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Sturbridge seeks residents' input


New committees, focus groups address Master Plan


August 05, 2009
STURBRIDGE — If you have ideas about the future direction of Sturbridge, town leaders want to hear them.

Residents are needed to fill two committees and a number of focus groups to help the town complete its master plan and take inventory of Sturbridge's energy needs and expenditures.

The Planning Board, which received funding to update the 20-year-old Master Plan at a Town Meeting in February, is looking for 11 residents to serve on the Master Plan Steering Committee.

"Their role will be to oversee the entire plan," explained Town Planner Jean Bubon.

"We're looking for people with all backgrounds and all experience," Bubon continued. "You don't have to have served on a town committee or board, and likewise, if you just moved to town a month ago, you're as welcome to apply as someone who has lived here for 20 years."

The Planning Board is really pushing for a diverse representation on the Steering Committee to ensure differing views are represented while decisions are made.

Two members of the Planning Board will be participants on the Steering Committee as well, and although one has yet to be appointed, Planning Chairman Sandra Gibson-Quigley will head up the new committee as well, "to make sure there is a flow of communication between the Steering Committee and the Planning Board," according to Bubon.

Members of the Steering Committee will be required to attend 12 monthly meetings, as well as a second meeting for two to three months of that year.

Members of the committee will be selected by the Planning Board from the applicant pool, and officially appointed by Interim Town Administrator Michael Racicot.

"Each Steering Committee member will be assigned to a focus group," Bubon explained.

Each focus group will concentrate on one element of the Master Plan. Elements include community vision and goals and policies; land use; housing; economic development; natural, cultural and historic resources; open space and recreation; public services and facilities; transportation; energy and sustainability; and implementation.

Four to five citizen volunteers will also be needed for each focus group, which will take on a few months of work while the Steering Committee is concentrating on their particular element area.

"We'll try to get you assigned to an element where you have interest," said Bubon, explained that applicants will be asked to rank all of the elements in order of interest.

Brainstorming

Anyone who wishes to participate in the Master Planning process but cannot commit to an organized body can participate in visioning sessions, or brainstorming meetings, which Bubon said will be held in the fall.

One focus group in particular will be receiving some help from a newly formed town committee that is also in need of citizenry.

The Board of Selectmen on Monday voted to create the Energy Advisory Committee, which is charged with identifying strategies and funding partnerships that would lower resident and municipal energy expenses and reduce Sturbridge's overall greenhouse gas emission.

"One of the element areas of the Master Plan is actually energy," Bubon said. "So there certainly would be some overlap."

"All of these things are sort of interlocked," echoed Selectman Ted Goodwin, who made the motion to establish the Energy Advisory Committee.

Goodwin said the primary role of the committee in its early months would be to gather information.

"The first phase in any group like this is analysis," Goodwin said. "Basically, how much energy are we using and what is the cost for each department? What type of energy: are we powering refrigerators or are we powering equipment for the management of our fleet? What buildings are costing us what?"

"Then they should figure out what the populace as a whole is using," he added.

Goodwin, like Bubon, said that while some experience with renewable energy would be helpful, anyone with an interest is eligible for the committee. Members of the Energy Advisory Committee will also be appointed by Racicot, with the selectmen's approval.

"You can get experience, you can learn, there's all sorts of training out there," Goodwin said. "Some of the best board members we've had in town are people who haven't come from the area of the board that they joined, they've just shown an ability to work, to work hard for the town and do the research that's necessary."

"It makes the town stronger when anybody comes forward and helps," he added.

Applications for the Master Plan Steering Committee and focus groups, as well as the Energy Advisory Committee (Town of Sturbridge Committee Application) may be downloaded from the "Forms and Permit Applications," section of the town Web site, www.town.sturbridge.ma.us.

The deadline for submission for the Master Plan Steering Committee is Friday, Aug. 21 in the Planning Department. Energy Advisory Committee applications may be returned to the Board of Selectmen/Town Administrator's office.

News staff writer Christopher Tanguay may be reached at (508) 909-4132, or by e-mail at ctanguay@stonebridgepress.com.

See Friday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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