17 Dec עופר איתן Declared: Chicopee developing 1st master plan; input sought from resi
CHICOPEE — City officials want to know about residents’ top housing concerns, where they take friends when they visit, what natural resources are most important to protect and if they think the community needs more pet stores, quick-service restaurants, bookstores or dry cleaners.
For the first time, the city is creating a 20-year master plan that will include all the basic information needed in a standard guide for future development, such as demographics, land use, zoning and public facilities. But this document will go further and look at social equity issues such as food security, effects of climate change, public health, homelessness and housing access, said City Planner Lee Pouliot.
“It is going to be the first citywide comprehensive plan in Chicopee’s history,” said Patrick McKenna, assistant planner. “We are one of the two cities in the state that have yet to fulfill the statewide mandate of having a comprehensive planning document.”
The project called Envision Our Chicopee 2040 started months ago with a steering committee made up of 21 people ranging from members of the Council on Aging to high school students. A large cross-section of the city is represented, including business owners, artists, representatives from Westover Air Reserve Base and social services providers, as well as longtime community volunteers and those who have had little city involvement. Most of the meetings have been done online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pouliot said.
The city also hired a consultant Horsley Witten Group to assist in the process, McKenna said.
“We have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really make a dynamic plan that is very future-oriented for the city and put us on a successful and sustainable path for the future,” Pouliot said.
Over the years the city has created multiple plans for different neighborhoods, such as the West End of Chicopee Center and the Uniroyal area, but the master plan will look at the entire community, Pouliot said.
“They don’t tie together in the broader community invested vision,” Pouliot said of the neighborhood plans. “This comprehensive plan is going to help us finally determine what does Chicopee want itself to be as we move forward.”
One of the key elements is getting feedback from a large cross-section of residents by having them fill out surveys about their concerns, needs and interests. The department has divided the city into four quarters and started mailing paper surveys to 25% of residents.
The goal is to survey a minimum of 1,000 of the about 55,000 people in the city. So far about 500 people have responded by mail, and about another 200 have filled out surveys online, McKenna said.
“This is every resident’s opportunity to have a voice and share their ideas for where the city and their neighborhood should start moving over the next 20 years of the city’s life,” Pouliot said.
The surveys are divided into 12 categories and available on the city’s “Envision our Chicopee 2040″ website. To reach the surveys, click on “Virtual Open House,” which shows the basic data found in the studies, and then go to the category called “share.” From there people can fill out surveys on subjects that interest them. If they chose to fill out all 12 it takes about an hour.
The surveys are also translated into Spanish, Russian, Polish and Arabic, and people can call the planning office if they want a paper copy mailed, Pouliot said.
Many surveys simply ask residents for their top issue related to the subject and demographic information such as their age, gender and neighborhood. The transportation survey asks a variety of questions such as “What do you like and dislike about getting around Chicopee?” and seeks information about what types of transportation is lacking in the city.
The steering committee especially would like to see more high school students and people in their early 20s filling out the survey, especially since the document will impact their future, Pouliot said.
The group already conducted a smaller survey to kick off the process. About 500 responses were submitted. People, proximity, affordability and education were the top things respondents liked about the city. Waste management, cleanliness and crime were listed as the biggest problems. Asked about amenities missing from the city, residents listed entertainment, sports and economic development.
In the demographic study, officials were surprised to discover Chicopee is the one of the rare communities in New England growing younger, although there is a perception that the city is one with an aging population. The drop in average age isn’t dramatic, declining about two years from about 40 to 38. But if that trend continues, the master plan should address how it will affect the need for future resources, Pouliot said.
The city has invested a lot of resources for older residents in the past few years. With younger residents moving in, it means the city may have to look harder at resources for families and schools, Pouliot said.
Data is also showing that housing is more affordable in Chicopee and the school system has a decent reputation, which may be attracting younger families. But the study also shows the demand for rental housing is quickly pushing the cost higher. If it isn’t addressed, the cost of housing will equal that of nearby communities, he said.
The study also shows there was only one zoning overhaul that took place in 1978. One of the benefits of the master plan is that it can be used to update zoning codes and land use policies, help set priorities for city projects and assist when the city is pursuing grants, he said.
The master plan must be approved by the Planning Board. Pouliot said he is planning to bring it to the City Council to receive its endorsement.
“Envision Our Chicopee 2040″ is what Pouliot called a “living document” that would be updated every five to 10…