MBTS Western Woods Update, Essex Housing Forum


Last week in Manchester, the Open Space and Recreation Committee hosted a public forum to provide an update and hear from residents on the project to create a 500-acre protected area informally known as the “Western Woods.”

The track covers interior lands around Chubb's Creek, one of Manchester four estuaries.  It runs along the interior wedge of woodlands to the west of Pine Street and Bridge Street past Jersey Lane to Brookwood School.  It’s known as the “old carriage trails,” and believed to be a historic road system for emergency fire response.  

Of the roughly 500 acres, 200 of them are owned by the town.  120 acres are owned by the Manchester Essex Conservation Trust and Essex County Greenbelt.  And the balance are widowed lots, cut off from access and part of a years-long town project to track down lot titles. Given the discovery that many are town-owned, the town is taking steps to preserve them as conservation and recreational lands.

The area is known to outdoor enthusiasts, trail runners and bikers, walkers and some hunters. 

The Carriage Trail creates a loop that is the heart of trail system.  There are few access points (Crooked Lane and Preston Place Road in Beverly), and Manchester Town Planner said there is a strong appetite for collaboration from abutting towns such with Wenham and Beverly.  There’s potential, she said, of extending the area beyond Manchester’s borders.

In 2018 the Master Plan ID’d this area as a space we’d want to consider for protection.  A study looked at development constraints and resource values.  Water supply, habitat, biodiversity, resiliency, and recreation all registered high in the study.  Also, with high development constraints (little-to-no frontage, and wetlands in the terrain), preserving the area just made sense.  Members of the committee said they look forward to progress on the project.

On Monday night in Essex, a public forum was held to explore the idea of creating an affordable housing trust charged with expanding moderate- and low-income housing in town.  

With local real estate values escalating, and Essex residents aging, the Essex Economic Development Committee and Planning Board have been working for the better part of two years to shape the town’s zoning and employer base to make Essex as financially sustainable and accessible as possible for everyone – from those just starting out in life to senior residents, and everyone in between.

Also, the town falls below the ten percent affordable housing threshold Massachusetts holds as a standard for all municipalities, which makes it vulnerable to development under the state’s 40B statute that incentivizes developers to create affordable housing, typically along with market rate housing, as long as they comply with state environmental and zoning regulations.  

Shelly Goehring of Massachusetts Housing Partnership told attendees of the forum that Essex is not alone in considering a housing trust.  Approximately a dozen communities have formed affordable housing trusts in the state since the beginning of COVID. 

Currently, there are 120 AFTs in Massachusetts.  By creating an affordable housing trust, Essex will be in a good position to create a plan for affordable housing beyond the subsidized housing property on Pickering Street operated by the Essex Housing Authority.  

Creating the trust requires passage by a vote at Town Meeting.  

If approved, Goehring said, Essex would have flexibility in how it operates, and how it’s funded.  Most towns rely almost exclusively on funding from the Community Preservation Committee (CPC), which is funded by a real estate tax surcharge and must, by law, spend a portion of its funds for affordable housing (along with historic preservation, open space and recreation).  

Essex has a CPC.  But funding may come from other, often creative sources.  

In Gloucester, the affordable housing trust is funded in part by short term rental surcharges.  In other towns, funding comes from grants, developers working on “friendly 40B” projects, surcharges on real estate transactions, even municipal bonds or surcharges on cannabis sales.

Finally, at last Monday’s Manchester Board Of Selectmen meeting, Town Clerk Dianne Bucco offered up an idea for streamlining beach sticker purchases by eliminating two stickers — resident and beach.  Her idea is that with a resident sticker, one can access town beach parking (Singing and White Beaches) and allow people to make the resident sticker purchase on the Town’s website.  This would have the added benefit of enabling online purchases.  Currently, beach stickers are made in person, at Town Hall, and cost $35 ($10 for seniors, 65+), and include two walk on passes with each sticker.  Resident stickers, which allows parking in residents-only areas, and are free. The Selectmen will make a decision at its next meeting.

Town Administrator Greg Federspiel said the Regional Dispatch feasibility study is underway and is looking to be completed on time sometime in February.  

The contract between the town and Black Earth Composting to move its operation to the site adjacent to the Dept. Of Public Works Transfer Station on upper Pine Street is nearly final.  current tow Facility.  Federspiel said the contract was “very close” to being ready to execute.  


essex housing authority, essex economic development committee, massachusetts housing partnership, of public works transfer station, community preservation committee, open space and recreation committee, dianne bucco, greg federspiel, bridge street, manchester board of selectmen, brookwood school