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Growth Study Committee aims to help handle population surge

by | Dec 11, 2019 | Featured, Featured Front Page

Public input sought as part of long-term planning effort

Growth Study committee members talk to residents during the Nov. 20 workshop at Hopkinton High School.
PHOTO/CHRISTINE STRICKLAND

As the town’s population grows, a new committee is working with residents to decide what Hopkinton should look like going forward.

The Growth Study Committee, a subcommittee of the Planning Board, held its first workshop Nov. 20 to review town demographics and solicit input from residents about how to manage growth in the town going forward.

“People feel we’re growing a lot,” said Amy Ritterbusch, Planning Board member and chair of the Growth Study Committee. “We want to shape that growth.”

The town’s population increased by 1,365 residents from 2015 to 2019, nearly double the increase over the five years prior to that, when 851 new residents moved to town.

The project aims to proactively manage growth, enable better planning for town services, and identify parcels or zones that may have a significant impact of future growth patterns to ensure continued use in the best interest of the town.

The project also aims to be proactive about maintaining the level of required affordable housing inventory in town, according to the committee.

The committee’s goal is to utilize public input, analytics and objective experts to examine growth trends and development within the town and to identify and recommend actions to ensure Hopkinton can continue to support its citizens.

By seeking input from statistics and public opinion. the committee could make recommendations on several potential changes, she said.

One possibility is hiring an economic development officer to help fill commercial vacancies in town. Another is to increase minimum lot size. Ritterbusch stressed that these are merely possibilities and that the committee will look at input before making a recommendation.

Growth Study committee member Chuck Joseph speaks at the Nov. 20 workshop at Hopkinton High School.
PHOTO/CHRSTINE STRICKLAND

At the first workshop, committee member Chuck Joseph reviewed some overall statistics that could factor in the town’s growth.

Sixteen percent of the town’s tax base is commercial/industrial, with businesses based primarily along Interstate 495 and in the downtown. Although the 16 percent is a little higher than in comparable towns, “we are a residential town,” Joseph said.

Joseph added that “we need to preserve that 16 percent” commercial/industrial tax base. He said he suspects town residents are not likely to want to increase it but he believes it should be maintained.

Fifty-five percent of the town’s budget is allocated toward the schools, which is equivalent to comparable towns, he noted.

Joseph said that although the public perception seems to be that “50 percent of the population must be kids,” the actual figure is 23 percent, which is “a little on the high side” vs. comparable towns. “We probably skew to a little younger population,” he said.

The committee will seek public input via a survey on the town website, Ritterbusch said.

Public opinion is crucial, she said, because any potential zoning change must be approved by a two-thirds vote at town meeting. “It’s hard to get anything passed without the support of the people,” she said.

When public input is collected, the committee will summarize the findings and present a financial impact assessment of growth, residential and commercial, over the past 10 years by zoned areas, and provide a forecast model of growth and forward-thinking financial impact by zoned areas for the next 10 years.

The committee also will identify and prioritize parcels and/or zones with the highest potential for change and recommend optimal land uses or practices for each, with contingency plans for alternative uses.

With these factors in mind, the committee then will create a plan of action that involves major stakeholders including other boards and town leaders to establish means of ongoing growth monitoring.

The town’s characteristics are owed in part to previous planning efforts, Joseph said, which underscores the importance of forward thinking.

Of Hopkinton’s 27 square miles, more than one square mile is open space, he said. Driving through the town, one can see homes, then open areas, which he said is not a coincidence.

“It didn’t happen by accident,” he said. “Town Meeting made good planning decisions.”

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