Sunderland partners with engineering firm to reimagine village center
|Published: 11-22-2023 6:11 PM
SUNDERLAND — The town has partnered with the Stantec engineering firm to come up with a vision for the village center and what possibilities the community could explore to encourage development.
“The reason the committee was formed was so we can be more proactive with what happens in the center of our town,” Village Center Committee Chair Lorin Starr summarized to a group of town officials at a kickoff meeting last week. “What is our vision? Where would we like it to go?”
Among those gathered and sharing feedback with Stantec consultant Jason Schreiber were members of the Select Board, Planning Board, Historical Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals, as well as the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) and state Department of Transportation representatives.
“We’re here to listen; we’re here to understand,” Schreiber said, emphasizing Stantec’s role is to compile residents’ feedback and come back with some conceptual ideas. “There is an opportunity to do something here and there is a need, [that] is what we heard today.”
Much of the focus of last week’s meeting was on traffic in the center of town, where Routes 47 and 116 intersect. More than 18,000 vehicles pass through there each day, according to Schreiber.
“I’m not very focused on the solution right now, I’m really focused on the problem,” he said. “This is a great opportunity to say, ‘Hey, how can we look at this differently?’”
Of the challenges facing the village center, those in attendance highlighted safety concerns for older adults and children and the speed of vehicles rolling through town, as well as the issues caused by traffic backups when people are going to or leaving work.
To those who don’t live there, but work in Greenfield, Deerfield or Amherst, Sunderland is often treated as a pass-through town because the bridge is a “conduit to the interstate and the rest of the world,” Schreiber said.
And for those who do live in town, some folks may feel intimidated about crossing the street at the few available crosswalks due to speeding traffic, while long traffic lines make it a severe hassle to get in or out of the businesses on Route 116 during rush hour.
Village Center Committee member Benneth Phelps said any sort of intersection work needs to take into account the wide variety of backgrounds of people in town, such as Sunderland Elementary School students and the residents at Sanderson Place, the new affordable housing complex for senior residents.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to design this for a really wide set of users,” Phelps said. “We have a lot of users to consider their needs.”
Traffic speed mitigation strategies, Schreiber said, can vary from decreasing the width of travel lanes, new signs and lights, or even a rotary. Beyond the safety benefits of slowing down traffic, Schreiber said slower travel through town would give people a chance to see what businesses are open in the center of Sunderland, which can draw in valuable “pass-by traffic.”
Selectboard Chair Nathaniel Waring noted a good example of slowing down traffic and drawing people into a village is Shelburne Falls, although that community is not based in the middle of a state route like Sunderland.
“It feels like a community,” he said, adding that something as simple as adding trees or flagpoles can create that feeling. “When you’re coming down 116, you don’t realize you’re in the village center until you’re at the light.”
Stantec will return to Sunderland in January for a wider community forum with conceptual ideas for the village center, where residents can discuss what ideas appeal to them.
“We’re going to throw at you a lot of ideas that might happen in the corridor,” Schreiber said. “We’re just going to put results up and let people say, ‘I like this more because of this.’”
Chris Larabee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-930-4081.