Royalston boards meet to discuss new master plan

Karen Chapmen  met with members of the Selectboard and Planning Board on Dec. 19 to lay out the process for the community to develop its first master plan. Chapman is the planning and development director for the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission.

Karen Chapmen met with members of the Selectboard and Planning Board on Dec. 19 to lay out the process for the community to develop its first master plan. Chapman is the planning and development director for the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission. STAFF PHOTO/GREG VINE

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 12-26-2023 5:00 PM

ROYALSTON — Town officials have taken the first step toward creation of a master plan for Royalston.

On Dec. 19, members of the Selectboard and Planning Board, along with several interested residents, met with Karen Champman, planning and development director for the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) to develop a workable strategy for the town.

“This purpose of this meeting is really to get information about the master planning process and, specifically, how MRPC goes about it,” said Selectboard Chair Deb D’Amico. “We’re making no decisions tonight about who is going to do it, how it is going to be done.”

Chapman said the MRPC is currently working on a master plan for the town of Ashburnham and is close to finishing one for Hubbardston.

“What we would do, is gather data first. We would gather data about land use, housing, economic development, natural and cultural resources – which includes historical resources, open space and recreation, services and facilities, traffic and circulation,” Chapman said. “Those are the chapters that will be in a master plan.”

She that added a survey would be distributed town-wide asking residents how they want the town to address all of these issues; essentially, what they want the town to be.

Once data on each of the main elements are collected and survey results compiled and tallied, said Chapman, “we would probably take two or three (issues) at a time and have a public forum, where we would invite anyone from the public, anyone from any of the boards, and we’d present you with what the data says and with the results of the survey. We would then open it up for discussion…We take all of our information for goals and objectives for the town from the people, from the boards, from the departments. We don’t make up goals. We don’t know you, we don’t know your town like you know your town.”

Chapman said information gathered from data gathering, survey results and focus groups would be synthesized into a master plan. A draft master plan would subsequently be released to the public for further comment before a final plan is completed.

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One of the first steps, said Chapman, would be to hold a visioning session to talk about residents’ ideas for Royalston. Chapman said specificity in a master plan can be crucial to securing funding.

“You’re going to talk about what you want the town to look like, what services do you want to have, what kind of housing do you want to have, does zoning need to change,” she said. “You’d discuss (the town’s) strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats. What things are good about Royalston and how do you make those things better?”

Chapman said the timeline for completion of a master plan can be anywhere from 18 months to four years. Much, she added, depends on the participation of the community. She said some of the recent master plans MRPC has worked on have been completed piecemeal over a period of four years which, she added, “is not ideal. By the time you get to the fourth year, what you did in the first year is no good anymore.”

The cost for development of this plan can run from $200,000 to $400,000.

“A master plan for Royalston is no different than one for Leominster,” said Chapman. “Size doesn’t matter. You’re still doing the same chapters, you’re doing all the same activities, your talking about a whole lot of the same things. So, there’s no discount in there for smaller communities.”

Once a final draft of the master plan has been completed, a vote of the Planning Board is required for approval. Town Meeting approval is not required, but recommended in order to garner more support.

D’Amico proposed setting up a steering committee which would be charged with establishing the process for moving forward. While most in attendance appeared to agree, it was decided another meeting of the Selectmen and Planning Board should take place sometime in January to establish the responsibilities of the steering committee.

“The next step sounds like the Planning Board sits down with the Selectboard,” said D’Amico, “and fleshes out what the committee would do, what it would look like, and how we could do some outreach.”

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