A proposal to hire an economic development officer, raised by the Hopkinton Growth Study Committee in 2020, is inching forward, with Planning Board Chair Gary Trendel calling for a meeting between some town officials and the Chamber of Commerce.
Hiring an economic development officer would be done beyond the Planning Board level, but Trendel said he wanted to “get it on the radar” and reengage conversation.
“I want to be clear that the economic development officer is not under the Planning Board, but it is something we could potentially support,” Trendel said during the board’s meeting Monday night.
At least two members of the board indicated some reservations, while member Fran DeYoung, who served on the Growth Study Committee, said that group’s recommendation was born of an analysis and review of other regional towns employing an economic development officer or group.
“We did identify positive, non-residential — let’s call it commercial — activity as a result of that,” DeYoung said. “We were in favor of making a recommendation to the Planning Board [of hiring an economic development officer]. It was also vetted through the Select Board.”
DeYoung said one aspect the committee examined was how to broaden the revenue coming into the town from the non-residential sector. He mentioned the towns of Ashland and Hudson as examples.
“We thought the economic development officer over the course of time was able to increase the base of non-residential activity in towns that had an individual or group that was responsible for … trying to develop that commercial aspect, and were successful in doing that.”
Responding to a question from fellow Planning Board Member Ron Priefer, DeYoung said the position could be either a full-time or contracted position, with obvious differences on funding each position.
Member Rob Benson called for more input from people on “all sides” of the issue.
“I know it came out of the Growth Study Committee, but I thought at the time the Select Board didn’t move forward because they couldn’t justify the cost for this over, say, a new teacher,” Benson said. “We can say we support it, but I don’t see how we can really move it beyond saying we support it. Number two, just as much as anyone in town wants to minimize their own taxes, there probably are a lot of people who want Hopkinton to be a bedroom community.
“Having an economic development officer obviously is going to drive businesses some people don’t want. I feel like it’s a one-sided conversation right now. I’d like it if we had more input from all sides.”
Member David Paul counts himself among those who want to maintain Hopkinton as a “quiet, bedroom community.”
“When the [Town Meeting] article came up as far as building a car wash or storage facility, I voted against that,” he noted. “I like the idea of a quiet town.”
Trendel acknowledged the board would not be voting or making a decision on the issue.
“It’s up to the Select Board. It’s also likely a Town Meeting article,” he said. “There’s a lot more discussion to be had here. Our goal isn’t to solve it all right here. … The Growth Study Committee was a subcommittee of this board. … There is no perfect solution. But in general, the discussion side is to begin talking about how we’re going to move this forward.”
“We’re not making decisions,” Trendel added. “We’re just taking the next step to explore this.”
Marathon School major site plan approved
Continuing a public hearing from its last meeting, the Planning Board issued its unanimous approval of a major site plan for a $3.6 million project that will add four classrooms and 6,400 square feet to Marathon Elementary School.
There wasn’t extensive discussion about the project itself, with Phil Paradis of BETA Group, the town’s consultant, noting most of his agency’s issues had been addressed. There needs to be an updated operation and maintenance plan for the school with the addition. Paradis also cited the need ensure the prevention of runoff leaving the stone dust surfacing area.
Finding the site plans conform to site plan standards, and that they were sufficient to adequately review the proposed project, the board voted 9-0 in favor.
“I look forward to seeing this [project] progress over the next year-plus,” Trendel said.
April 25 meeting added
While the board meets again on April 4, its following meeting would have conflicted with the May 2 Annual Town Meeting. That was rectified with the addition of an April 25 meeting. After that, other scheduled meetings are May 16 and June 6.
One item on the April 4 agenda will be the discussion of increasing the maximum gross floor area of buildings in the Industrial A district from 50 percent to 80 percent. The board on Monday night continued a public hearing on that matter, which will appear at Town Meeting.