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Manchester Master Plan

A Stronger Manchester Starts With Us The original category was published from August 31, 2016 1:14 PM to September 22, 2016 2:17 PM

Feb 08

[ARCHIVED] From the Town Administrator's Desk - February 8, 2022

The original item was published from February 8, 2022 3:24 PM to February 8, 2022 8:49 PM

A Full Plate of Land Use Issues
By Gregory T. Federspiel

We are in the midst of a lot of activity on various land use proposals and potential amendments to our zoning regulations.  The Zoning Board of Appeals continues its careful review of the proposed 40B project on Shingle Hill.  A new proposal from Cell Singular Technologies, a bio-tech company, is being developed on lands adjacent to the MAC.  The Planning Board continues to work on a re-write of our zoning regulations and plans to present voters amendments at the Annual Town Meeting this spring.   And the State is advancing new transit-oriented development for every town with an MBTA rail station.

The ZBA’s comprehensive permitting process for the proposed 40B enters into more detailed review of the issues now that the peer reviewers have been selected.  The upcoming meeting on the 9th will take a deeper dive into public safety and traffic.  The process will continue for the next few months at a minimum.

The Selectmen will hear an initial presentation on the proposed research campus Cell Singular Technologies is considering constructing on land near the Manchester Athletic Club.   Proponents of the project will attend the Board’s February 7th meeting and provide an overview of what they hope to construct.  There are many steps that will need to be taken before such a project could move forward, including voter approval of amended zoning regulations for the Limited Commercial District.

The Planning Board will host public hearings in the coming weeks for proposed amendments to the LCD and other sections of the zoning regulations.  A re-write of the regulations have been underway for a couple of years and the Board is working hard to bring proposals to the voters for final debate and possible approval at the spring Annual Town Meeting.  More details on the proposed changes will be released very soon.

Lastly, later this year after the Annual Town Meeting, the Planning Board will turn its attention to the new State law impacting communities with a commuter rail station.   The law seeks to advance multi-unit housing near transit facilities.  The law is set up to incentivize municipalities to create zoning that allows multi-unit housing as a by right use (meaning no special permitting is required.)  The law does not mandate the actual production of this housing, but it does seek to encourage towns to adopt zoning that will allow such production to take place if property owners wish to do so.

Housing costs in Massachusetts are amongst the highest in the country.  The State legislature approved the new law as a means to try to increase the supply of housing.  In the thirty-year period from 1960 to 1990 some 900,000 housing units were constructed.   Since 1990 only some 470,000 units were constructed.  The State estimates that at least 200,000 new units are needed statewide to better meet demand and prevent housing costs from continuing to climb out of reach for a large segment of the population.  The State is wanting to focus new development near transit facilities as part of a larger “smart growth” policy it seeks to implement.

The law promotes creating zoning districts within a half mile of transit facilities that add up to at least 50 acres (about a tenth of the land area with a half mile wide circle).   The 50 acres is part of the draft guidelines being circulated by the State.  The minimum density of 15 units per acre is similar to what we allow in the village area currently, but we do not allow multi-unit structures by right.

Towns do not have to comply with the new law.  Communities that decide not to would no longer be eligible for various state grants.   We have until the end of 2024 to decide whether complying makes sense for Manchester.  The first deadline we face is that the Selectmen must host a public meeting explaining the new law and discussing how it would possibly fit into our long-range goals for the village by May 2 of this year.  The Board is aiming to host this meeting at their February 22 or March 7 meeting.  

As always, stay tuned for updates and more details on these various projects as they continue to be advanced.     

Jan 21

[ARCHIVED] From the Town Administrator's Desk - January 20, 2022

The original item was published from January 21, 2022 9:15 AM to January 21, 2022 9:16 AM

Storm Damage Demonstrates our Vulnerability
By Gregory T. Federspiel

The Martin Luther King Day storm was relatively short lived and not too disruptive to our daily lives, but it brought high winds and a storm surge that provided a clear demonstration of how vulnerable we are to storms.  While the surge was less then 2 feet, it coincided with a high tide that sent waves crashing into some of our more vulnerable parts of town.

Ocean Street sustained the greatest amount of damage.  A section of the seawall and sidewalk near Black Beach collapsed.  A section of road at White Beach also was severely damaged.   Ocean Street is certainly our most vulnerable road and every year sections of it either get buried in sand or undermined.   Protecting the roadway into the future will be very challenging as the ocean wants to reclaim the salt marsh that lies on the other side of the road.

West or “Stinky” Beach on Harbor Street is also extremely vulnerable.  The seawall along the low-lying area held this time though the surf was crashing over it and did some undermining here as well.  A section of the seawall was re-built recently.  It is likely that the remaining sections will need to be rebuilt and the question of increasing the height of the seawall remains.   This is also one area where the train tracks are very close to sea level in Manchester. (Large sections of the MBTA Rockport line are likely to be impassable as sea levels and storm surges rise posing a whole other set of challenges.)  

Besides losing sand that will naturally return to the beach, the revetment at Singing Beach sustained minor damage.  We will need to reposition some of the large boulders that make up the revetment and replace the choke stone that is wedged in between the larger stone.  It is not hard to imagine the entire revetment being destroyed in a bigger storm with waves reaching to the homes that sit behind it.    

We came close to losing the Rotunda at Tuck’s Point.  The pier, walkway and the Rotunda’s decking and benches were all underwater.  Another foot or so of water could well have had enough force to sweep the Rotunda off its pilings.  The pilings are on their last legs as old age has taken its toll.   The substructure needs to be rebuilt.  When we do this the Army Corp will require that the Rotunda be elevated 9 feet or so.   This means the pier and walkway will need to tie into the higher knoll next to the existing landing.  The new retaining wall at the beach area was undermined and will need to be repaired even though it was designed to withstand this type of event. It is hard to fully appreciate the force of the ocean.     

We will develop engineering plans for the renovation of the Rotunda targeting the new construction in the fall of 2023 assuming we can secure the needed funding.  It will not be cheap – cost could run in the $4 million range.  The Rotunda project along with the need for new athletic fields at Sweeney and at the old burn dump on Pine Street could be funded in large part by new bonds paid for by the Community Preservation surcharge.  Instead of doing a debt exclusion vote, we might want to consider approving an increase in the Community Preservation surcharge which would have the benefit of  generating additional state matching dollars.    

We face many significant challenges related to bigger storms.  This last storm provided a small example of just some of our vulnerabilities.   There will be a need for in-depth community discussions on how best to be more resilient to the damages that could result from surging seas and other threats.  And determining how we should pay for the efforts needed to be better protected must be part of these discussions.  We did not get the foot plus of snow that all the rain from this last storm could have brought had it been a bit colder but we did get a taste of the power the sea can wield.  

Sep 10

[ARCHIVED] From the Town Administrator's Desk - September 10, 2021

The original item was published from September 10, 2021 11:53 AM to September 10, 2021 11:59 AM

Public Safety Dispatch Forum Next Wednesday

                By Gregory T. Federspiel

The Selectmen will host a public forum regarding options for providing public safety dispatch services on Wednesday, September 14 at 6:30PM.  This will be another virtual forum and the Zoom link can be found on the Town’s Web site under the meeting calendar.  The Board is aiming to decide within a few weeks whether to re-invest in our in-house service or switch to the regional service offered by the State’s North Shore Regional 911 Center in Middleton.

Background information regarding the debate about how best to provide dispatch services for our fire and police operations can be found on the Dispatch page of the Town’s web site. Current operations are described as well as various options moving froward ranging from doubling our current services to provide two dispatchers at all times to relying on the regional service to provide all dispatch needs.   Costs associated with the various options are presented.  

We are at a decision point – the time has come to either re-invest in our current operations or switch to the regional service.  In-house operations need a new computer-aided dispatch software program and, at a minimum, a fourth full-time employee.  Staffing weekend shifts with part-time workers or paying overtime to police officers has been difficult of late.  

We have one dispatcher on duty at a time.  During a complex call like a life-threatening medical emergency or an active fire situation, the dispatcher ideally is giving full attention to the incident.  However, if other calls come in, the dispatcher must juggle both the incident and the new calls.  For larger incidents we try to bring in a second dispatcher, but this takes anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes.  This lack of a second dispatch person being immediately available is a major reason the Fire and Ambulance Department favors moving to the regional service which can provide multiple dispatchers without costing the Town more money.  The Police Department favors keeping the operations local.  

If the Selectmen decide to pursue joining the NSR911 Center, the next step would be the completion of a detailed feasibility study.  The Center would undertake this 2-3 month study to determine the details of providing dispatch service for Manchester.  A similar study was completed this summer for Ipswich. The feasibility study is the precursor to a contract offer from the State.  While we fully anticipate that the contract would be for 10 years at no cost, as was the case in Ipswich, we will not know for sure until our study is completed.  

If the Town were to accept the proposed contract from the State, the NSR911 Center would begin the process of setting us up to receive their services.  This is a year-long process covering everything from the physical connection of communication lines to having dispatchers ride with our public safety personnel to become familiar with the Town including entering landmark locations into the dispatch software that may be used when a 911 call comes in. Months of training take place before the switch is made.  Thus, if we were to switch over to the NSR911 Center, it likely would not take place until January of 2023 at the earliest.

As outlined in the materials on the Town’s Dispatch webpage, numerous options exist for providing the Police Station Reception service dispatchers provide.  Obviously if we keep dispatching services in-house we do not have to change how we service the small amount of walk-in traffic the Station sees.  

We have identified the choices that are before us.  It is now time to make decisions to ensure we continue to provide top-notch dispatch services for our public safety operations.  The public forum on the 14th of September provides another opportunity for residents to learn more about the choices we have and to express your opinion about which choice you would prefer.