The Master Plan Task Group was asked to review the existing Plymouth Community Master Plan to determine how it has been followed by the Town and how we can make our next master plan update even more successful. The Gap Analysis Report contains its findings and recommendations. Those were presented to the Planning Board on November 30, 2022, which adopted the report and directed the Task Group to proceed with creating a scope of work for a new Master Plan update which will need to be funded by Town Meeting. Below are the slides for the presentation to the Planning Board and the final Gap Analysis Report.
Presentation to the Charter Commission
Steve Bolotin, Member of the Planning Board and Chair of its Master Plan Task Group.
I’d like to start by speaking about Master Plans generally, and then moving to Plymouth’s Master Plan.
What is a Master Plan?
For those unfamiliar with the Master Plan, State law defines it as:
“A statement, through text, maps, illustrations or other forms of communication, that is designed to provide a basis for decision making regarding the long-term physical development of the municipality.”
All municipalities are required to have a Master Plan - General Laws Chapter 41, section 81D.
The process of managing and adopting a Master Plan is the responsibility of the Planning Board
To some, this sounds like our zoning bylaw, but it is so much more.
In fact, the Master Plan is arguably the most crucial document in Town.
I know, that is a bold statement, particularly to the Commission charged with addressing our Town Charter, so let me explain my reasoning.
As has been said numerous times, including by this Commission, Plymouth has a history of poor turnout for local elections.
As a result, it has been argued that those elections don’t necessarily reflect the opinion of even a significant percentage of the residents.
But that is not the case with the Master Plan.
The Master Plan is based on information obtained directly from the residents in multiple events, using different forms, over an extended period of time.
That way, unlike an election, it is not just a snapshot in time or a reflection of a limited proportion of the population.
It is a document that identifies the long-term concerns of the residents from all segments of Town, both geographically and demographically.
What is required in a Master Plan?
Let me go briefly into what is in a Master Plan
There are 9 items that must be included per state law:
1. A Goals and Policies Statement
Just as it sounds, this is a statement which identifies the goals and policies of the Town for its future growth and development.
2. A Land Use Plan
This has to identify present land use and designate the future location and inter-relationship of public and private land uses.
3. A Housing Analysis
This includes existing and forecasted housing needs and objectives.
4. An Economic Development Assessment
This is intended to establish policies and strategies for the economic base and promotion of employment opportunities.
5. A Natural and Cultural Resources Overview
This is both an inventory of the significant natural, cultural and historic resource areas of the municipality, and policies and strategies for the protection and management of such areas.
6. An Open Space and Recreation Summary
Again, an inventory of recreational resources and open space areas as well as policies and strategies for their management and protection.
7. A Services and Facilities Plan
This identifies and analyzes existing and forecasted needs for facilities and services used by the public.
8. A Circulation Guidance
By circulation, they mean an inventory of existing and proposed transportation systems.
9. An Implementation Program
This sets forth the specific actions necessary to achieve the objectives of each element of the master plan, including identifying costs and sources of funding.
Per the terms of the statute, statements as to values, goals, and policies must come from the public through an interactive process.
Additionally, the Master Plan has to be internally consistent – meaning that goals must be compatible with each other
This is often the biggest challenge, as it means setting forth a plan which balances competing needs and goals
As you can see, there are some items which require specifics – inventories of existing conditions and forecasts of future needs.
Others are more general – ongoing issues for which there is no definitive end but which may contain some specific targets or goals.
That is intentional, as the Master Plan is not intended to be a static document. Planning for decades in the future requires a significant degree of flexibility in order to address changes and circumstances as they arise.
While these are the minimum requirements for a Master Plan, they are not the limits. The Town can also include whatever other categories it wants to reflect issues of particular importance to the residents.
The Plymouth Master Plan
Now I’d like to talk a little bit about Plymouth’s Master Plan
Our current Town Master Plan, which is referred to in our Charter as the Comprehensive Master Plan,
was developed through surveys and forums conducted between 2002 and 2004, and then adopted in 2006.
It is available to the public through the Town website, under the Planning Board page
It contains 8 of the 9 mandatory categories for a Master Plan.
There is no implementation plan, which I believe was added as a requirement after its adoption - This alone is a good reason for it to be updated.
It also does not contain any additional Town specific topics, which has struck the Task Group given how unique Plymouth is
Our Master Plan identifies the goals the residents want to see achieved in each category, in varying levels of detail depending on the issue.
For some categories the recommendations are more general, such as the Historic and Cultural Resources
For other issues, such as housing and economic growth, the residents provided greater specifics as to what they wanted to see happen.
Again, this is consistent with the intent of the State statute
So even though it does not lay out the specific steps Town government is to take in each and every instance, the Master Plan is the closest thing the Town has to a directive by the residents to their representatives as to what they want to see in Plymouth’s future.
That is why it is unfortunate that it is often not considered by our Town boards and committees, even when addressing items contained in the Master Plan.
As a result, the Town has sometimes taken actions which even contradict what the residents said they wanted.
I know that is an issue this Commission is looking to address
Updating our Master Plan
Because the Master Plan is intended to address the changing needs of the Town, State law provides for it to be updated. However, State law does not provide for a specific time for that to occur. That is left to individual municipalities to decide.
Some towns maintain standing committees which do regular updates.
Others provide for specific time periods between updates.
Plymouth falls into the category of towns which have no specific timeline or procedure for updating the Master Plan.
Town Charter Section 3-14-4:
“The CMP shall be updated periodically to address current issues concerning the physical, environmental, community and economic development of the town…”
As a result, the Master Plan has only been revisited roughly every 20 years
The Town Charter also places the responsibility to maintain the Master Plan with the Planning Department. Town Charter Section 3-13-2
But the Town does not provide a funding mechanism for this work.
As our Planning Director can address, there is both a need, and a cost, to ensuring continued public input into the Master Plan, which is its most important feature.
The Master Plan is like a building: Changes over time cause it to need work. The longer you wait, the more expensive that work becomes. In contrast, maintaining it allows it to last longer at a lower expense.
Plymouth has not updated its Master Plan since 2006.
We have engaged in a series of other village and district master plans, but these do not meet the requirements of State law.
Moreover, some of our village and district plans contain goals which conflict with our Town Master Plan
So the timing and process for updating our Master Plan is also something this Commission may want to consider
Master Plan Task Group
Since our last Master Plan, we have seen unprecedented changes in our World – from climate change
to a global pandemic – and the effects they have had here at home.
Additionally, Plymouth is now a very different place than it was 20 years ago:
Our population is now almost 65,000, up some 20%, and it continues to grow.
With all of those new people has come a demand for new services and infrastructure, so that our annual Town budget now exceeds $270 million.
At the same time, a greater strain has been put on our open spaces and resources.
The number of new residences has gone from an average of 276 per year 20 years ago to 490 a year – and that doesn’t include new 40B developments.
All of this has placed a greater financial burden on our residents, as our commercial base has been shrinking as a percentage of our tax revenue.
Given these changes, and the conflicting needs that have been created, now is an ideal time for Plymouth to take another look at itself.
That is where the Master Plan Task Group comes in.
The Planning Board formed the Master Plan Task Group to perform a gap analysis of our last Master Plan, to see where we are now compared to where we were 20 year ago.
We are in the process of interviewing experts from both the public and private sector regarding the categories contained in our existing Master Plan.
Our focus has been to find out what we have done well, where we have fallen short, and why.
We are also looking at areas not covered in our last Master Plan which may be worth addressing with the residents to see if they should be part of our next one.
Upon completion, we will present our findings to the Town to be used to help set up the process for preparing our next Master Plan.
The goal is to provide information and ideas to create a Master Plan which is useful to:
Those who are considering locating business and industry here;
Those to whom we are applying for grants and aid; and most importantly
Our representatives in achieving the goals of the residents.
Stephen Cole, Executive Director, Plymouth Regional Economic Development Foundation
Amy Naples, Executive Director, Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce
Joanne Zygmunt, Senior Economic Development & Environmental Planner OCPC
Karen Grey, Executive Director, Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts
David Gould, Director of the Department of Marine and Environmental Affairs
Malcolm MacGregor, former Chair Plymouth Planning Board
Lee Filson, Executive Director, See Plymouth
Michael Tubin, Chair, Historic District Commission
Malissa Kenney, Plymouth Bay Cultural District
Ellie Donovan, Executive Director, Plimouth Patuxet Museum
Peggy Whalen, Director of Community Development
Tony Green, Director Pinehills LLC
Russ Shirley, Plymouth Housing Authority
Jonathan Beder, Public Works Director
Eric Cody, Water Conservation Committee
Francis J. Gay, Interim Administrator, GATRA
Charles Kilmer, Assistant Director & Transportation Program Manager, OCPC
Bill Keohan - Chair, Community Preservation Committee
The Town’s Master Plan is a document which identifies the goals for the Town as set by the residents. Not only is having a Master Plan a good idea, it is actually a State requirement. But despite the importance of this document, the fact that the Planning Board is obligated to prepare and maintain it under State law, and the time and expense that goes into it, many people have no idea what it is. So here are answers to some of the most common questions asked about our Master Plan:
What is the purpose of the Master Plan?
The Town prepares a Master Plan “to provide a basis for decision making regarding the long-term physical development of the municipality.” It is a policy document for Plymouth’s future growth and development.
How is the Master Plan different than our Zoning map?
The Zoning Map identifies only the areas where development can occur and what can be built. The Master Plan addresses all aspects of community life.
Who prepares the Master Plan?
Really, it is the residents. The Planning Board oversees the process, a Master Plan Committee coordinates it, and outside experts gather the information, but the content comes from the views of the community.
What goes into the Master Plan?
There are some areas the Master Plan are required to address under State law. Those are:
Natural and Cultural Resources
Open Space and Recreation
Municipal Services and Facilities
But the Master Plan isn’t limited to these areas, and the Planning Board can include other items of concern to the future of the Town.
Who decides the goals that are included in the Master Plan?
The residents decide, based on their vision of the Town and its priorities. This is done through what the State describes as “an interactive public process, to determine community values, goals and to identify patterns of development that will be consistent with these goals.” That typically involves numerous public forums, focus groups, and surveys. This is why the process of preparing a Master Plan typically takes a number of years. For example, the Town began the process of updating our current Master Plan in 1997, and the plan wasn’t issued until 2004.
How often do we update our Master Plan?
There is no definitive time under State law, which says only that updates or extensions may occur “from time to time.” Our current town wide Master Plan was issued in 2004.
Do we have just one Master Plan?
We have only one town-wide Master Plan, but given Plymouth’s size and our village centered approach, we do have separate Master Plans for certain areas such as the downtown/waterfront, the villages, and the airport.
When are we updating our Master Plan?
We are starting the process now. I am currently the chair of the Master Plan Task Group, a committee made up of 9 residents working with Planning Department staff who have been charged by the Planning Board with looking at our Master Plan to see where we have been successful, where we have faced challenges, and where things have changed such that we should be looking at new approaches and areas to present to the residents for their consideration.
What has the Task Group found?
We are still early in the process, but overall we have seen limited success in achieving some of our short-term goals and challenges in advancing our long-term vision. For example, a short-term goal was to create a redevelopment plan for Cordage Park, and that is something the Town has accomplished. An example of a long-term goal was to achieve 10% affordable housing, and that is something the Town has not accomplished.
There are ongoing goals - items which will always be part of Plymouth planning, such as economic development, preservation of open space, and natural resources protection. These are the types of issues where the means of working toward the community's targets will change over time.
Are there new areas the Task Group is looking at?
Most definitely. The Master Plan is intended to be a guideline for Plymouth’s future. That means we are looking Plymouth in light of how it, and the world around it, has changed. As just a few examples, Plymouth has seen (and is expected to continue to see) continuing population growth, along with changes in demographics. The way the economy and work force operate have dramatically shifted. Environmental sustainability and climate resilience have become necessities. These and other issues will cause Plymouth to approach our next Master Plan very differently than in the past.
Another issue that will have be addressed in our next Master Plan is how we intend to pay for the Town’s needs and goals. This was not part of our last Master Plan update, even though the State requires that the Master Plan include an:
"Implementation program element which defines and schedules the specific municipal actions necessary to achieve the objectives of each element of the master or study plan. Scheduled expansion or replacement of public facilities or circulation [transportation] system components and the anticipated costs and revenues associated with accomplishment of such activities shall be detailed in this element. This element shall specify the process by which the municipality's regulatory structures shall be amended so as to be consistent with the master plan."
Including the “specific municipal actions necessary” to pay for scheduled maintenance and replacement can serve as guidance for our representatives to plan and budget accordingly, something Plymouth has historically not done well.
How can we make the Town follow the Master Plan?
Because this is a policy document, not a set of regulations, it can’t be strictly “followed”. But we can, and should, require our representatives to abide by principles and focus on the goals it contains. That is why I have proposed a Town bylaw which requires anyone presenting any matter for a vote before the Town to identify where in our Master Plan that issue is addressed, and how our Master Plan supports it.
To see the Plymouth Master Plans, click on the link to the Town's website above.
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