One of the studies often cited in discussions around development in the town center is the Sustainable Village Center Planning Study (2008), prepared by the Dept. of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning at UMass/Amherst. It is commonly referred to as the “UMass Study” and it is worth a look.
In the concluding sections, the UMass group proposed a vision for the Smith property and immediately surrounding area. The UMass vision is not without its own issues, but it does represent a very different approach compared to the Bolton Crossing proposal, with different priorities. I’ll call it UMass Crossing. See bottom of post for schematic drawings (from pp. 179-185 of final report). The study proposed mixed-use development and public space in the center:
- Retail/office—a cluster of a half-dozen buildings containing small businesses, scaled appropriately to surrounding buildings in the center (ie. massing that is in line with say the Cracker Barrell brick store), and positioned close to the street along a widened sidewalk in a village setting. Unknown square footage.
- Residential—dense housing (townhouse style) along a new street with separate access through the Houghton Building lot. (Obviously some issues here in terms of location and current property ownership.)
- Community—the centerpiece of the UMass concept is a community center with amphitheatre and outdoor public space (the “Town Center”). This represents the single largest use of space on the Smith property.
- Parking—50-60 total off-street parking spaces for retail, broken into three locations on both sides of Main Street. Another lot of about 25-30 spaces is located near the residential housing.
What is intriguing about these points is how they differ from the Bolton Crossing proposal. With so much land devoted to public-use space, the UMass vision seems to infer a public/private partnership in order to achieve a more desirable balance of scale and land use in the center. Could it be that in order to make the financials work for something of a much smaller scale (i.e. smaller than what is being proposed by the Bolton Crossing developers), some kind of creative partnership is needed? Is the Bolton Crossing developer truly responding to community desires, or is the weight of the fixed costs (land purchase, contamination clean-up, basic site development) pushing up the scale of the plan in order to reach satisfactory return-on-investment targets?
Question of the day: Is a public/private partnership a direction that should be explored with respect to development in the town center? What do you think?