WE ARE HOMETOWN NEWS.

HATFIELD — On Jan. 24, near the end of a Comprehensive Plan Committee meeting, Angelica Dewey said, “We’re the connecting the dots committee.”

Members of the committee charged with drawing up an inclusive plan for the next quarter century are learning that each challenge facing the town impacts residents in many different ways. The group heard 15 minute presentations on the difficulties and opportunities in five areas of town life. The speakers, connecting the impacts and needs of the town to different areas, often echoed each other.

Mimi Kaplan and Micki Sanderson began by talking about natural resources, open space and recreation. Sanderson couldn’t praise the OSC, the Open Space Committee, enough for what members accomplished since the current planning process began about a year ago.

“Open Space rocks!” Sanderson said. “A lot of these things are already in place. In less than a year the OSC has taken this and run with it.”

A $400,000 grant was secured through Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, or PVPC, for pickleball courts. Day Pond, near Smith Academy, received some attention. The goal is to create a place to ice skate. An asset of the town is the sidewalks in Town Center. Residents like to walk a loop to stay in shape, a preparation for taking to the town’s hiking trails.

Residents are committed to working with Northampton to finish the Connecticut River Greenway Trail. The final 750 feet of the trail will be in Hatfield, ending on Elm Court. The primary challenge for recreation in Hatfield, Sanderson found, is informational. The town needs more signage and more information on the website.

“We’re going to post trail maps on the town website,” Sanderson said. “We’ll increase the signage so people can go up there on Chestnut Mountain Trail [where] there are spectacular views you’d never think you’d get in Hatfield.”
The Chestnut Mountain Trail wends through Zone 2, also home to the town’s drinking water aquifer, one of the town’s main strengths.

“It’s one of the most important attributes of the town,” Sanderson said. “We create our own drinking water.”

Shannon Walsh, historic preservation planner for the PVPC, spoke about the town’s historic and cultural heritage. Lack of recent planning for preservation is a major problem. Walsh said the town made consistent preservation efforts in the 1970s and 1980s, but has been inconsistent since.

The town has an historical area in downtown and seven different honorary destinations of historical significance. Last year, the town began using CatalogIt, a software service for digitizing information on museum collections and historical artifacts. Walsh said the most important future effort is to preserve the character of the downtown area.

“Protecting the town character, this is the most important goal,” Walsh said. “This is not like, don’t paint your house purple. It’s more like, let’s work together to help you not put skylights on the front side of your roof.”

“Do you mean that we have to have guidelines, like what color people paint their house?” asked at large member David Keir.

“People can do whatever they want with their property. But if we all did that it would ruin the community character,” Walsh said. “As much as people don’t want to think about or acknowledge that our town center is magnificent … it draws everything together.”

Walsh has spoken with homeowners who said they couldn’t afford to fix a slate roof or heritage chimney. A design review with the Historical Commission may uncover an alternative fix.

Becky Basch, senior PVPC planner for land use and the environment, spoke next about planning for future seniors. According to Basch, planning for the care of seniors benefits everyone.

“If you plan for an older population, it benefits everyone in the community,” Basch said. “Build the environment around building social interactions, both inside and out.”

A major problem for Hatfield seniors is the lack of options for downsizing. Basch said that as people age they often develop a disability. That makes it unlikely a senior can age in place in a house that needs maintenance. The town has some affordable housing, but it’s all on the floodplain.

“If we have places for seniors to sit down and talk, is there a playground nearby?” Basch asked.

A senior center where teens can hang out would promote intergenerational connections. Maintaining a healthy diet is also a concern for the town. A step toward diversifying senior housing, Town Meeting voted last year to allow accessory dwelling units attached to houses.

Jeff McCollough, Senior Transportation Planner for the PVPC, discussed getting around in Hatfield. The town has done a good job of maintaining the roads.

“Our challenges and opportunities are mixed in together, because many times the challenges are the opportunities,” McCollough said.

One opportunity for the town to build on a success is to expand the sidewalk system. The town currently has about five miles of sidewalks. The new plan will call for another five miles of sidewalks, doubling the areas accessible to seniors on foot.

The upkeep costs of local roads and bridges, McCollough said, is going up and up. Towns cannot abandon road maintenance in favor of school expenses, which may squeeze essential services for elders. The town is served by FRTA, the Franklin Regional Transit Authority, a big boon to seniors, but other options for travel are limited to times the Senior Center is open.

McCollough praised the town for its safety record. McCollough said there aren’t any high crash locations in Hatfield. Drivers sometimes drive too fast, but crashes are not as common as in other jurisdictions.

Comprehensive Plan Committee member at large, David Keir, summarized the findings on facilities, services and social resilience. The top priority for over half of residents surveyed recently was the schools. The elementary school needs a new roof — but the big question is how to transition essential town services to safer locations.

“What do we do with all of our central services, which are all on the floodplain?” Keir said. “We need to move all the other services we offer, before we move the aging population somewhere.”

Keir said the town is in the midst of a $12 million upgrade to the wastewater treatment plant, financed primarily through a low interest federal loan. The plant runs at 30% capacity, but is 30 years old and needs refitting. The town also does a good job of maintaining its fleet of emergency vehicles.

The town lacks one type of service, Keir said: entertainment spaces.

“Is there a town performance space?” Keir asked. “In Greenfield, you’ve got Hawks and Reed, and in Northampton you have some spaces.”

The new pavilion at Smith Academy may offer an outdoor venue, but indoor spaces are few. He recalled the “old barn” on Elm Street, a favorite spot for local weddings. Friday nights, residents showed up to blow off steam.

Led by Planning Board Chair Stephanie Slysz, the meeting concluded with a discussion of the common concerns among the subcommittees. The next meeting of the Comprehensive Plan Committee is scheduled for Feb. 29 at 6 p.m.

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