Town charrette is chance to have say
New Ipswich was recently selected to take part in a two-day community planning session, or “charrette,” this fall. Now the question remains, what to make of that time?
The town of New Ipswich is in the same place the town of Rindge was in 2011, when they took on a charrette process of their own. Rindge narrowed their focus to a single issue to discuss — the development of the Route 119 and 202 intersection. The first task of the New Ipswich board is to determine which issue they will focus on — among the three options are looking at the fate of Building No. 2 or the former Central Elementary School, or seeking out a location for a new safety complex.
The only way to ensure high community participation — one of the key components of the charrette — is to have a specific goal. The Rindge charrette fell through the cracks after three years of work when the town at-large objected to the charrette’s inclusion in the town’s Master Plan, and had it removed in a resounding town-wide vote this March. In a recent interview, Rindge Select Board Chair Roberta Oeser said that there was nothing wrong with the charrette process itself. It only wants a broad base of participation in order for it to be effective, and prevent the kind of backlash that Rindge experienced. New Ipswich Select Board members did not seem confident they could gather broad-based participation when they decided to move forward with the process earlier this month.
A charrette is an opportunity for a larger part of the community to be directly involved in the future of a town. And it’s not as time consuming as devoting several years to being a member of a town board. If residents can find the time to take two days out of their schedule to sit down alongside town officials and put their ideas to paper, they can have an impact on the future of what New Ipswich might look like.
In the past several years, the town has told the Select Board through votes that they do not want Building No. 2 demolished on the town’s dime. Perhaps it’s time to sit down and tell the Select Board what the town does want to see with regard to that building. Last year, the Zoning Board turned down an application that would have put a Dollar General where Central School building now sits, and residents turned out in droves, concerned about the rural nature of the downtown village. Now is the time to bring forward some alternative ideas.
The charrette process in New Ipswich is planned for Sept. 19 and 20. The first challenge is making sure that the charrette focuses on the issue most important to the town. The second is making sure the outcome is one acceptable to the entire town, and not just a small subset. But the process only works if the people show up.