Updates underway to Athol master plan

Athol Town Hall and Main Street.

Athol Town Hall and Main Street. File Photo/Paul Franz


For the Athol Daily News

Published: 02-29-2024 5:00 PM

ATHOL – The town’s new Master Plan Committee met for the first time on Wednesday in order to update two aspects of a plan that was last updated in 2015.

This latest effort will address the chapters related to open space and recreation and natural and cultural resources.

The effort is being guided by BSC Group, a Boston consulting firm that has worked with the town on a number of community development projects. A draft plan and schedule for completion was presented to the committee by BSC Director of Planning Heather Gould and Senior Planner Aqsa Butt.

BSC’s work is covered by a $49,000 Planning Assistance Grant from the state Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs, awarded to Athol last year. The committee has a short period of time to complete its task since, under terms of the grant, work on the master plan must be wrapped up by June 30. Assistant Town Planner Heidi Murphy said in an interview that the town was notified of the grant award in July 2023, but did not receive a notice to proceed until last November.

“When I first started here we had done some research on accessory agricultural bylaws for zoning amendments, a topic the was brought up at previous BPCD (Board of Planning and Community Development) meetings,” Murphy said. “That would fall under the natural and cultural resources elements. Basically, we’ll look at goals and objectives like site design, construction, development, buildings, and infrastructure; that would concern natural resources.”

As far as open space & recreation is concerned, said Murphy, “We’ll explore zoning amendments, like transfer of development rights, or updating our natural resource protection zoning. We do have an open space/residential development bylaw, but it needs to be updated. And we want to look at agritourism as well.”

Gould told the committee Wednesday night that there would be a concerted push to encourage public involvement in the project. This will include visioning sessions as well as an online survey.

“We will be doing a very thorough background review, going through the prior master plan chapters, looking at all of the overall goals that were set in that master plan, and assessing any progress that has been made to date,” said Gould. “We’ll also be doing some GIS (geographic information system) mapping.”

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Gould said the most critical element right now is readying the survey and ensuring it can go online. The hope is to receive results by the end of March. She added that there would likely be two visioning sessions, one live and the other via Zoom “so that people can decide how they want to attend.”

Members of the Master Plan Committee include Board of Planning and Community Development member Aimee Hanson, Selectboard member Rebecca Bialecki, Historical Commission member Jean Shaughnessy, Downtown Vitality Committee Chair Mary Holtorf, and Tom Russo, who was chosen to represent the public at-large but was recently appointed to the BPCD.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.