What’s the Sustainable Berkshires Plan?
Sustainable Berkshires, Community Strategies for a Sustainable Future is a regional planning initiative staffed by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and funded by a HUD Sustainable Communities Planning Grant. Through a rigorous public process this plan will clearly define the community’s vision for the future of the region and then set out specific actions for businesses, communities, and organizations across the region to take help the region achieve that vision. Questions at the heart of the plan relate to how you envision the Berkshires in 2030. For example: How should we meet future energy needs? What can we do to build stronger, safer, more vibrant communities? What industries should we encourage to grow and relocate here? What makes the Berkshires a special place?
The process for developing Sustainable Berkshires will take place over the next three years and will tackle a wide range of relevant issues such as Education, Housing, Open Space and Recreation, Climate Change, Infrastructure, Services and many more. The community will be asked what they think about the current condition of these and other topic areas, where we should be in 20-30 years and for input on the tools and methods for how to get there. The plan will focus on how to implement strategies for achieving the vision in ways that are innovative, fiscally prudent and achievable.
How can I participate?
There are many ways to participate in this planning effort. Visioning sessions for the public were held in July; please [view the results here]. We are gathering additional comments about the vision through an online survey [link].
Every six months there will be a set of public workshops across the county to outline work to date and next steps. These sessions will include opportunities for residents to actively help shape the plan. Meetings will be held in north, central and southern locations for accessibility.
Additional [forums and workshops] will be developed to focus on particular topic areas, also open to the public.
This website, www.sustainableberkshires.org will be a clearinghouse for information about the plan. You can find out about upcoming meetings, the process to date, and review and comment on draft documents. Please [sign up for our email list] and we’ll send you regular updates.
Why do we plan?
Well, quite plainly, great communities don’t just happen. First we start with a vision for the future, developed by the residents of the county. Once that vision is established, existing and future efforts can be mapped in efficient and realistic paths. This coordination helps us stay focused on implementation, develop accountability mechanisms and take advantage of funding that may become available.
Will this plan just sit on a shelf?
That’s a common complaint about planning, and sometimes it’s valid. But this planning process has been structured to make sure this doesn’t happen. Success for Sustainable Berkshires will be in both the process and product. The foundation of the plan is built through broad public outreach with meaningful opportunities to participate throughout, from visioning to reviewing strategies. The structure of the plan will be ACTIONABLE, with accountability built-in throughout. It will also be user-friendly, so anyone on the community – regardless of their experience with planning – can pick it up and understand it. Also, the plan is intended to act as a catalyst for future investment through grants and private interests.
How is this plan different from other regional plans?
The last regional plan for Berkshire County was adopted in 2001; most comprehensive plans are updated every ten years. This plan will include the elements required by Massachusetts General Laws (Goals and Policies, Land Use, Housing, Economic Development, Natural and Cultural Resources, Open Space and Recreation, Services and Facilities, Circulation / Transportation, and Implementation Strategies). Given the focus on sustainability in this plan we’ll also cover new planning topics such as Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Reductions and Climate Change, Renewable Energy, Waste Reduction, Water Conservation/Protection, Green Building and Site Design, Social Equity, Local Food Production, Food Security, and Broadband Expansion.
I’ve seen logos for Great Barrington and North Adams plans – how are they the same or different from this plan?
There are two municipal comprehensive planning efforts happening at the same time as this regional plan – one in North Adams and the other in Great Barrington. These communities have agreed to engage in the process alongside the regional plan in order to take advantage of the existing process, data research and to avoid conflicts between the regional and local plan. In addition, master plans have recently been completed in Pittsfield and New Marlborough which will be consulted for how they fit with the regional plan.
If you see meeting announcements, please check the logo to clarify what plan the meeting is for, or contact BRPC staff directly.
How will you get it all done?
That’s a good question! The grant program, HUD Sustainable Communities, is a three year award, allowing enough time for the process to unfold, though the timeline is tight and we must adhere to it. There are five main components (click on each to learn more):
- Inventory & Analysis
- Goals and Policies
- Future Land Use
Even though the planning process spans three years, many strategies will be initiated as soon as they are agreed upon. We don’t want to lose any momentum from the good work coming out of the process!
There are other ways we can streamline the process. As much as possible, we’ll be working with existing organizations and groups for outreach. If you know of a group of interested residents please contact us about ways to be involved. We’ll also be relying on technology as much as possible in order to communicate information about meetings, circulate draft documents and gather other input. We have a Facebook page (like ‘Sustainable Berkshires’) and we’ll use online survey tools in addition to this website.
If you’d like to receive information by hard copy, or have challenging internet connectivity, please contact BRPC Staff directly.
How will the plan be adopted?
Adoption of the plan by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is required. The Commission (not its staff) is comprised of a delegate and alternate delegate from each community in Berkshire County. In addition, we will be seeking the approval of each city and town in the county in order to achieve greater buy-in and ability to implement the strategies as outlined in the plan.
How will the plan affect CLURPA?
The Massachusetts Comprehensive Land Use Reform and Partnership Act (CLURPA) has been introduced and is now in the state legislative process. As currently written it contains two sections particularly relevant to the Regional Plan. CLURPA would require a new section of a municipal master plan that is a self-assessment comparing sections of similar subject matter in the local plan to those of the current regional plan. CLURPA also will likely allow local municipalities to modify the Regional Plan and adopt it as the local plan.