Ken Comia, Deputy Director of Land Use and Environment with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission directs East Longmeadow town residents at a May 20 meeting of the Town Steering Committee meeting.
Reminder Publishing photo by Bill Zito

EAST LONGMEADOW — Continuing efforts for maximum community input, the May 20 meeting of the Center Town Steering Committee saw a well-attended session of more than 85 residents who came ready with questions and fitted with input compiled since the committee’s first gathering in April.

At that earlier meeting, initial objectives for development and progression in the center of town were conferred upon those then in attendance. Considerations focused on economic development, diversity in housing and overall walkability were discussed with representation from the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission who have been enlisted to aid with the project.

The May 20 meeting sought to advance those earlier objectives via additional community planning and input.
Prior to the presentation by the PVPC, committee member Steve Graham addressed those in attendance to go over the basic goals of the meeting and the committee’s meetings overall.

“Nothing has been decided yet,” Graham said. “What we’re here to do is to listen to all of you in the audience to find out what your concerns are, what your desires are, what your wants are and then put that together in as neat a package as we can get and bring it back to the town.”

Graham stressed that what is going to happen in the Center Town District is up to the community.
Ken Comia, deputy director of land use and environment for the PVPC outlined the zoning elements and recommended strategies for the Center Square via a PowerPoint presentation.

“The goal is to craft zoning regulations that meet the needs and values of the community and best guide the redevelopment of Town Center,” he said.

Comia said PVPC will be working in a consulting role for the year-long process with the volunteer project team made up of Steering Committee members, a representative from the Planning Board and town officials to include the town manager and deputy town manager.

Maps of underlying zoning districts with the town were posted on easels in the Pleasant View Senior Center auditorium where the meeting took place.

Residents participated in break out discussion sessions at 10 tables of eight to ten contributors who, through group discussion analyzed proposed components of a renewed Town Center, including preserving green and open space, housing and neighborhood character, economic growth and community connectedness.

Within their groups, community members identified specific areas in town where those individual components synced and offered suggestions in how to meet standards and establish priorities.

Suggestions by table consensus included the expansion of the Redstone Rail Trail, increased pedestrian safety and expanded greenspaces with the potential development of pocket parks within town.

Concerns that high density development might be too rapid a growth for the area, residents put a premium on two-or three family housing structures with an emphasis on traffic attention in regard to speed and congestion on the road leading to the Rotary, advocating for more speed bumps and sidewalk accessibility. More housing for residents aged 55 and older was also mentioned as an increased priority as was appropriate dwellings for a younger population.

Design standards for proposed housing and mixed-use buildings to keep appearance in line with existing structures and housing atop commercial or retail construction were offered as suggestions for ways to increase opportunities to keep people living in town.

Despite interest in maintaining and even increasing housing options for current and future residents, there was unease expressed that such moves could potentially tax the school system as well as traffic mitigation.
Balancing the concerns about new population options was discussion of economic growth in a center community where the tax structure was identified as more than 85% dependent on residential taxes.

Comia spoke to the town’s desire to expand the tax base to establish a stable tax environment by creating a Center Town District with more accessibility that in turn creates more opportunity for local customers and ultimately a stable local economy that could potentially weather economic storms.

Desired business opportunities measured by growth with the Town Center were also mitigated by discussion of online business challenges and the viewpoint that East Longmeadow is already business friendly and traffic is already robust in the center of town while some residents prefer the larger shopping options in other neighboring towns.

Thoughts of shopping options in discussion gave way to suggestions of more market type of shopping and community outlets for children to go for school studies or activities to alleviate a burden on the libraries while other tables suggested more prominent options like a Trader’s Joes or a Whole Foods or restaurants with outdoor dining. Visual appearance of any new entity was also mentioned as a priority as was the absence of any large chain store.

The topic of community connectiveness focused on the value of social spaces and cultural resources in terms of a more vibrant and welcoming town center. Concerts with vendors, beer and wine festivals, food trucks and open houses with small businesses were suggested as methods of bringing people to town as were school events and town movie nights.

Town Manager Tom Christensen closed out the forum by offering his appreciation for the positivity in the night’s meeting and the expression of interest and concern by those in attendance.

The notes, suggestions and offerings by the groups in attendance were collected, to be synthesized for the members of the Steering Committee who will report back to the town and will be presented at the next meeting for town residents.