To the Editor,
I’m writing today to encourage all Manchester voters to not only go to the polls on May 18 but to be informed before you get there. Far too often, in my opinion, Town Elections are a ho-hum, non-competitive affair, and even when we do have a competitive race, it seems voters rely on name-recognition or Facebook banter to “check a box”. This year, we have a very real election race with several well-qualified candidates vying for two open Planning Board seats. This comes at a time when Planning and Land Use issues have never been more important or more visible.
The Planning Board is continuing the important and difficult work to update the Town’s By-Laws that will guide future development. This work is guided by the 2019 Master Plan, which includes the Community Vision, Guiding Principles, and Specific Recommendations. For those unfamiliar, it is important to note that this Comprehensive Master Plan is the result of several years of citizen-led work and extensive outreach to a broad and diverse group of stakeholders, incorporating several contributing professional studies and reports, as well as the work of many of our own talented residents lending their professional expertise in planning, architecture, landscape architecture, finance, engineering and construction, environmental experts and more. I encourage everyone to review the Master Plan posted on the Town of Manchester website.
From the Master Plan, there were two issues that rose to the top as priority recommendations with broad support from the Community: Increasing Town Revenue and Supporting Diverse Housing Options. These two issues remain top priorities for not only the Planning Board, as we work through Zoning Recodification and studying potential zoning changes in the Limited Commercial District (LCD), but also nearly every Town Board and Committee involved in related issues (Board of Selectmen, finance Committee, Manchester Affordable Housing Trust, Conservation Commission, Council on Aging, etc.).
Planning is a complex web of related issues that requires diligent and thoughtful work of many citizens and experts alike – work that requires everyone involved to work together toward a reasonable and balanced solution. This work can be a delicate balancing act – how do we allow or encourage growth to meet our needs while ensuring we protect the Community Character we cherish? How do we balance the desires of neighbors while protecting the rights of property owners?
I believe this work is best carried out by a combination of our own resident experts in related fields, assisted by technical professionals, and most importantly, the robust participation of a broad representation of the community.
Too often, town boards and committees only see a large audience when residents are angry about an issue close to them, or when a motivated group with a specific agenda is vocal and persistent. It is so very important that we have as much participation as possible; this is the only way your voice can be heard and it is the only way to ensure decisions represent the entire community, not just a vocal minority. I encourage everyone to visit the Manchester Cricket to review the candidates and to review the recorded Candidate’s Forum, discuss with your friends and neighbors, and most importantly, get out and vote on May 18!
Gary L Russell, AICP, Manchester