Consultants present six key economic development recommendations for Sunderland

  • Boston-based architecture and design firm OverUnder presented an economic recovery plan for Sunderland at a recent Select Board meeting. This slide presents what Rami el Samahy describes as the “clusters” of the town, which have their own businesses and “personalities.” SCREENSHOT

  • A map of Boston-based architecture and design firm OverUnder’s proposed pedestrian loop project for Sunderland. The path would separate pedestrians and cyclists from the street while also letting them enjoy the environment, consultants said. SCREENSHOT

  • The Sunderland Village Center, as seen from Mount Sugarloaf. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 8/2/2021 7:45:30 PM

SUNDERLAND — A Boston-based architecture and design office assigned as a consultant to Sunderland presented its recommendations for the town’s pandemic recovery during a recent Select Board meeting.

The organization, OverUnder, was assigned to the town by the state government as a part of the Rapid Recovery Plan (RRP) Program. According to the state’s website, the program involves developing “actionable, project-based recovery plans” for towns and cities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The presentation included a list of project and development ideas based around Sunderland’s Village Center. Rami el Samahy, an OverUnder principal, said some people may find the number of ideas “overwhelming,” but they should remember these are only preliminary recommendations.

“Please treat this as a brainstorming session,” el Samahy said. “Some may be more relevant than others, so we welcome your feedback.”

The presentation focused on six key areas:

■Providing immediate support to businesses in need.

■Using branding to solidify the Village Center’s identity.

■Increasing pedestrian and bike connectivity.

■Conducting a market analysis and attracting new businesses.

■Using zoning to create the desired developments.

■Capitalizing on events to draw residents and visitors.

Much of the presentation was focused on the lack of “definition” in the town center and the safety of the intersection of Routes 116 and 47. El Samahy said the Village Center “has many assets,” but lacks an alluring presence.

“Like any place, not only do you have assets, you have challenges,” el Samahy said. “The Village Center is a bit of a place you pass through rather than a destination. … With the lack of definition, it’s hard to know you’re there.”

Foteini Bouliari, an urban designer with OverUnder, said the intersection is the focus of “a number of projects” with the vision of making Sunderland more pedestrian-friendly. She added a possible project would be a “pedestrian loop” around town for walkers and cyclists.

“We want to form an outer loop that is pedestrian and bicycle only,” Bouliari said. “Not only would we create a safer environment for pedestrians and cyclists because they are separated from the road, but they can also enjoy the environment.”

El Samahy said the recommendations presented at the meeting were intended to “provoke the thought” of what things might be the right fit for Sunderland as economic recovery following the pandemic begins.

“What you’ve seen here addresses immediate recovery needs and also longer-term things,” el Samahy said. “Some things are a direct result of the pandemic, some may have been delayed because of the pandemic, and some may have been exacerbated by the pandemic.”

The next phase for OverUnder and Sunderland is to decide which projects can be achieved and funded. The entities will work together in developing plans and designs for any projects undertaken.

Town Administrator Geoff Kravitz said Monday’s presentation had “interesting ideas,” but it will require the community’s approval as well.

“I think that the devil’s always in the details,” Kravitz said. “The ideas are good. It’s a matter of getting community buy-in and executing them with the resources available.”

He added that he doesn’t have an exact timeline for when any accepted projects will be undertaken.

Kravitz requested that people who missed the meeting but still want to provide feedback contact him at 413-665-1441, ext. 9 or townadmin@townofsunderland.us. There is also a feedback survey form for residents at bit.ly/3eYsabR.

Community Pathways Committee Chairwoman Sara Snyder said Sunderland lacks a true economic vision, which has hindered this kind of development in the past.

“It would help this progress a lot if the town could pick up what its vision for economic development is,” Snyder said. “This project could be an opportunity to work in that direction.”

Snyder added that OverUnder should look beyond the town center and incorporate Mount Toby and other recreational activities into its plans.

“There’s one huge missing piece from the depiction of Village Center … just three blocks away from Mount Toby, which takes up the bulk of Sunderland area-wise,” Snyder said. “This is an incredible recreation hub.”

Select Board member David Pierce said there is no “silver bullet” for developing Sunderland in a way that fits the town, but improving the intersection of Routes 116 and 47 would be a good place to start.

“This kind of change is going to be gradual. … Oftentimes there is a lot of resistance to change,” Pierce said. “We’re starting to lay some of the foundation.”

Select Board Chairman Tom Fydenkevez said one of the keys to economic development is enticing apartment tenants to spend time and money in Sunderland.

“We have to try and capture those people so they can become residents of the town, not just inhabitants,” Fydenkevez said. “We need them to utilize restaurants and services in our town instead of going someplace else.”




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