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Downtown Strategic Plan to include initial visioning around potential uses of Center/Pepin and Maple Street properties.

Easthampton, November 27, 2018 - The City of Easthampton has been awarded a $50,000 Planning Assistance Grant from the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.  The grant funding, along with a local match, will allow the City to hire a professional consultant to begin collecting input and ideas about future uses of the two elementary school properties, and other related topics specific to the downtown area.  The grant will allow for the creation of a Downtown Strategic Plan that will look at the inter-connectedness of current successes and needs of Cottage Street and Union Street and potential re-uses for Center/Pepin and Maple Street schools.

                “Smart Growth economic development is driven by smart, forward-thinking

planning. The holistic nature of this grant award will fuel a robust public conversation

informed by fresh data and economic trends.” – Mayor Nicole LaChapelle 

On May 22, 2018, the city residents voted in favor of a proposition 2.5% override to fund the construction of a new consolidated K-8 school.  With occupancy of the new school expected in September 2021, the two existing elementary school sites will become city surplus in approximately three years. 

This is the exact right time to start the discussion about the future use of the school properties and how they fit into and relate to the downtown, and they will connect to issues such as parking, economic development, and housing” - City Planner Jeff Bagg

One of the key elements of the project will be to engage residents and business owners and provide a facilitated platform to share their thoughts about potential uses of the two school properties.  With all the thoughts gathered, the project will allow for the creation of initial schematic drawings, an outline of options and next steps.  The excitement around the successful mix of business on Cottage Street and the reconstruction of Union Street in 2021 will be intertwined by capturing an economic inventory of the types of existing businesses that are desirable and/or needed.  A final aspect of the project will be to review the existing “40R” smart growth zoning exists on Cottage Street and Union Street (including the two school properties) and that also extends over the Mill District which is aimed at providing new housing opportunities.

The primary objectives of the Strategic Plan include, but are not limited to:

·         Inventory, assess, conceptualize, and explore potential reuse options for the two elementary school properties and their surroundings.

·         To provide an initial parking inventory of existing public and private parking areas and identify specific strategies for shared parking, parking benefit districts, and how the City can implement other of the State’s Best Practices.

·         Review and update of the existing 40R Smart Growth Zoning Ordinance to ensure it allows for the type of developments expected, and, review whether aspects could be amended to increase options to create all housing types

·         To provide an initial economic inventory of the downtown area and create an initial economic development occupancy/vacancy tracking method for the City

·         Based on community input, an overall vision and plan for the area will be developed including conceptual development scenarios, recommendations, and a series of next steps for implementation.

Before the project begins, the City must select a consultant to facilitate meetings and prepare the plan.  The Request for Proposals (RFP) was released on November 26, 2018, with a consultant expected to be chosen by the end of December.  The project is expected to begin in February with public outreach beginning in March or April.  Stay tuned for your opportunity to explore the future use of the two school properties and help create a vision for the downtown.

To view Easthampton’s full Planning Assistance Grant application, click here.

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About Cottage and Union Street: The Cottage Street and Union Street Project Area includes the primary route through the center of Easthampton.  Each street contains an elementary school that will be city surplus after a new elementary school is built.  At the center of Cottage Street and Union Street is Nashawannuck Pond which includes a popular public promenade funded by CPA, PARC Grant, and Zoning Incentive Funds.  It serves as the focal point and intersection of both Cottage Street and Union Street.  It has become a hub of activity.

Cottage Street was designated as a Cultural District in 2013.  It has created and supported multiple festivals and events and currently contains a unique mix of retail, restaurant, and bar establishments.  At its northernmost point is Maple Street Elementary School which will become a city surplus property in 3-4 years.  Expanding business growth has presented some parking challenges while underdeveloped properties also exist.  A 50-unit mill conversion containing affordable housing was completed in 2016 and an 18 unit, three-story mixed-use building gained Planning Board permits in 2017.  Cottage Street is located within the existing 40R Zoning District. 

Union Street contains two relatively distinct sections including larger more automobile-oriented uses and properties to the south (closer to the intersection of Cottage Street), and, a denser downtown core to the north.  The street contains several key service uses including a hardware store, pharmacy, gym, print shop, and gas stations.  The area also contains several popular restaurants, bakery, coffee shop, and tattoo parlor.  While several new uses have occupied existing buildings and have created new destinations, walkability is lacking, and the area does not provide a sense of connectivity.  The Union Street component shall build upon the 2010 DHCD Downtown Improvement Study as well as the current 25% MassDOT design plans in preparation for the 2021 TIP reconstruction.  The 2021 TIP project includes major streetscape improvements, sidewalk improvements, crosswalk improvements, replacement of water and sewer infrastructure, and full roadway reconstruction.  This project will aid in creating a sense of connectivity between Cottage Street, the bike path, and Main Street.

About the Planning Assistance Grants:  The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) is offering Massachusetts cities and towns technical help to improve their land use practices. Grants are available to the Commonwealth’s municipalities, and Regional - Planning Agencies acting on their behalf to support their efforts to plan, regulate (zone), and act to conserve and develop land consistent with Massachusetts’ Sustainable Development Principles.

These Planning Assistance Grants are part of an effort to encourage municipalities to implement land use regulations that are consistent with the Baker-Polito Administration’s land conservation and development objectives including reduction of land, energy, and natural resource consumption, provision of sufficient and diverse housing, and mitigation of/preparation for climate change.  Funds help communities retain appropriate technical expertise and undertake the public process associated with creating plans and adopting land use regulations.

Priorities for Program spending include:

·         Zoning for sustainable housing production consistent with the Baker-Polito Administration’s Housing Choice Initiative (e.g. Accessory Dwelling Units, 40R Smart Growth Zoning, Transit Oriented Development, or Mixed-Use zoning);

·         Mitigation of climate change through zoning and other regulations that reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions via a better mix of land uses, more compact growth, enhanced design, etc.; and

·         Zoning that results in permanent land conservation (e.g. Natural Resource Protection Zoning or Transfer of Development Rights).

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Municipal Building 50 Payson Avenue, Easthampton, MA 01027