FRAMINGHAM – Tuesday is election day in Framingham. Voters will elect the City’s first-ever mayor.
One issue that has repeatedly come up over and over during the campaign is the blighted and empty shopping plazas in Framingham.
It was part of the discussion at the last mayoral forum on Thursday sponsored by the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce.
After that forum, Framingham Source asked both mayoral Yvonne Spicer and John Stefanini “what specific 3 steps would you take in your first 100 days to fill the empty shopping plazas in town, if you are elected mayor?”
SPICER: A key component of my plans for addressing the empty shopping plazas and the downtown will be addressed by a new Framingham Planning and Development Agency. It will be led and staffed by professionals who have experience in Framingham’s rich history, and by planning and zoning experts with an eye toward the Framingham we want to achieve together. I will work with the city council and town professionals to submit a proposal for the creation of this department. The FPDA will ensure that we have a big-picture and coordinated approach to land use, open space, zoning, planning studies, permitting, revitalization, and other important city functions.
Empty Shopping Plazas Steps Within the First 100 Days
- Meet with administration (i.e. Planning department, Department of Economic development, counsel and town manager) to review all the roadblocks to date and to explore new options for moving forward.
- Address key issues which require immediate attention to improve the appearance and safety of the locations short term (appearance of locations, existing violations, legal issues, etc.) and seek further counsel on the leases between the supermarket companies and the property owners)
- Meet with the property owners. Let them know that the status quo is unacceptable and put a plan in place with timelines and goals to address the issues at their sites and explore new options for moving forward.
STEFANINI: Replacing the blight at our vacant shopping plazas and meeting the needs of their surrounding neighborhoods all while generating revenues for municipal services and reducing residential taxes is a top priority.
We need to look at activities for all ages. We need to explore ways to connect our shopping centers to our open spaces, like downtown with Farm Pond, the commuter rail and proposed housing; and Nobscot Plaza with our working farms. We need to find solutions that not only bring Framingham revenue for our schools, public safety and public works programs, but ones that strengthen the character, security and vitality of our neighborhoods.
Waltham, Marlborough, Natick, and Hudson have done it and we can to if we do three simple things: develop a clear plan, commit to implement the plan and support our local businesses. I have been actively engaged in Framingham my entire life. I understand what our community wants. I listen to and work with everyone, so that we can achieve those goals. I am confident, with my 30 years of experience in and outside government, that I will be able to work with businesses and neighbors to fill these vacant plazas with a genuine mix of activities that serve the neighborhood around each. And confident, that working with the local business community rather than ignoring them, we will revitalize our commercial areas and downtown to make them places where we all can proudly dine and shop.
We can fill our vacant shopping plazas and increase our commercial tax base, while simultaneously preserve our open space.
We need to think outside the box. For example, I could see an Eastleigh Farm ice cream stand at Nobscot Plaza to help the plaza and farm owners to earn revenue — accomplishing two goals. Likewise, I can see our working farms partnering with local restaurants for popular farm-to-table meals for their mutual benefit.
Three specific things I will do in my first 100 days:
On my first day as mayor, I will call the President of Shaw’s for a meeting so we can immediately get to work on a solution to the Nobscot blight;
Work with the Council to establish Neighborhood Advisory Groups, volunteer citizens who will work with our Council, community boards and committees, and the Mayor to assure that residents’ voices are heard and guarantee each neighborhood retains their unique characteristics and vitality;
We will then begin the process of creating a community-wide strategic master plan. We will also review current zoning, planning, environmental and related bylaws and practices to determine the strengths and where positive changes can be made.
We need to believe in our collective knowledge and power to make these parcels productive once again for the neighborhoods they serve and our wider community.