updated 2-8-06

The Five Town Action Initiative


Towns Find Common Challenges (continued)

This two year effort is designed to build on existing town plans by assisting Ashfield, Conway, Chesterfield, Goshen and Williamsburg to implement recommendations from their existing plans, but in a cooperative and regionally-focused way. Recognizing the similarities of these neighboring towns, this endeavor strives to encompass a more comprehensive view of the natural, cultural, forest, agricultural and infrastructural resources that they share, and to build upon the interest in each town to move forward with key plan initiatives. Peer-to-peer support will provide a cooperative model for towns with a minimum of governmental capacity (in this region and beyond) in order to stretch their resources and expertise in the pursuit of important planning initiatives. The project will also offer cutting-edge information on natural resources derived from a recently created conservation mapping tool – the Conservation Assessment and Prioritization System (CAPS).

The project is divided into two phases - Plan Synthesis and Implementation.  In the first phase, a Five Town Action Partnership, town and citizen driven, was developed to guide the project.  Plans from the 5 towns were analyzed, recommendations were outlined, and the analyses presented to the communities in September. 

In the second phase (presently underway), implementation will be the main focus. The 5 towns have been offered tools, model laws, regulations, and instructional materials closely crafted to the towns' synthesized plans.  They are now in the process of designating a specific action item from their plans that they feel is important to implement. Following that determination, the project partners will then offer assistance, advice, training and information to help the towns successfully pursue and ultimately implement their chosen initiative.

CRM has received a two-year $92,000 grant from the Jessie B. Cox Charitable Trust that will help to fund the Project. Another foundation grant of approximately $50,000 is pending and we are actively pursuing other grant awards, from both private and public sources in support of the Project.


Bulleted list of Five Town Commonalities (Strategies and Actions)

Five Town Project News

The next Steering Committee meeting will be held on Tuesday, February 28 at the Williamsburg Public Library (Map/Directions), 7:00 pm.
This will be a workshop where the results of each town's deliberations and individual meetings with the Team will be discussed  and the top several choices for initiatives (projects) will be offered by each town, with response provided by the Steering Committee to help narrow down those options.

This meeting will be followed by a session about a month later, in late March or the beginning of April, at which time the goal will be the preliminary designation of a preferred project. The Steering Committee will offer feedback on each choice, suggesting its acceptability as is or helpful modifications to it, potential links to other projects, or other comments. This preliminary recommendation can then be taken back to each town for an informal  go-ahead from relevant decision makers and board members.

The final suggested meeting before the implementation stage would be held before the end of May. The purpose will be for the Steering Committee members to help each other strategize the implementation measures needed for each  project. This exchange will allow the members of the Steering Committee to learn more about each other's initiative, and to think through the steps needed to successfully pursue implementation. The UMass/HCI team can begin technical and research work over the summer.


Second Steering Committee Meeting Held
On November 16, 2005, the Five Town Action Initiative Steering Committee members and the UMass/HCI Team met for the second time, in Chesterfield. Committee members presented progress summaries from their towns, that included specific issues, prospective action items, their decision making process, as well as the obstacles they encountered along the way in each community. Commonalities and differences were also discussed.

Some of the Steering Committees' Issues, Strategies and Actions included:

  • Affordable housing needs (particularly for the elderly)
  • Business Zones and Village Centers
  • Greenways and trails connecting parcels of protected land
  • Open Space/Cluster Development
  • Roads and transportation
  • Chapter 61 lands
  • Right to farm By-laws
  • Economic development, including working landscapes and small businesses
  • Support of cottage industries and small businesses through technology
  • Loss of community character through development
  • Educating landowners regarding land protection options
  • Transfer of Development Rights, impact from ANRs
  • Protection of critical cultural and natural resources

Obstacles to addressing these issues included: garnering support from townspeople and town boards; overcoming divisiveness and apathy; difficulty maintaining effective communication; reactivity rather than proactivity in local governments; lack of volunteers. Despite these challenges, the steering Committees are moving forward, meeting with HCI/UMass staff to identify technical assistance needs, opportunities for future cooperation among the towns, evaluating strategies, refining possible implementation items, meeting with boards and building support in their communities.


On September 28, 2005, the initial meeting for the Five Town Project was held at the Goshen public library. Attendees included Steering Committee (Action Partnership) members from each of the five towns, as well as project coordinators (Principal Investigators in university research parlance) Glenn Garber from CRM, Wendy Sweetser from HCI and Paul Catanzaro from UMass Extension Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation. Researcher Martin Klein and graduate students Nate Malloy and Benneth Phelps, and Citizen Planner Training Collaborative administrator Diana Krauth were in attendance as well.

Glenn explained the Project's basic intent and structure and presented a synthesis of plans (Community Development, Open Space and Recreation and Watershed s) from the five towns. This in-depth analysis summarized the common values, strategies and actions within those plans, in the areas of Open Space, Housing, Economic Development and Transportation.

Wendy presented an overview of the five towns and their regional context. Paul gave a mapping presentation that showed the man-made and natural features of the five towns. In addition, he explained the Conservation Assessment and Prioritization model (CAPS), which will be utilized to inform open space issues in the towns, and to further understanding of biodiversity in the region.

Action Partnership members received examples of projects meeting the criteria for future implementation. These will be used to guide proposals that will be developed by those representatives for each town. Throughout the evening, there were ample opportunities for feedback and discussion between the Committee members and the project team. The Five Town Action Initiative offers an ideal platform for cooperative, intertown rural plan implementation (not plan-making) and is a project of unique dimensions and intent.

A follow-up meeting will be held in mid- November, at which time potential town actions will be discussed. Meeting time and location will be posted here.


CRM's 2 year unique undertaking is designed to make planning more effective in five rural communities in the highlands of western Massachusetts by concentrating our efforts on a small contiguous sub-region, comprised of Ashfield, Chesterfield, Conway, Goshen and Williamsburg.

Each town has Community Development (CD) and/or Open Space and Recreation (OSRP) plans already in place. The emphasis of the Project is on implementation, capacity building and the development of a permanent intertown cooperative model.

Contributing their resources and expertise to this effort, in the areas of planning, natural resources, value-added working landscapes & other disciplines are the University, UMass Extension, NREC (Natural Resources & Environmental Conservation), NREC/Legal, and the Highland Community Initiative (HCI). Participants from these groups will be working in partnership with a Five Town Steering Committee, comprised of citizens from each of the communities.

The initial months will consist of steering committee organization; synthesis of community plans into written, tabular and graphic summaries used to identify and build upon the action recommendations contained within those plans; and analysis of and consensus building around a regional action slate. Subsequent phases will initiate a training program to assist community officials in pursuit of key implementation measures and providing technical assistance for one action initiative of each town's choosing.


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