STOCKBRIDGE — What's the point of holding two community meetings and creating a 44-page report, including charts and maps, outlining how a town with aging, shrinking population and a reduced tax base might cope with the future?
That was the question posed by several disgruntled members of the Stockbridge Visioning Committee at their meeting last week with the Select Board and members of the Planning Board.
The report prepared by the 14-member committee encountered a chilly reception by some at the session.
During a one-hour discussion seeking to create consensus on the next step, concerns arose among several Visioning Committee members that the report they produced following nearly a year of work might be consigned to the proverbial dust heap.
The main critique encountered by the committee members was that, despite participation at public meetings by at least 100 citizens, the views represented in the report did not represent the town's 1,632 registered voters.
The report advocated consideration of more diverse, affordable housing; a transportation plan to deal with the summertime influx of visitors and resulting travel congestion and parking shortages; enhanced retail and outdoor dining options downtown as well as streetscape and signage improvements; and completion of an Open Space and Recreation Plan.
The Visioning Project is "intended to provide a useful starting place for ongoing community action," the report concluded. It was prepared with help from the consultants hired by the town, Jennifer Goldson and Connie Kruger. Annual town meeting voters had approved $25,000 to fund the project.
Applications for state grants for strategic planning worth $100,000 could be pursued to continue the exploration, Selectman Stephen Shatz said.
But recently elected Selectman Don Chabon suggested applying the brakes.
"I'm very into having more community discussion before rushing headlong into these things," he said.
Planning Board Chairman Gary Pitney said members have not closely examined and discussed the committee's report.
Kate Fletcher, the board's vice chairwoman, suggested consideration of potential strategic or master planning next steps in mid-October, but Pitney predicted the board's workload might delay that discussion until November, December or January.
Fletcher emphasized that "we would like to do something different than what was done in the Visioning Report. We're certainly interested in the results and the input, but at this point, there needs to be something more comprehensive, reaching out to residents."
She said the Visioning Committee's public meetings were attended by 4 to 5 percent of town residents.
Shatz voiced concern about "whether we have the opportunity to go forward, on what basis, who's going to do it and will some of us be sitting here next year at this time having this same discussion, without any action having been taken."
And Visioning Committee member Christine Rasmussen questioned handing over follow-up discussion and action to the Planning Board, which she suggested "can be really difficult." She proposed a combined effort by board members and others in the community.
"In order for a strategic or master plan to work well, hopefully you can build consensus in the town," Visioning Committee member Terry Flynn said, adding that despite good intentions, the committee members were not broadly representative of the town.
"You might try to identify various groups in town, and not try to avoid contending groups," he said, "because only by having contending groups represented can you get past the contentiousness and then wind up with consensus."
He proposed expanding any future group without excluding Visioning Committee members. Otherwise, he said, "it would be starting from a position that would make consensus very difficult."
Visioning Committee member Duncan Pollock, a part-time resident, defended the "representative sample of the community" that was involved in the committee's public forums.
"You all are saying that I just wasted my valuable time being on this committee," he said. "I don't understand that; my feeling is that we have done our job, we made a very sincere effort to gather input on a host of topics that concern this town. It was a broad-brush look at what people would like to see in 20 years. I think our job is done and I'd be happy to see this report handed off to the Planning Board and let them do what they want."
"My hackles get up when I hear that our committee didn't do a good job, or that there's something wrong with our report," he added. "There seems to be a contentiousness in this town that has mystified me. I don't understand why we can't work together and move forward."
"I completely understand why the Visioning Committee would feel that their work's trashed," said Ruth Pearce, a new member of the Planning Board. "We sit here and say 'no, no, that's what we mean.' But there's been an awful lot of angst. I've watched the recordings of the Selectmen's meetings and they're not pretty. I'd like to apologize on behalf of the town."
"It's a lot of work, it's much easier to criticize than to compliment," she continued. "We tend to jump on the bandwagon when someone is negative and forget to say there are some really good things. Even if everything in that report goes out the window, the thing you've done is got the conversation started."
Shatz declared that "we've done our work, the purpose of this meeting was to talk about next steps and whether or not there was any interest in pursuing the process, not the content, that the Visioning Committee had presented to the Planning Board and the Selectmen. We're done, though. We did what we set out to do."
"There's no guarantee that anything will come about as a result of this," he added. "It's going to require some hard work and lots of community meetings to get there."
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.
On the Web ...
The Stockbridge Visioning Committee report is posted at townofstockbridge.com. Printed copies are available from Danielle Fillio at the town offices.
In their own words ...
"I know there's contention over the report and whether enough people attended, but in my experience, 100 people is an amazing turnout. It's disappointing but still amazing. I think there's going to be tons of opportunity if we pull people in to participate in the ongoing conversation that develops the plans. Some of the things in this Visioning Report may be tossed out or turned on their head or someone may say this isn't where the focus should be. We have to have a view of where the priorities are. Individual, ordinary people are not immersed in what it is that runs a town. If you do it by referendum, the focus may be diluted. I don't think we should be looking for 1,700 people to drive the bus. They won't do it and we'll end up all over the road."
— Ruth Pearce, Stockbridge Planning Board member
"Whatever happens next, you can all move forward without trashing our work as a committee. It's absolutely not necessary, you have what you need and I would appreciate not being told that the work that we did wasn't that important."
— Karen Marshall, Visioning Committee member
"It's really critical that we get a grant application in to the state, even if it's very broad-based, as to what we want to do, which would at least start to explore whether or not regionalization makes sense. We might decide after the work is done that we like this part, we don't like that part, but we need some real solid information going forward, and I hope as a result of this meeting that there's some consensus that it's going to be pursued."
— Christine Rasmussen, Visioning Committee member