Athol resident survey shows more housing, business development wanted

Recorder Staff/Domenic Poli  Athol Town Hall.

Recorder Staff/Domenic Poli Athol Town Hall.

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 04-02-2024 5:02 PM

ATHOL – A survey asking residents their opinions on topics such as housing, transportation, economic development and land use garnered more than 240 responses.

The survey was put together by the Master Plan Committee with help from BSC Group, the Boston-based consulting firm hired to assist with updating a portion of the town’s master plan, last revised in 2015.

The committee reviewed the survey results during a Zoom meeting held last Thursday, March 28. Assistant Planner Heidi Murphy said the next step will be a community visioning session open to all residents. The Community Visioning Session is scheduled for Monday, April 8, at 6 p.m. at Athol Public Library.

“It’ll be an opportunity for the public to comment on what they think the vision for the town should be, relative to the master plan, as well as review the draft goals and objectives,” she said. “It will address the draft goals resulting from the survey; it’s also an opportunity for the public to comment on those and add additional ones.”

The purpose of the visioning session, according to a press release, is “to identify top goals and objectives for a variety of topic areas including housing, transportation, economic development, community facilities and services, open space and recreation, natural and cultural resources, land use and zoning, and public health.”

Murphy said the survey results didn’t yield many surprises.

“One of the recommendations was adopting CPA (Community Preservation Act), and we’ve been talking about that in Open Space and Recreation Commission meetings for a while,” said Murphy. “And, I think after going to the Bidwell (public) meetings, it wasn’t a surprise to me that there were recommendations for more senior housing – 55-plus.”

In addition to providing a planning road map, Murphy said an updated master plan will assist in securing grants for funding priority projects. Murphy said that department heads will be briefed on potential revisions to the master plan as the process moves forward.

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“Now that we have the survey results and they’ve been distributed, and they will also be available at the visioning session, that will be their opportunity to get back to us,” Murphy said.

Survey results led to the formulation of several major goals for the town. These include increased support for senior housing and accessory dwelling units, and for more housing in already-developed areas – particularly in and around downtown.

Respondents also want to see improvements to roadways and the pedestrian infrastructure; economic development that promotes new businesses in downtown, more public and private events, festivals and concerts; encouragement of commercial/industrial uses in appropriate areas; and more senior and affordable housing opportunities.

Although the master plan doesn’t include a chapter specifically related to public health, residents were asked what the town’s priorities should be relative to this subject. Draft goals from the results included reducing the level of food insecurity, increased access to affordable health care, and addressing homelessness. Residents also want to see a greater emphasis on domestic/sexual violence prevention and efforts to address substance abuse.

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