Barnstable department brings coordinated approach to planning

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From The Beacon, Mass Innovations, January 2008

Barnstable’s work to revitalize downtown Hyannis, which recently received a national “smart growth” award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, also helped to change the town’s approach to managing growth.

Partly as a consequence of creating the Hyannis Growth Incentive Zone, Barnstable moved to consolidate six planning-related functions – regulatory review, comprehensive planning, community development, economic development, property management, and traffic and parking management – within a single department.

“We realized that in trying to do smart growth and smart planning under [the former] government structure, each department was kind of in its own silo,” says Patty Daley, the interim director of what is known as the Growth Management Department. “We wanted to approach town issues in an interdisciplinary way.”

The department consists of 16 staff members, including a community and economic development coordinator, a regulatory coordinator, a property management coordinator (responsible for tracking acquisitions and sales of municipal property), and a special projects coordinator (responsible for arts and culture events and programs).

The staff also includes a traffic engineer from the Department of Public Works and two planners, one of whom works primarily on developing a comprehensive plan. Noting that comprehensive plans tend to be highly technical, Daley says the town is trying to create a version that will be more user-friendly.

The need for clarity became evident, she says, when Barnstable was laying plans to reinvigorate downtown Hyannis, a district that town officials say had been in decline since the 1970s, if not before. The planning, designed to concentrate growth in Hyannis’s urban core and discourage sprawl in the rest of Barnstable’s 60 square miles, was lauded by the EPA as an example of development that serves to protect, rather than threaten, aquifers, coastline and other environmentally sensitive areas.

To facilitate the planning, Barnstable created a growth management committee, an entity that according to Daley was especially helpful in gaining approval from the Cape Cod Commission, the region’s planning authority.

Completing the commission’s application was an “interdisciplinary exercise” involving the DPW, housing officials and staff involved with acquiring and managing town property, Daley says. Not only did the plan have to demonstrate that Hyannis had sufficient infrastructure to support more than 200 additional residential units, but it also had to protect large swaths of open space as a means of offsetting the urban growth.

To be successful, “We realized that we had to talk to people in a way that everyone understood, and that we had to build some consensus around it,” Daley says.

The goals of the Growth Management Department, formally established in September 2005, include coordinating the town’s comprehensive plan with its capital improvement plan. If, for example, stormwater improvements are identified as a town-wide goal, department staff will seek to ensure that such improvements are included in the capital planning process as well.

“It’s really all about efficiency, and coordination,” Daley says.

For more information, contact Patty Daley at (508) 862-4678.

This monthly column highlights some of the innovative approaches and strategies Massachusetts municipalities are using to deliver services and solve problems. If you know of a Mass Innovation that could be featured in this column, please call the MMA at (800) 882-1498.

Written by MMA Associate Editor Mitch Evich