perseverance and creativity. “Framingham has a great deal of potential, if given enough time,” she said. The town must continue to focus on its competitive advantages and build upon them, while recognizing what is beyond our control.”
Selectman Charlie Sisitsky asked about development of the Arcade block in downtown. The block of buildings across from Memorial Hall were recently purchased out of bankruptcy by local developer Vaios Theodorakos.
“He is making progress,” said Steinfeld. She used as an example renovation by Theodorakos of triple-deckers on Frederick Street, which backs up to the Arcade complex. The buildings were going to be razed by the former developer of the Arcade block.
“He's doing things slowly,” said Steinfeld, indicating Theodorakos’ plans for redevelopment are less extensive than previous developers.