Mansfield Tomorrow holds community forum
By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Mansfield - posted Tue., Mar. 12, 2013
A March 9 Mansfield Tomorrow community forum and open house drew more than 75 residents to the E.O. Smith cafeteria. Billed on its website as, “our opportunity to shape the future,” Mansfield Tomorrow is being funded by a Community Challenge Planning Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Scheduled to last approximately 18 months, the project seeks to set a course for the town’s future. Included in the process will be a community participation visioning stage, development of a comprehensive plan, and the development of zoning and subdivision regulations to help implement the plan. According to the project website, Mansfield Tomorrow will build upon the Mansfield 2020 Unified Vision plan and update the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development.
After a kick-off meeting on Jan. 30 that drew approximately 90 people, Mansfield Tomorrow facilitators held a Feb. 2 Farmers’ Forum that drew approximately 50 people, “about half of them farmers,” said Larissa Brown from Goody Clancy Associates out of Boston, Mass., one of seven firms providing consulting services for the project. According to the Mansfield Tomorrow website, Goody Clancy is “lead consultant; planning, urban design and housing lead” for the project. Attendees of the Feb. 2 forum discussed the future of growing farms in the town of Mansfield.
In addition, “We’ve been interviewing people on everything from housing to economic development to how the permitting process works,” said Brown. Interviews are a means of gathering input from various town officials, commissions and committees before moving forward, according to Brown. “Plans get implemented when people support plans,” she said.
According to Mansfield Tomorrow Project Manager Jennifer Kaufman, there has been a call out to residents wanting to serve on various sub-groups involved with the project, including an advisory group which will serve as a sounding board for the consultant team and staff during the preparation of the Plan of Conservation and Development. Focus groups are being assembled in the areas of housing, economic development, zoning and agriculture. Kaufman pointed out that decisions regarding group membership would be made by the Planning and Zoning Commission, but that anyone who wanted to be involved would be included in some capacity. There is a virtual town forum available through the project website, where residents are encouraged to share their thoughts regarding issues. And Kaufman said that digital surveys are in the works.
“We want to encourage people to be involved,” said Kaufman. “We want to encourage people to be discussing things online as well as at the community forums.”
In an effort to reach as many residents as possible, Kaufman said that she is reaching out to faith communities, the housing authority, the senior center, disability advocates and other entities in order to invite participation. Kaufman identified a three-pronged approach of “imagine, plan, act.” “Right now we’re in the imagining phase,” she said. Kaufman referred to the team of consultants that has been assembled for the project. “That’s why we’re here,” she said, “is to figure out how to use the resources of these people from all over the country to the best advantage.”
Among the residents working on a map of the town at one of the tables in the cafeteria was Aline Booth, who identified herself as a former member of the Planning and Zoning Commission. Booth spent 33 years on the commission, 24 of those as chair. “I’m very aware of everything and knowledgeable about the land use,” she said. Asked her opinion of the newly-built Storrs Center multi-story, mixed-use development that dominated the view from the E.O. Smith cafeteria windows, Booth said, “I like the idea of what they’re trying to do, but I don’t agree with the architecture. It doesn’t fit with the architecture of the town. It doesn’t even fit with the architecture of the university.” But what’s done is done, suggested Booth, and it’s time to move forward. “But let’s have no more of that,” she said, with a gesture out the window.
As a current alternate on the Conservation Commission, Booth said she is “very interested in making sure that the character of the town doesn’t change.” Booth said she is in favor of the new technology park planned for the university, but felt it was important to keep densely populated development confined to limited areas of town. Preserving the existing open spaces in Mansfield "is what is important to the town,” said Booth.
Go to mansfieldtomorrow.com for a list of future events, a link to the virtual town forum, recaps of past forums and more.