Officials seek broad experience on Master Plan panel

SOUTHWICK — The Select Board voted on Sept. 13 to create a 15-member Master Plan Committee, whose members will craft the document that guides Southwick’s future.

The committee, to be facilitated by the Planning Board, will consist of a maximum of 15 members. Two will come from the Planning Board, and one each from the Select Board, Department of Public Works, Parks and Recreation, the Southwick-Tolland-Granville Regional School District, the Finance Committee, the Economic Development Commission, and either the Agricultural Commission or the Conservation Commission. Also on the committee are seats for a business owner and four residents at large. 

Planning Board Chair Michael Doherty said to the Select Board that there could have been more than 15 members representing different parts of the town government, but that adding more would make it more difficult to guarantee a quorum at meetings, and more complicated to hear all members’ voices at meetings. The committee’s work will be transparent, he said.

“They are going to be conducting meetings open to the public, with minutes, before presenting and voting on recommendations for the master plan,” said Doherty. 

Though some departments, like police and fire, will not be present as voting members on the committee, they may be able to select a representative to serve as a consultant for the interests of each department as the process moves forward. 

Doherty and other town officials have estimated that the process of creating a new Master Plan will take approximately two years, and will cost more than $100,000. 

Select Board member Russ Fox said that he would like to see someone with actual experience working on or running a farm in Southwick on the committee, given that it is a Right to Farm community with a long history of agriculture. He said that anyone with farming experience on the Agricultural Commission or Conservation Commission should be the person who represents that slot. 

Maryssa Cook-Obregon is the only person who is a member of both commissions, and has been considered as a possibility for that slot so that both commissions can be represented by just one voting member. Fox said that Cook-Obregon is not a farmer, and therefore would not be the best choice for the committee. 

“I would hope we would try to actively recruit someone who farms for a living,” said Fox. 

Doherty said that the decision for each board is ultimately up to the given board to decide for themselves. 

“I have trouble cherry-picking someone from a commission when they have chosen their own rep,” said Doherty.

Planning Board member Marcus Phelps suggested that someone with farm ownership experience should be sought out for either the business owner slot, or one of the four resident slots on the committee. 

“If we could get a farming interest on the committee, it wouldn’t have to be from a specific board or commission in the town,” said Phelps.

Select Board member Doug Moglin urged some caution in general as the process moves forward. He referenced a previous failed attempt to update the Master Plan when he was on the Planning Board.

“It will be a great embarrassment if the product at the end is not an acceptable document,” said Moglin. 

Now that the committee has officially been created, the Planning Board will be able to consider members, including four of the 19 applicants for the resident slots. Doherty said that just one Southwick business has expressed interest in representing the business slot. 

Phelps said that the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission will attend the Oct. 5 Planning Board meeting to talk about master plans, how they work, and what their purpose is.

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