Acton Will be Changing: What Can We Do?

It's easy to find lots to complain about in Acton. My list includes: too much traffic and few realistic alternatives to car travel, taxes too high, no walkable town center, no outdoor cafes, the overwhelming focus on the schools, the loss of historical buildings and landscapes, and all those people who just complain about Acton.

Is your list similar? Despite all these complaints, more people keep moving here than move out, so we are still growing. Developers keep finding a way to make a living developing land by building new houses, and thus Acton keeps changing. Mostly it seems like none of the things I like to complain about will get any better under these current trends, and some will get worse. What can we do?

The comprehensive community planning process is a periodic attempt to take stock of what's important to protect and promote in Acton, and find ways to do that. It can be an exercise in going through the motions, or it can help focus the town's energies on what's valuable, and lay out a way to get there. The Acton 2020 committtee, the latest incarnation of a community plan committee, is right at the point of choosing and charting out directions for Acton over the next 10-20 years, and it could use your help to keep it focused and real.

On June 23, 6:30 - 9:30 PM, at Town Hall, the committee will present three possible and plausible future directions for Acton, and will ask those in attendance to consider the pros and cons of each direction, and see if general agreement can be found on how to proceed. That will set in motion the detailed research and planning that the committee and its consultants will need to do over the Summer and in to the Fall to create a draft master plan, including implementation details, priorities, and costing information, for the town's residents, boards and committees to review.

Builidng up to this, the committee has been considering a series of burning issues. This conversation continues at our blog, blog.acton2020.info. Please come by and read the posts and comments, add your own comments, and consider writing a post about a burning issue in Acton that you care about. There's also a lot of information about these issues that was gathered for a series of three public meetings we held in March. You can find out more about these at the Acton 2020 website: economic development,traffic and housing.

Here is a short description of three alternatives for Acton to be considered on June 23:

ALTERNATIVE 1 can be summarized as "Disperse Growth" (by extending current trends and continuing our present planning policies)

This alternative would continue the use of cluster zoning to protect open space. When a cluster development happens, the developer must preserve land around the development. It would encourage small scale commercial development, and allow us to continue our current practice of protecting open space as it becomes available, when we can afford it.

ALTERNATIVE 2 can be summarized as "Limit Growth" (by limiting residential growth, expanding commercial growth, and protecting more open space)

This alternative would focus on the carrots and sticks that have worked in other towns to turn the attention of developers from residential development to commercial development, specifically employment-oriented businesses in existing commercial areas. Some of the extra town resources that would be generated by having less residential growth amd more commercial growth would be used for land protection efforts.

ALTERNATIVE 3 can be summarized as "Concentrate Growth" (by guiding growth to some very small number of key town centers).

This alternative would focus on directing residential growth to mixed use infill and redevelopment in a few selected areas such as, for example, West Acton, South Acton, Kelly's Corner or some combination. It would seek to adjust new and existing development to fit village character, and it would emphasizing walking, biking and public
transportation.

I've only touched on the surface of these alternatives here. If one seems like a good direction to you, except that you have specific questions or concerns or want to make specific adjustments, the workshop on the 23rd will also include time and means to pick and choose aspects of each plan to create a hybrid. There's also specific choices within each alternative that we will need to discuss.

When we have more draft materials, they'll be posted on the acton2020.info website. We will also be creating more ways for those of you who want to be involved, but can't make the meeting on the 23rd - stay tuned to our website and blog for details.

The Acton Forum has gathered together a lot of people who care about Acton's future, and are involved in advocating for better choices. That's why I'm writing here. Come join us, at our blog, at our public meetings (especially June 23rd), at our website, or just contact me or the committee.

-Jim, wearing his "Acton 2020 Committee" hat