Framingham and Natick collaborate on outreach to plan for shared area

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As Framingham and Natick look to build a vision for the area around exit 13 off I-90, they are reaching out to residents as well as the “transient community” for feedback.
 
The two communities are collaborating on a joint study after the Massachusetts Department of Transportation approached them about plans to redesign the heavily used exit. The state had an idea for an alternative, but wanted to know what the communities envisioned for traffic and development in the area.
 
The 900-plus-acre area, also known as the “Golden Triangle District,” has diverse development and provides access to a number of major employers within the two municipalities, including TJX, as well as access to Shopper’s World and the Natick Mall, routes 9 and 30, and a Logan Express facility.
 
While the project team is using traditional methods like public meetings to gather feedback, the team needed to find a way to reach workers, shoppers and travelers who frequent the area but don’t necessarily live in the towns.
 
“We have to look for a future that accounts for changes in the retail and office market,” said Arthur Robert, Framingham’s director of community and economic development, “and ways to transition this area that is vehicle-dependent. The project is not only looking to improve vehicle use, but also accessibility for bikers and pedestrians.”
 
The process to form the collaborative committee – including a memorandum of agreement signed by both boards of selectmen to outline costs, communication and management – and send out an RFP, began in 2015. The team brought in the design firm Crosby Schlessinger Smallridge and kicked off the project this past April.
 
“It’s a joint effort, not owned by either community, and neither stands to benefit at the expense of the other,” Robert said. “So it will help the communities work together and approach stakeholders as we move forward.”
 
Those who wish to offer feedback online may go to the project page on coUrbanize.com and leave comments that pin to a map of the area. They can also access information about the study, including a project timeline.
 
The team also employed signs in strategic areas with instructions on how to provide comments via SMS that connect to the online platform.
 
“It’s the first time we’re relying on a web-based platform in this way,” said Erika Jerram, deputy director of community and economic development in Framingham. “It’s been a nice complement to allow us to reach an audience that isn’t our normal constituency.”
 
Robert said one goal is to be transparent and “make sure the people have a window into projects.”
 
The research and public engagement effort will ultimately result in the creation of an updated district land use, zoning, and transportation/mobility plan for the area. After the online map closes for comments (it will remain available archived), the committee will release a draft report in the coming months for public comment.
 
“It’s perfect for this kind of project where we are expanding two communities,” Jerram said. “It’s helping us to think about outreach in new ways.”