To the Editor,

More than once, if you’ve been reading the Cricket, or attending various Town Board meetings, you've noticed that Town Administrator, Mr. Federspiel, or Town Planner, Ms. Brown, often make statements such as: “The Master Plan recommended…(this)".  Or, “The Master Plan recommended…(that)".  For example, at the Special Town Meeting (Nov. 13 ‘21) the Master Plan was used to endorse market-rate housing at the DPW site, as if that added extra authority to the concept. 

I imagine, that for many residents, this thing called a "Master Plan” is somewhat obscure.  Maybe you should know what it contains, because from my observation, particularly in the past year, frequent misrepresentations of the Master Plan’s result have been used to promote various out-of-scale housing initiatives, e.g., 40B, 40R, 40A, as if these products represent what residents who took the survey identified as MOST important to the future of our Town. 

They do not.

First of all, it is important to note, the 2000 Master Plan, was done in consultation with our then Town Planner, Jon Witten, well-credentialed in land use law, land use planning, and natural resource protection. (Horsely Witten Consultants, is a full-service civil engineering and environmental consulting firm).  The 2020 Master Plan was done in conjunction with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), an outreach marketing arm of Gov. Baker’s ambitious goals for solving the State’s housing crisis, whose basic agenda is “more is better”.  So, while there is little difference in the raw data (i.e., what has remained important to residents in the last 20 years), the latest Master Plan is scripted to exaggerate housing data, rather than all the priorities that come before it.

But, you be the judge.  Here is the comparison of the two Master Plan data sets:

2000 Master Plan Priorities

2020 Master Plan Priorities

1. Preserve Green Spaces & Limit Growth

2. Harbor, Beaches & Coast

3. Schools

4. Maintenance & Infrastructure

5. Taxes & Fees

6. Historic Character 

7. Water Quality

8. Traffic          

9. Affordable Housing        

10. Limited Commercial District (LCD)     

1. Maintenance & Infrastructure

2. Open Space & Natural Resources

3. School System

4. Fiscally Responsible Government

5. Inclusive, Supportive Community

6. Managed Growth

7. Strong Local Economy 

8. Recreation Facilities

9. Environmental Sustainability/Climate Resiliency

10. Transportation

11. Housing Options

 

There is a great deal of consistency in these two sets of data.  To be sure, the undesirable Shingle Hill-40B project, coming after the Master Plan survey, has now focused us on the woeful job done over past years meeting our affordable housing requirements.  But, in general, housing density, and diversity of housing, either downtown or in the LCD, received minimal support from residents who responded to either survey.  Has our consciousness been raised since?  Yes.  Can we ignore the other data?  No.

Why should you care?  Why is this clarification important?  Two reasons:

  1. If Town officials continue to misrepresent our Master Plan data to favor the State's interest in saturating communities served by the MBTA with multi-family housing complexes, and with relaxed zoning by-laws that allow development “By Right” as opposed to by "Special Permit", we will have a free-for-all for crowding and consumption of our remaining green space.
  2. We have even “bigger fish to fry”!  In short, the sea is likely to consume a significant portion of downtown Manchester.  Our drinking water is under constant contamination and capacity threat, with frequent pipe breaks.  Where is the mobilization of effort, tax dollars, and leadership to ensure that the ACTUAL priorities residents identified get the focus they deserve before it’s too late?

Maybe you should ask.

Sheila Hill

Manchester