WARREN — Warren is in the process of creating a new Master Plan, a document that will guide the town’s decisions and growth over the next five to seven years. The existing plan is outdated, having been drawn up 18 years ago. Because of this, the town’s growth has been slow, uncoordinated and inefficient, said Sarah O’Brien, associate planner at the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission.

“A lot of a Master Plan is helping towns to expand more economically, O’Brien said. For example, she said it is much less expensive to run utilities to a section of town that has been chosen for residential growth, than to run them down various roadways throughout the municipality because forethought had not been put into where new housing would be built.

After a kickoff meeting in late January and a survey that went out to residents, a workshop at the Senior Center on May 29 allowed large numbers of residents to provide their preferences for what they would like to see in Warren in the decade to come.

Eight stations, with boards propped up on easels, were staged around the room, representing different chapters of the eventual Master Plan: parks and recreation, transportation, historic places, housing, economic development, growth strategies, town common and vision.

At the transportation station, Highway Superintendent Jeremy Olsen spoke with residents about where they see the need for improvement. One person joked, “Speed bumps on Bemis Road?” Olsen shook his head and said there were “many years” when Bemis Road, a steep and somewhat winding hill had speed bumps. “I had to plow it,” he recalled.

Eric Gemperline, an associate planner with the Planning Commission, said most people who had stopped by to discuss transportation had cited the need for new pavement on Gilbert Road, the lack of sidewalks near Quaboag Regional Middle High School and the condition of the sidewalks downtown.

The survey identified some parks and recreation areas on which to focus. Two of them, Comins Pond and Cutter Park, received the most suggestions from residents at the workshop. Parks and Recreation Director Sue Ramsey said her department is hoping to receive grant funding after designs are drawn up to improve the areas.

At the growth strategies station, three potential maps of building density were on display. The choices were to create higher density village centers in the downtown and in West Warren, while leaving the remainder of the town rural, to allow the rural land throughout town to be developed, or to have a mixture of the two plans.

People were asked to select their preferred map or to choose to allow growth to remain unplanned. Planning Commission Principal Planner Jordan Hollinger said that of the few people who had stopped at the station, the mixture of higher density village centers and rural development in parts of town was the favorite option.

Resident Jen Petraitis told Hollinger, “If we don’t get large business here, we’re never going to get the housing we need, never going to get the rest of it. We’re not going to make it. We have too much wild land and these little pockets of business.”

The housing station gave residents several areas of town — Gilbert Road, Southbridge Road, the Town Common, Coy Hill Road and West Warren — and options for each, ranging from single family homes to senior housing and large apartment buildings. Residents indicated they were in favor of senior housing and larger apartment buildings in West Warren. Residents felt single family homes were the best fit for Gilbert Road, while mixed-use buildings, with businesses on the ground level and apartments on the second or third floor saw the most favor in the Town Common area.

Town Administrator Jim Ferrera said there are some hurdles to economic development in Warren, mainly the elevation of some areas of town and the need to run utility lines to large sections that are currently under-developed.

“Residents of Warren want what any other community wants — they want safe streets, they want to grow in the right direction.” Of the town’s strengths, he said it is a “prime community” with affordable housing.

Over at the Town Common station, Planning Commission Principal Planner Christopher Dunphy explained that there was a desire to make the town common vibrant, but people were not sure what that might look like. A lack of parking was one common complaint, but people were not sure where they would prefer parking to be added. Other issues with the common include old trees with surface roots that make traversing the grass difficult and the fact that the train depot is privately owned. There will be a warrant article at the June Town Meeting to approve the town’s purchase of that property.

Moving forward, the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission and the town’s Community Development Advisory Committee will meet monthly to incorporate the preferences and data from town residents into a functional and thorough Master Plan, scheduled to be completed in fall 2025. With the plan in hand, town leadership can consider the town’s goals when creating or approving new projects.

The Master Plan creation was paid for with a community development grant and more grant funding will likely be needed to implement some of the initiatives in the plan. “Money is a big part of implementation, but we’re seeing unprecedented funding” from the state and federal levels, O’Brien said. Further, she said, projects that are part of a master plan are more likely to receive grant funding than they otherwise might.

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