Public comments were nearly universally positive at a public forum on the Draft Land Use Master Plan Part II presented by the .
"The basic goal is to have as much public comment as possible," said Planning Board Chair Andrea Carr-Evans.
Ken Buckland, Principal with the Cecil Group, presented with a slide show overview of the draft Master Land Use Plan. Buckland described a Master Plan as “a precursor to zoning. It's a way to have a dialogue and a discussion about zoning."
“What we got from the survey is that the historic character of the community is very important to the 800 or so who responded," Buckland said.
The Land Use Master Plan is a continuation of the process the town has been going through for several years. The development of the Master Plan included surveys, public comment periods, and focus group meetings in 2009 and 2010. The previous Master Plan was completed in 1988.
Under the plan, downtown Framingham and the South Side district are identified as needing change.
Other focus points included preserving historic elements; a recognition of open space and rail trails; environmental conservation and green building; economic development; and support for the arts.
The Plan also considers transportation and the “complete streets” initiative, as well as incentives for the kind of development the town wants to encourage. In addition, it takes into account quality of life factors, including noise bylaws.
One of the more challenging areas of the Master Plan is defining land use, including the “edging transitions,” such as the areas on the border between residential and commercial zones.
"There's an opportunity to see zoning in a different way and to rewrite the standards,” Buckland said, adding, “A lot of the time, zoning reads like War and Peace, and sometimes it's hard to get through."
“I read War and Peace years ago,” said resident Elsa Hornfischer, “and I spent the last two days reading the Master Plan, and I was blown away.” Her comments echoed the positive messages of several residents. She added a suggestion that the town develop a measurement for noise to help give police guidelines. She also said arts and cultural centers should be mentioned as top downtown destinations.
Resident George Lewis said it is important to note on the Master Plan where waterways and old railroad tracks are, and later talked about issues with commercial property owners putting dumpsters on town wetlands property.
William Hanson, Chair of the Framingham Bicycle & Pedestrian Committee, said he was encouraged to see advocacy for better bicycle and pedestrian accommodation and “complete streets.” He also said the redevelopment and revitalization of secondary town centers, such as Nobscot, is essential.
One member of the public asked if there was a timetable for meeting objectives in plan and a statement of milestones. Town Planner Jay Grande acknowledged that parts of the 1988 were not realized. He said the new Master Plan should be incorporated into the fabric of the overall management of the town and should be a part of annual evaluation.
"It does serve as a continual living document,” Grande said, adding his department will not be able to work on it alone.
Selectman Ginger Esty said she was concerned about mixed residential-business areas. She said area businesses outgrow their lots, buy up residences next to their businesses, rent the houses, then expand businesses into the residences’ yards.
“We have to straighten out how that land is used. It needs to be clarified and I think it's something that has not been addressed for a number of years, and it has to be," Esty said.
Grande agreed that was an area that needed work.
Etsy also noted a subcommittee of the Selectmen has been working on the issue of noise.
"I, personally, believe the far south side planning is the most challenging of the entire community," said Board member Sue Epstein, again bringing up the area of transition zones.
Carr-Evans and Board Member Tom Mahoney both emphasized the public should share their comments with the Board.
"This is not a final version,” stated Carr-Evans. “What you'll see on the website is where we're at. This is still a draft plan. There will still be public meetings on this.”
Carr-Evans also said the Board needed to hear criticisms of the Master Plan in order to make progress. “I really appreciate all the positives, but we do need to hear some of the negatives,” she said.
The public is welcome to comment on the Master Plan at future Planning Board meetings.