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Mass Innovations, From The Beacon, February 2013
MMA Innovation Award winner, 2013
Revitalizing a once-vibrant commercial district is rarely easy, especially when the district is divided among two communities.
That was the challenge faced by Weymouth Mayor Susan Kay and Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan, both of whom came into office in January 2008.
A little more than a year later, in the midst of a deep recession, Braintree and Weymouth applied for and won state Public Works Economic Development grants totaling more than $2.5 million for infrastructure and streetscape improvements, such as moving unsightly utility poles from the front of buildings to the back.
“To be able to accomplish this and break ground in that economy was just fabulous,” Kay recalled.
“A very big part of it,” she added, “was how difficult it might be to get the zoning approved” in both communities.
“But when we showed Braintree our zoning,” she said, “it turned out that they had pretty much the same zoning as in Weymouth.”
Officials in the two towns also established a streamlined approval process for new businesses and introduced traffic-calming measures designed to make the Landing district more pedestrian-friendly.
A forthcoming project involves uncovering a submerged stream known as the Smelt Run that will run along a walking path from Commercial Street, the Landing’s main thoroughfare, to a parking lot adjacent to the nearby Greenbush line commuter-rail station.
While more work still needs to be done – including dealing with the owner of properties that have been vacant for several years – there has been a net gain of five or six businesses in the district over the past few years, according to Kay.
“This was a true comprehensive and broad consensus,” said Sullivan, adding that he spent a good deal of time in the Landing district as a child. “We were able to convince state officials that we had a vision. Now we need to ramp up our outreach to the business community.
“Regionalization is not an easy approach. But it can be a winning approach when the benefits exceed what any one community can do on its own.”
For more information, contact Weymouth Planning and Community Development Director James Clarke at (781) 340-5015.
The winners of the annual Kenneth Pickard Municipal Innovation Awards were recognized at the MMA Annual Meeting on Jan. 26.