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Easthampton’s draft Open Space and Recreation Plan ready for public review and comment

People take a walk at Echodale Farm in 2008. The property is part of the Park Hill farmland that has been preserved from development.

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

People take a walk at Echodale Farm in 2008. The property is part of the Park Hill farmland that has been preserved from development. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Residents are invited to read and weigh in on the draft by Oct. 31. After that, the city’s Open Space Committee will review comments and finalize the document, the city’s first Open Space and Recreation Plan in nearly a decade.

“This is the final opportunity for people to provide comment on it,” City Planner Jessica Allan said. “We hope to have as many comments as possible because this is going to be a working document for the city for the next seven years.”

Allan said the document is required for the city to be eligible for some state grants for projects in the area of open space and recreation. The last plan expired in 2010, and since then the city has been submitting drafts with grant applications in place of an official, updated plan, she said.

The document’s introduction reminds readers that a lot has changed since city residents and officials created the previous plan in 2004. The Manhan Rail Trail has been extended in both directions to connect to Northampton and Southampton, Lower Mill Pond Park was constructed off of Ferry Street, a Community Garden was created on Park Hill Road, Nashawannuck Pond was dredged and the city acquired more than 200 acres of conservation land.

The plan outlines five priorities for the city for the next seven years: improving recreational facilities; expanding recreational facilities or opportunities; preserving and promoting agriculture “as an important aspect of community character”; protecting ground and surface water; increasing accessibility to and support for Priority Protection Areas, such as land along the Manhan River, trail networks and protected land along East Street and Park Hill Road.

Residents who took the survey and participated in the visioning process also identified four key natural resource areas in the city: Mount Tom, the Manhan River, the Park Hill agricultural area and the Barnes Aquifer.

Among other things, they called for the adoption of a “Ridgeline Protection Ordinance” that will prevent some kinds of development on the city’s side of Mount Tom, promoting agritourism to bring people to city, and creating a “Wellhead Protection Plan” to identify possible threats to the aquifer and strategies to protect the water. It also says the city must continue to weigh the need for open space with development needs and continue to promote infill development with zoning regulations and other methods.

Copies of the drafted Open Space and Recreation Plan are available at the Municipal Building at 50 Payson Ave. or at www.easthampton.org.

Comments can be submitted before the Oct. 31 deadline by emailing Allan at allanj@easthampton.org or mailing them to 50 Payson Ave. to the attention of the Planning Department. Allan said the committee plans to incorporate any comments and submit the plan to the state in November.

The city’s Open Space Committee is developing the plan with help from the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and funding from a state 2013 District Local Technical Assistance Grant.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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