2017-10-06 / Community News

Planapalooza: Vision for town’s future

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

The National Football League’s Super Bowl may be four months away, but last week, the town of Scarborough hosted, what Planning Director Jay Chace called “the Super Bowl” of planning exercises when representatives from Town Planning and Urban Design Collaborative were in town for a week to connect with residents about the future of Scarborough as part of the comprehensive plan update process.

“Everything went great. It was well attended and the feedback was positive. We had good input from the community. They did a great job sharing their thoughts and concerns,” said Brian Wright, founder of Town Planning and Urban Design Collaborative (TPUDC), who was hired as a consultant for the update process earlier this year.

The four-day Planapalooza was a different approach to getting public feedback than has been used in the past.

Between an opening presentation Sept. 25 in which residents met in small groups to talk about strengths and weaknesses of the town and a closing presentation Sept. 28, the public had the opportunity to talk with town staff, representatives of TPUDC and fellow Scarborough residents and taxpayers on such topics as sustainability, natural environment and resiliency, economy and jobs, mobility and health and built environment and design.

“It was a new way to converge with the community about what’s happening in Scarborough. Having that weeklong event – we’ve not done that before. Allowing people to meet both in big groups and talk individually with us and fellow residents was pretty remarkable,” said Martin, executive director of the Scarborough Economic Development Corporation.

Chace said between 150 and 200 residents participated over the course of the Planapalooza events.

“After working here for the last 10 years, I met a lot of new people, saw a lot of new faces. That was refreshing,” Chace said. “What we really strive to do as part of the comp plan (update) is reach out to a broad spectrum in the community to weigh in on the future.”

Throughout August, a series of Imagine the Future workshops were held around Scarborough, which offered a chance for people to share their vision of where Scarborough is heading.

Throughout those Imagine the Future sessions, the public has said they would like to see the town protect the marsh, beaches, agricultural land and forests; create a walkable center of town; construct a community recreational center with a pool; improve traffic flow on Route 1; provide bicycle facilities throughout town; offer more transportation options and public access to natural resources; plan for sea level rise; add more sidewalks and seek redevelopment opportunity at Scarborough Downs.

“One of the number one things we have been hearing and seeing in those meetings is we need to protect the open space that you have, the marsh and the agricultural lands you have here. It seems like something that you hold true. We also heard about creating an actual center in the community where yon can all gather. A community center, that seems like that is a big need,” Sandrine Thibeault, TPUDC’s director of comprehensive planning and municipal services, said at the opening workshop of Planapalooza last Monday.

Many of those items were again brought up during the Planapalooza conversations.

“A community center could provide that unifying place. Scarborough is so large and there are so many different neighborhoods and areas of town, if you did have a community center where you could go for recreation and other stuff, it would give people that better sense of community,” Martin said.

The topic has come up a frequently over the years, but there has not been a concrete plan unveiled since 2006 when a project to build a YMCA in town fizzled. A community center has been listed among the town’s medium term facility needs (in the next five to 15 years).

The 2016 Municipal Facilities Plan, prepared by town staff, the long range planning commission and engineers from Woodard and Curran, suggests the space could provide not only recreational space for town residents, but also the administrative space for the town’s Community Services Department and could be sited somewhere on the municipal campus.

Martin said if people do want more walkability in Oak Hill, for example, the town “may need to do things differently.”

The 2006 comprehensive plan, written by Planning Decisions Inc., set out a vision of Scarborough being a place with a robust and diverse local economy, a productive ecosystem along the coastline and a town that maintains marine uses, preserves historic resources, provides a wide variety of housing options, a complete transportation system and designates are of growth and limited growth.

The update process, Chace has said in the past, is not about completely rewriting the existing comprehensive plan, but rather updating the plan to meet today’s vision.

“A big part of a comprehensive plan is about land use elements. There are certainly other facets woven in, such as maintaining low growth areas that preserve the rural character of the town. That was pretty well established in the ’06 plan and we didn’t hear from people we were way off on that,” Chace said.

It will take as much public input as possible to create that vision.

“That is what the comprehensive plan is all about. How do we talk with the community and how does the community communicate what they are looking for in the future,” Martin said.

Wright said he was impressed with how much consensus there was in terms of what people wanted to see in Scarborough in the future.

“A good surprise was the cohesiveness in the community vision. There was a lot of agreement about what people were looking for, the concerns to be addressed and the solutions proposed,” Wright said.

Now that TPUDC has heard from the public, Wright said he and his firm will now begin working with town staff to draft the new comprehensive plan. Chace said that work will take a couple months. The draft plan is expected to be unveiled sometime in winter 2018 and be before the council for adoption later in the year.

Once the draft plan comes back the public will have the opportunity for more input.

“We will be re-engaging the public participation in digesting the plan to be sure it represents what the community wants it to represent. We’ll make tweaks along the way before it gets send to the council for adoption,” Chace said.

The public conversation will also continue online at www.scarboroughengaged.org, Martin said.

“There will be opportunities to get more public input over the next few months. (Planapalooza) was a concentrated effort, but there will be on-going engagement both through the website and in other ways as well,” Martin said.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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