A Regional Approach to Address Regional Issues

In 1997, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission unveiled Valley Vision, our regional land use plan for Hampden and Hampshire Counties. As we were approaching the new millennium, the Commission recognized that our region was faced with significant growth related challenges and problems, including declining urban centers, dispersed suburban growth, poor air quality, environmental impacts, and loss of farmlands and forestland to name a few. In our initial plan, we developed a set of regional goals and objectives and specific action strategies that could be used for implementing our goals at the local level.

The twelve action strategies promoted a variety of smart growth ideas, such as encouraging mixed use development in our town centers, revitalizing our downtowns, improving housing opportunities, controlling commercial strip development, and building intermodal transportation networks. Since 1997, many of our communities have implemented zoning changes based on our twelve action strategies that promote smart growth development rather than decentralization of development into our suburban and rural communities. However, almost 10 years later, despite this progress, we can see that sprawl development is still a serious problem in our region, and could threaten our quality of life here in Western Massachusetts.

Development pressures in the region and the state are different than other places in the country.  The Pioneer Valley is facing its own unique form of sprawl, which could be called, “sprawl without population growth”.  Over the past decade, while the region’s population has remained relatively stable, urban sprawl has consumed almost 40,000 acres of land. In fact, between 1970 and 2000, the population in the Pioneer Valley increased by less than 5%, while as the same time, undeveloped and farm land was converted to higher intensity uses for an increase of over 49% of total developed land in the region.

The Commission decided it was important to re-visit our regional land use plan for several reasons. First, new data was now available as a result of the 2000 Census, so it was possible to get a more accurate reading of population trends in the region. In addition, since 1997, the state government has taken an active role in promoting smart growth for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and these new programs, such as Executive Order 418, have provided an incentive to communities to plan for and adopt smart growth strategies in their community. In this current update of Valley Vision, we can see how much of an influence these state programs have had on communities in our region. In fact, Section 4.0 of the update details Smart Growth Success Stories or real world examples of smart growth being implemented at the local level within our region.

Valley Vision 2 is a Smart Growth plan, in that it is designed to promote compact, mixed use development in and around existing urban and town centers, while promoting protection of open space and natural resources outside developed centers. The plan consists of three parts:

  • The Plan – which describes the costs of sprawl in the Pioneer Valley, smart growth solutions and smart growth success stories.
  • The Toolbox – which includes smart growth strategies and model bylaws, design examples and photo simulations of smart growth principles.
  • The Map – which illustrates locations for high and low density growth, protected open space greenbelts, Brownfields redevelopment sites and Chapter 40R smart growth districts.

Valley Vision 2 also includes the following outreach components:

  • Public Outreach – increased general public involvement and education on smart growth, through a uniquely interactive website, smart growth tools available in digital format, and public focus groups.
  • Plan Adoption and Consistency – establishing an intergovernmental compact for adoption of Valley Vision 2 by communities to promote consistency of local and regional plans and zoning.
  • Smart Growth Local Technical Assistance – ongoing assistance to local Planning Boards in developing zoning and other smart growth strategies.

    ...the Commission recognized that our region was faced with significant growth, poor air quality, environmental inmpacts, and loss of farmlands...

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