PITTSFIELD -- After nearly three years of public input and review, regional planners are poised to adopt a new master plan intended to improve the quality of life across the Berkshires.
The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is less than a month away from voting on a Sustainable Berkshires blueprint to help the local communities deal with eight key areas: Economic development, climate and energy, transportation, conservation and recreation, infrastructure, housing and neighborhoods, land use, food and agriculture.
The BRPC expects to act on the plan at its March 20 meeting, following a public hearing March 6 at the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield. The comprehensive proposal can be found online at www.SustainableBerkshires.com
Agency Executive Director Nathaniel Karns says the document will replace the one the commission -- represented by all 32 Berkshire cities and town -- adopted more than a decade ago.
"It's really a guidance document for [BRPC] and hopefully guidance for Berkshire communities," Karns said at the commission's last review of the plan.
Once in place, the regional master plan will make the Berkshires eligible for federal grants to implement it and act as a conduit toward possibly receiving state grants, BRPC officials have said.
The BRPC began developing the Sustainable Berkshires plan in July 2011, thanks to a $590,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The BRPC has held numerous workshops and public input sessions in crafting what is intended to be a planning guide for the private and public sector, according regional planners.
As the Berkshires population continually decreases -- the lowest level since 1940 -- Sustainable Berkshires addresses strategies needed to keep high school and college graduates from leaving the area.
"Half of our manufacturing workforce will retire in the next five years and we're not developing the skill set to fill those jobs," Karns noted.
BRPC member James Mullen, of New Marlborough, pointed to the need for jobs that can keep up with the cost of living.
"There's been a loss of jobs, especially those to support a family of four or six," he said.
While local school districts look to upgrade their vocational education offerings -- for example a revamped Taconic High School in Pittsfield -- that's just one approach to boosting the Berkshire economic picture.
"Our policies have to be more than just increasing education," said Roger Bolton, of Williamstown. The commission member noted more affordable housing will play a role in keeping or attracting a younger workforce.
BRPC officials also view the county's natural beauty and cultural attractions as a major components to a Sustainable Berkshires along with upgrading roads, bridges, public water and sewer systems.
"We have plenty of capacity in our infrastructure," Karns said, "just a lot of infrastructure in need of repair."
To reach Dick Lindsay:
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If you go ...
n What: Public hearing on Sustainable Berkshires plan
n When: 5:30 p.m. March 6
n Where: Berkshire Athenaeum, 1 Wendell Ave., Pittsfield
n On the Web: www.SustainableBerkshire.com