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Case Studies - Outreach and Education

View case studies conducted on the Outreach and Education module.

Town of Athol Zoning Revisions for Smart Growth

The Town of Athol is a rural community located on the New Hampshire border in Central Massachusetts. The town wished to utilize Smart Growth Techniques to revitalize its business district, bolster the town's economy, create places that will attract residents and visitors, and also to prepare for anticipated increased growth pressures due to the widening of the 495 development "beltway".

In 2006, the town received a Smart Growth Technical Assistance Grant to conduct a comprehensive review of the existing Zoning Bylaw to identify areas where smart growth techniques could be incorporated. The Zoning Bylaw Review Committee (ZBRC) comprised of citizens, members of the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Building Inspector, and a representative from the Fire Department, was charged with leading this effort.

ZBRC understood the need for continuous outreach in the community throughout the development of the Zoning Bylaw changes. Outreach was conducted through a series of “official” venues as well as through the use of a town-wide survey. The ZBRC and the town’s consultant met with local officials individually and discussed land use issues informally throughout the project with various stakeholders.

Summary of Outreach Efforts:




Regular ZBRC Committee Meetings

Every 2nd and 4th Thursday of each month for the duration of the project.

Town Wide Survey

4,000 surveys distributed

Public Forum

May 17, 2006

Public Television

Regular broadcast of the public forum and select ZBRC meetings

Meetings with local officials

Town Manager, Town Planner, Fire Chief, Police Chief, Department of Public Works, Board of Health

Planning Board Hearings

August 7 and September 11, 2006

Coverage in local newspaper

Ongoing throughout the project

General discussions via phone and e-mail

Ongoing throughout the project

The town-wide survey was distributed to 4,000 residents and/or households. The response rate was just under 10%. In general, the survey revealed a disparate set of priorities within the community and suggested a tension between what are often perceived to be competing values, such as economic development in contrast with environmental protection. The ZBRC focused heavily on the tension between these two policy goals and attempted to demonstrate a balance between them wherever possible in the zoning language.

A presentation was given at the public forum that provided attendees with:

  • an overview of the project
  • Athol’s current economy and settlement pattern
  • regional growth patterns and their potential effects on the Town and its environmental resources
  • the proposed strategies to combat these issues

The proposed bylaw changes were presented at a Town Meeting with approximately 130 attendees. Each bylaw change was passed with minor amendments. Overall, concerns among Town Meeting attendees were few and limited in scope. The lack of confusion and/or opposition on Town Meeting floor to these bylaws, some very technical in nature, is a testament to the amount and quality of outreach performed by ZBRC

Dennisport Village Center Rezoning Project

The Town of Dennis wished to develop a Village Center Bylaw that would allow village center zoning in the downtown portion of Dennis (Dennisport). The town's goal was to revitalize Dennisport from a typical single story commercial use area to a multi-storied, mixed use center with active sidewalks that would attract both visitors and potential residents to its potential new and renovated buildings.

The Dennis Economic Development Committee (EDC) had worked with local businesses, residents and property owners for nearly two years before bringing a proposal to the town Selectmen. Some town officials raised a number of questions, such as:

  •  If the village wants this rezoning, where are the supporters?
  • How much waste water will be generated by development that is allowed under the rezoning?
  • How will wastewater be treated in this area?
  • What will the area look like?

Those opposed to the proposal could not envision anything over the existing one to two-story building heights in the area, and perceived the rezoning as destructive to the character of Dennisport. Those opposed were particularly concerned that the increased building heights and density proposed in the revitalization plans might affect the appearance and flavor of the community.

In 2004 the EDC, working with the Dennisport Revitalization Committee, developed a more robust outreach campaign that included a number of community meetings and events, outreach materials, and visualizations. One of the most effective strategies taken by the APCC was hiring a consultant to develop 3-D visualizations of Dennisport as an attractive, walkable, active village center. The consultant used the actual height and dimensional standards of the proposed bylaw to create the visualizations for the new Dennisport Village Center.

These images provided the Committee with important materials to use during community meetings, and the town’s “Dennisport Day” event where these visualization posters were displayed and discussed. In addition, brochures were developed showing the same comparisons, which were distributed to interested parties at every Dennisport commercial establishment, the town library and other public buildings in town.

The EDC and the Dennisport Revitalization Committee used these strategies to re-energize the public behind the Dennisport Zoning proposal. When the visualizations were presented at the September, 2004 Special Town Meeting, residents voted 200 – 40 to approve the zoning revisions that would permit 3-story structures in downtown Dennisport. Passage of this new zoning bylaw allows a mix of retail, commercial, professional and upper floor residential uses within a single property. At the same town meeting, Dennis residents took the first step toward passing the Community Preservation Act and purchased 2 open space parcels, thus offsetting the increased density in Dennisport with preservation of open land.


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