Land use, economic development to begin Royalston master plan process

Tracy Murphy (right), senior planner for the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission, and MRPC Principal Planner Joseph Boyle met with Royalston officials to discuss strategies for developing a master plan.

Tracy Murphy (right), senior planner for the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission, and MRPC Principal Planner Joseph Boyle met with Royalston officials to discuss strategies for developing a master plan. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 05-31-2024 5:00 PM

Modified: 06-05-2024 3:47 PM


ROYALSTON – Initial efforts to craft a new master plan for the town will focus on its housing needs and potential economic development.

Senior Planner Tracy Murphy of the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission and its principal planner, Joseph Boyle, recently met with the town’s Selectboard, Planning Board, Master Plan Committee and other residents to discuss the commission’s role in overseeing the process of developing a master plan for the town.

The two planning professionals also went over their expectations regarding the town’s role in the process.

The town has already received a $104,000 District Local Technical Assistance grant, which will cover the cost of completing the first three chapters of the proposed master plan. A second grant proposal, through the Community One Stop for Growth program, is in the works.

Murphy told the Athol Daily News, “We are working on a community vision and goals that will begin to develop the goals and strategies chapter, and we will also be working on the land use and housing and economic development chapters. I am currently working with Royalston helping them submit a grant for the remaining chapters, which include historic and cultural resources, natural resources, open space and recreation, and implementation.”

The Community One Stop for Growth grant, if approved, will provide about $150,000, according to Murphy. The grant program is overseen by the state Executive Office of Economic Development and the application must be submitted by June 5.

The best way to encourage public input also generated a fair amount of discussion. All agreed that it will be necessary for residents to actively participate in development of the master plan if implementation is to be successful. Boyle mentioned that public meetings are included in the development process, but Phil Rabinowitz, who also serves as chair of the Capital Plan Development Committee, suggested a series of smaller meetings should take place prior to a large public gathering.

“We would work with the Master Plan Committee on how the town feels it’s best to do that,” Murphy said. “So, if that’s how you’ve done things in the past and it worked, there’s no reason why we wouldn’t do that.”

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It’s hoped a strategy for proceeding with development of the plan can be finalized in the next few weeks.

Asked after the meeting if developing proposals to promote economic development and housing strategies for a small town like Royalston presents unique challenges, Murphy described that as a “multifaceted” issue.

“Royalston is unique in a special way,” Murphy said. “That is why starting the process with public participation events is paramount. (The MRPC needs) to listen to the townspeople to understand and respect what their collective future aspirations are and how those can be used to develop the community vision. Every community is different, and the emphasis comes in different areas depending on the town.”

Murphy said as very little revenue is generated through commerce in towns like Royalston, she expects there will be an emphasis on maintaining level municipal services and town facilities before determining if the current economic climate can sustain development.

Creation of affordable housing in Royalston could also be a daunting task. Under Chapter 40B, the state encourages at least 10% of a community’s housing stock be categorized as affordable or subsidized housing. According to the state’s Office of Housing and Livable Communities, as of June 2023, just over a half-percent of Royalston’s housing stock falls into that category.

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