Downtown Revitalization: Residents invited to ULI session on May 9th (Updated)

by beth on May 2, 2018

Post image for Downtown Revitalization: Residents invited to ULI session on May 9th (Updated)

Above: Last year, the EDC surveyed residents on their vision for Downtown. Experts coming in to Town next week will look to those results and interviews with business leaders, officials, and residents to evaluate opportunities and challenges for revitalizing the village. (image cropped from past EDC & Town communications)

The Economic Development Committee is following through on the next phase of its plan to revitalize downtown Southborough.

The EDC is seeking advice from the Urban Land Institute on what needs to be done. They expect ULI to report on priorities, visions, and challenges for the Downtown Business Village. As part of that effort, they are hosting sessions for the experts to interview key stakeholder groups on May 9th.

That evening, there will be a public session that all residents can take part in. It’s one of multiple efforts by EDC over the past year to collect feedback on what the community wants to see downtown.

The public event will be held in the Putnam Performing Arts Building, Taft Hall at 6:30 pm. (Click here for a map.)

You can learn more from the EDC announcement below:

Urban Land Institute Assisting with Southborough Downtown Revitalization Effort

The Southborough Economic Development Committee (EDC) is pleased to announce that it is partnering with the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Boston on its ongoing downtown revitalization effort. On May 9, the EDC will host a day-long technical assistance session with ULI experts, residents, business leaders, and elected and appointed officials. Through this event, the EDC seeks to advance a vision for downtown expressed by residents and recommended in the Town’s 2008 Master Plan. Residents are encouraged to attend the public portion of the ULI session, scheduled for May 9, 2018, 6:30 pm, Saint Mark’s School, 25 Marlboro Road Southborough.

ULI has long been recognized as one of the world’s most respected sources of objective information on planning, growth, and development. Southborough is partnering with ULI Boston through the Institute’s Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) program, which brings interdisciplinary teams of senior local professionals to municipalities to take a comprehensive look the development process and formulate realistic options to move projects forward.

When the ULI team visits Southborough on May 9, they will tour the Downtown, review background materials, interview representatives of the residential and business communities, and prepare findings. The team will examine three questions:

  • What planning and/or zoning changes and design features will encourage and allow for small-scale business growth on privately-owned parcels that will compliment residential, local amenities desired by residents; such as (non-chain) locally owned restaurants and coffee shops, and boutique retail and shopping opportunities.
  • Will the Town need to consider infrastructure capacity accommodations, including, but not limited to, collective wastewater treatment option to serve the Downtown businesses for expanded growth? If so, what are the septic infrastructure options for such systems and the associated funding sources to plan, design and build (are there public or private grant opportunities)?
  • How should the Town plan, design and fund (promote and execute) the residents’ desire for enhanced trail and recreational connectivity, and improved “public spaces” within the Business Village District of Main Street.

The ULI session builds on ongoing work by the EDC. In fall of 2017, the EDC surveyed Southborough residents about their preferences and visions for Downtown. A robust outreach effort garnered 427 responses. Overwhelmingly, the survey results indicated that Southborough residents and businesses care about the Downtown and want to see improvements including more restaurants and retail, public spaces, connectivity, and attention to aesthetics and wayfinding (full survey results here). In late 2017, the EDC convened a public workshop to discuss survey findings and implications. At this event, participants assessed Downtown investment opportunities and challenges, zoning, infrastructure, and beautification/ connectivity. In March 2018, the EDC convened a meeting of Downtown business owners to discuss such topics from a business perspective. The May 9, 2018 ULI TAP session is designed to address the priorities, visions, and challenges identified through the course of these events and efforts.

About the Southborough EDC: The EDC is a permanent committee appointed by the Board of Selectmen. The mission of the EDC is to stabilize residential taxes through the growth of the Town’s commercial and industrial tax base while preserving the character and charm of Southborough. The EDC was established to expand and strengthen the local economy, promote job creation, and enhance the Town’s quality of life through prosperous, balanced and sustainable economic development.

For more information about the Economic Development Committee and its efforts contact Dominique DuTremble, Interim EDC Coordinator, ddutremble@southboroughma.com or (508) 485-0710, ext 3011.

Updated (5/3/18 1:16 pm): I reached out to get the specific location of the event at St. Mark’s – Putnam Performing Arts Building, Taft Hall at 6:30 pm. (Click here for a map.)

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Concerned Voter May 3, 2018 at 7:45 AM

This is public town business being held in a private setting, excluding the public. How did this event come to be held at St. Marks and not at a town property in open meeting for the public – it’s our public town business, for goodness sake. The public is “invited” to the public “portion” of the meeting.

Make no mistake, while a fine organization, ULI is an organization composed primarily of fee-based professionals, such as bankers, brokers, developers, architects, etc.
Nice to have their input. However, this “Downtown Initiative” is starting to have the feel of a pre-determined outcome. Starting with the “survey,” a loaded question is asked, “what should be done about downtown?”

Just because a few hundred people in a town of 10,000 respond, does NOT mean that that response is representative of the town.

How about “not much!” for an answer.

The reason many of us live in this town is due to its small town feel and rural bucolic setting.

One can very much expect a zoning and density change “suggestion” coming from this group – and the EDC will be off and running.

Not everything that comes out of the “committee” process should be acted upon or done. However, this is starting to feel like a roll out without meaningful public participation (many of whom have the qualifications or more to lead and/or participate in the ULI sessions directly and do live here and pay taxes).

The caution to the public is this: the backwards perspective, i.e. the roadway does not accommodate more traffic – even with widening; and changing the fundamental look and feel of the downtown, maybe ruining it. Have you ever tried to get through downtown during daylight hours at peak traffic hours? The lines go down through downtown all the way to Falconi’s gas station during holiday times – this is without any density change.

One of the best questions posed by the public at Town Meeting was met with unwelcoming hostility: the question pertained to the Public Safety complex and emergency vehicle access at peak traffic hours, i.e. the traffic can back up from the lights to Route 9 to the south – and pure logic: how do the vehicles get back to the complex? Since the complex came from a mostly amateur but well meaning committee (whose original committee chair quit), of course this basic question and logic is unaddressed – there is NO road widening or study done beforehand to see if road widening was / is needed.

Backwards?

Downtown areas are delicate mixes and ours needs little “fixing.” To those who want some major density change, move to Framingham or Marlborough. Not interested in having the EDC do what has been done to those communities in terms of density increases. One does not have to travel very far to see a good example of zoning failure and roadways beyond their capacity: try driving to Westborough center after 3pm on MOST weekdays.

Is the “public” missing from this “public service?” Memo to EDC: what are you doing holding a closed door session on private property on TOWN BUSINESS. STOP, please. This is public town business that should be held on town property, welcoming the public in open public meeting, in the spirit of open meeting law.

And what about potential conflicts of interest?

Not interested in a Marlborough or Framingham look or feel — starting with the six inch curbing. This sure feels like “master planning” without the public.
Thanks

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2 Julie Connelly May 3, 2018 at 12:09 PM

Concerned Resident:

I am the Vice Chair of the EDC and have been involved with this Downtown Initiative since it’s inception almost a year ago. When we started discussing this initiative, our two primary focal points were (1) public participation, and (2) transparency. This has been the cornerstone of our efforts. We are volunteer residents who love and serve Southborough. We have no interest with this initiative other than effectuating the desires of Southborough residents.

We started with the survey to understand what residents wanted. We were pleased to receive 427 responses, a statistically strong response rate. The results were overwhelmingly in favor of additional businesses and amenities, along with aesthetic and other improvements to make it easier to get to and spend time in the Downtown, and more options to bring people together and foster a sense of community. The full results are on our website at southboroughedc.com (and were also thoroughly covered by Beth here).

We continued to prioritize community involvement and transparency by hosting two separate public meetings in October and November, where we discussed the survey results, continued to solicit public feedback, and began to discuss barriers to implementing the results.

The ULI visit is a continuation of our efforts to understand the desires of the Town’s residents and take the first step to put together a plan to present to the Town. The ULI Visit includes (1) a meet and greet from 8:00 – 8:30, where members of the public are welcome; (2) a tour of Downtown; (3) two interview panel sessions where ULI will meet with Downtown residents and business owners; (4) a closed ULI work session; and (5) a public forum to present the framework of ULI’s assessment from the information gathered during the visit. The interview sessions are intentionally closed to allow Downtown residents and business owners to speak freely (public officials, including EDC members, are excluded from these sessions). So these “closed” sessions actually are intended to promote the unfettered discussion from those who will be most closely affected by changes to our Downtown. The work session is closed to the public (including EDC and other town officials) and is strictly a work session for ULI, so I don’t believe it presents a transparency issue.

The St. Mark’s location was chosen because, after exploration of all potential options, it was the best space to accommodate the different sessions being held by the visit. It in no manner was done to privatize the event or discourage community involvement. In fact, we are using every means available to promote and encourage attendance and participation.

Concerned Resident, if you are a resident of the Downtown, I invite you to reach out to me directly and I would be happy to sign you up for the interview session with ULI to ensure your concerns are heard. Otherwise, please join us for either the meet and greet session in the morning, and/or the public forum in the evening. The desires and concerns of our residents is the whole point of this effort, and I am happy to answer any questions or concerns.

Lastly, any initiatives going forward will have to be approved by Town Meeting. This cannot and will not be done under the radar, and we will continue to operate under our guiding tenets of transparency and public participation.

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3 beth May 7, 2018 at 9:29 AM

Since you were feeling excluded, you may be happy to know that there is an opportunity for more resident involvement.

Initially, the EDC reached out to residents living downtown or near to invite them to be part of a panel that ULI is interviewing. There are a couple of seats still open, so they have extended the invitation to any interested residents – first come, first served. Click here to learn more.

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4 Louise Barron May 3, 2018 at 10:12 AM

“Concerned Citizen” is correct. The small survey EDC collected IS NOT representative of the entire town. The towns mentioned in this piece have become gauntlets trying to maneuver through them in traffic. We are changing rapidly with projects here in Sobo. Let’s be very careful about changes, as we have enough on our plates now. Leave downtown small, manageable, and respect the feeling of this bucolic little town.

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5 Julie Connelly May 3, 2018 at 1:42 PM

While we may not have captured every single resident with our survey, it was not for lack of effort or desire to hear those voices. I encourage you to view the responses at southboroughedc.com. As an example, over 90% of respondents were in favor of additional restaurants or coffee shops Downtown, and 67% favored additional retail. By contrast, fewer than 6% claimed they wanted no changes to the business mix. Even when accounting for sample size of 427 (which, by the way, is larger than the average attendance at Town Meeting), these results are strong.

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6 Concerned Voter May 3, 2018 at 6:48 PM

With all due respect, it is duly noted that efforts have been made. However, you are not listening:

Many individuals may not have desired to participate in a survey that starts with a loaded question . . . “what needs to be done. . .”

This is still public town business, period. Closed sessions on private property is not exactly welcoming to the public. Feels like an afterthought. What does the public do in between the “meet and greet” and the closed sessions — go get coffee? No consistency here.

You tout ULI with a bit of apparent overselling. Having participated in many ULI events, I can tell you in no uncertain terms, it is a fine organization, but it composed of FEE BASED real estate professionals, including attorneys, architects, bankers, engineers etc. It is a bit like inviting the fox into the hen house. It’s not like they are going to come up with anything except a likely zoning and density change.

And the one thing they do NOT offer is on the ground, practical experience of the actual citizens / taxpayers sitting in S.B. traffic. and how those traffic patterns work — especially at peak hours and holiday periods, when you actually cannot get through downtown. Last Thanksgiving I went through MARLBOROUGH to bypass the center because the volume exceeded capacity in a huge way. And anyone might contemplate ADDING (??) density and more traffic volume to this situation? There are only a few east-west roadways and this one MUST remain passable. For a good example of failure, go to Westborough.

Just don’t agree at all with the loaded question, the un-public aspects of this event, the potential for conflicts of interest (unlikely to stop anyone who likes to try to dance on the head of a pin anyway), and the, SORRY, likely predictable “suggestions” that ULI is going to come up with: you heard it here first ! — zoning / FAR / density changes!

Just suggestions: Hold your meeting in a public town building. Have all sessions — all of them — open to the public. Monitor yourselves and hold yourselves accountable to the public with transparency for potential conflicts of interest — now and moving forward. Evaluate traffic and infrastructure situations realistically and first — not backwards. And if the public says STOP, do not change the small town feel of our downtown, then STOP. I disagree thoroughly with your “moribund” adjective. It is a quaint, lovely downtown with a huge capacity to be ruined — turned into Westborough or Marlborough. For goodness sake, if you want to turn S.B. into Framingham, W.B., or Marlborough — just move to those towns.

Thanks, but no thanks!

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7 Rob May 4, 2018 at 7:57 AM

Clinging onto the past will only ensure that you get left behind…. exactly what has happened to the downtown area. We all would be better off accepting that things are changing all around us and make decisions to guide that change in a way that is good for the town going forward. Decisions based on fear, of change in this case, are weak minded choices.

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8 Concerned Voter May 4, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Not it at all.

Not about clinging to the past. It’s about making improvements, if and as needed, based on reality first, especially with regard to the necessary and vital flow of traffic (both ways) due to the fact that there are only a few east-west roadways. Main Street (Route 30), Route 9, and I-90 are the links to points east and west. That’s it. Cannot believe anyone would conceive of adding more traffic to an already overloaded roadway, but so be it — stupid is as stupid does. Volume is volume — and increasing density will add volume and the inability of flow, increased wait times, and increased standing emissions. Go sit in Westborough traffic if you are not convinced. Because that’s what is going to happen. Thanks.

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9 Kelly Roney May 3, 2018 at 2:42 PM

Southborough does not have a small town feel. It has a bedroom community feel.

The “downtown” is moribund, not a thriving commercial center with many profitable and helpful businesses. Instead, it has a few anchor stores. It could be so much more – and the existing businesses would reap the gains of more customers. But if all you care about is traffic, you don’t want that.

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10 Louise Barron May 3, 2018 at 4:22 PM

Darn right. We don’t need more traffic. We’re spending $$$$$ to expand Main St. as it is, because of the traffic problems. Sadly, there is a cancer here, growing. It isn’t called progress. It is a perception that we here in Sobo, must look identical to other towns. That having our own identity, is no longer appreciated. What we need, is to be put in remission, so that we can take a rest from the projects that may in the end represent an over saturated downtown business blight environment.

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11 David Parry May 5, 2018 at 12:51 PM

Well, one thing we can be guaranteed, is more traffic. A whole lot more. Thanks to the State funded, “Main Street Reconstruction Project”, beginning later this year. Just wait. After all the massive disruption to come, it is obvious that Rte 9 traffic will be diverted to take this future “improved”, alternative route, of Rte 30 Main St, by using driving “apps”.

#2. We are going to have smooth asphalt, (obviously needed because of zero repairs in years), but unfortunately more of it (asphalt), and the “streetscape” will be less attractive, because (a) the huge pin oak trees, on the south side, are being cut down, to make way for (b) huge new utility poles and cables, which will be moved 5 feet closer to historic houses.

Yes, our Selectmen have missed that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to get the overhead utilities removed, (just through a shorter portion of our historic center, from Fay School entry drive, to the railroad) …. by using the contrived excuse , that the utility companies don’t want to do it, when the truth is that the Town Administrator sent an official letter to the utilities saying the Selectmen and “Town” didn’t want the poles removed. (That letter is in the file).

Further, the road engineers never did a serious study, so we never had a reliable cost. But most egregeous of all, the “Main St Working Group” was deliberately NOT tasked, by Selectmen, with exploring this option, of pole removal, so this expert Group was quite literally forbidden to consider the option . Note that the Group otherwise did excellent work, to “tame” the scale of ugly road work.

Selectmen (especially Selectmen Shea) repeatedly promised to “take pole removal to Town Meeting” …. But they were false promises. That opportunity is now gone

As to the “downtown” block, this has been completely ignored for years …. Until this recent, praiseworthy effort by the Economic Development Committee, to explore future options.

It is high time. In fact, it is a pity it wasn’t done in parallel with road planning. Why is that? WHY was it not done earlier? …. Because it was feared by Selectmen and DPW, that it would potentially detract from their focus on ONE goal ….. of grabbing “free” state road money.

God forbid, that anything else should be allowed to confuse the main issue, of traffic, by conceiving the task more broadly, as a task of enhancing our town center, making it more attractive, as well as functioning as a real “center”….. but keeping it’s small, village scale.

I thank the Econ Dev Committee for their recent efforts. Let’s hope something useful comes out of it, including identifying new opportunities.

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12 Marcel Proust May 6, 2018 at 11:38 PM

According to the town’s website, the mandate of the EDC is: “to assist the Town in maintaining and enhancing a prosperous and sustainable economy.” Does this mean bringing in more businesses for our tax base even if they wreck the way the downtown looks?

Are we supposed to hand over control of downtown’s future to the ULI, who doesn’t even live here?

According to their website, ULI is a group of real estate interests: “The goaL of ULi’s Advisory Services Pro gram is to bring the finest expertise in the real estate field to bear on complex land use planning and development projects, programs, and policies.”

Why is this meeting being held at St. Mark’s?

Why does this feel like the residents are being told they are being included but in fact are being shut out of the decision making processes? Are we supposed to be overjoyed that ULI is soliciting our opinion and then going into closed session?

I agree with Concerned Citizen, that there’s no reason to shut residents out of any of this.

If we allow EDC and ULI to procede without checks, we will have a downtown that looks like Northboro’s main street or Westboro’s Lyman St., which are eyesores. Those “economically developed” areas look like strip malls on steroids.

No thanks.

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13 David Parry May 7, 2018 at 11:33 AM

I am not sure why bringing in more small businesses will necessarily “wreck the way the downtown looks”.

Of course it could. But we can, and should, insist (through zoning and design controls) that anything new must done sensitively, keeping the small scale, and charcter, and “feel” of the area, and preserving the genuinely historic buildings .

For instance the Knights Of Columbus building is one of the oldest buildings in town, dating from the 1700′. But it is underused.

Many other buildings and sites are vacant …Ted’s Towing moved out, which could be considered a positive because that type of use is not appropriate in a village center. But the vacant building and land is available. So is the corner lot, still awaiting a new use, after almost 30 years vacant and unmaintained.

Additionally, there is no connection to the biggest business in downtown, which is Southborough Medical. Thete is not even a sidewalk. The vacant land opposite Southborough Medical could bring more patrons to the potential businesses.

We could have so much more, with greater variety of activities , while keeping small scale and enhancing physical attrativeness … And improving the potential profitability of small businesses.

And so forth. …. Why couldn’t we aim for a very small scale version of Stockbridge ?

Consider what the area could be be. What a tragic loss we suffered, when the Southborough Arms burned down in the 1970’s. It was a historic hotel, with great character provided by long porches and dormer windows. It was one of the most popular “watering holes” between Boston and Worcester. Now we have the 11 Main office or “professional” building, which provides useful activities and services. While it has far less character, and uses brick instead of traditional clapboard siding , it does at least give a nod to design features like front porches and dormer windows.

I am hopeful the the ULI experts can give us a series of recommendations we can consider.

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14 Southviller May 7, 2018 at 9:23 AM

Respectfully to all who seem to oppose any revitalization of our downtown:

Many of you come from a conservative viewpoint on pretty much any issue – as do I – and seem to have a well-intentioned sense of pride on living in Southborough – as do I. I see this from being a frequent visitor of this blog.

What confuses me is why this strong town pride and conservative viewpoint (including the belief in economic freedom, less oversight, etc…), would make you want to exclude Southborough from gaining any new business and excitement in a downtown area that is obviously under-utilized? Outside of Vin Bin and Hola eateries, and the Bank, we do ZERO of our business in Southborough. If we had options for commerce and and the ability to patron useful in-town businesses, we would do ALL of our business here.

I don’t want downtown Westborough, or Marlborough, but that does not mean we demonize a couple nice spots. God help the poor family who has a dream of opening a spot downtown, hopefully we everyone treat them fairly…

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15 Concerned Voter May 7, 2018 at 11:28 AM

Not it at all.

No one is demonizing anything.

However, urging a realistic examination of adding traffic to an already congested situation is just simple common sense.

Also, this entire process should be public. It is public town business. No transparency here. Potential for conflicts of interest is ludicrous.

Can Advisory or someone please monitor this please?
Thanks

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