By Rod Lee
No one would blame Dudley Town Planner Donald T. Johnson if he felt like the clock was being rolled back as Fall Town Meeting approaches.
Mr. Johnson’s Master’s thesis at Iowa State University was entitled “The Potential for Solar Energy Development in Housing: Use of Ames, Iowa as a Case Study.” All these years later, Dudley voters are being asked to weigh in, yes or no, on creation of an overlay district for solar farms in town.
Mr. Johnson acknowledged with a whimsical look during an interview in the office of the Planning Board at the Dudley Municipal Center on September 27th that the issue kindles memories of his student days at Plymouth State University where he obtained a BS, cum laude, in Geology and Social Science; and at Iowa State. He has held a number of positions related to his field since then including one that made him the first professional planner for the town of Putnam. He has been town planner in Dudley since August of 2016.
The specific property being looked at for solar-energy purposes, according to Guy Horne, who chairs the Dudley Planning Board, is a forty-acre tract off Ramshorn Road. Approval may hinge on completion of work on Partridge Hill Road that needs to meet “town specifications,” Mr. Horne said.
There is also possibly a presentiment against solar, John Briere, who chairs the town’s Economic Development Committee, said, because “the Shepherd Hill project came out so bad in so many ways.”
Also on the agenda for Fall Town Meeting on October 29th at Shepherd Hill High School is an article addressing the growing, manufacture and distribution of marijuana in Dudley. Mr. Horne points out that this is a question that needs to be addressed because “if you don’t establish” a provision for it in zoning “it can go anywhere.”
Looming even larger than solar and marijuana is the future of the historic Stevens Mill property near the French River—just west of the Webster town line. The mill, defined by its twin six-story towers, produced linen from 1864 to the mid-1990’s and was more recently home to the Dudley Do-Right Flea Market. The flea market closed for good earlier this year after pipes froze and burst, leaving the fate of the property, owned by George S. Peterson of Wentworth, New Hampshire, in limbo.
Mr. Johnson, Mr. Horne and Mr. Briere all said redevelopment of the Stevens Mill is top of mind. Mr. Johnson alluded to the prospective submission of an application for a block grant to create a village overlay district—a move recommended by the Central Mass. Regional Planning Commission (CMRPC). This would facilitate creating a new use for the mill but, he said, “it’s not something that happens overnight.”
“This is a big thing for us,” Mr. Horne said of the Stevens Mill. “Originally, it was going to be mixed-use, all one and two-bedroom affording housing, but that fell through. There is no proposal now and the owner is in arrears on taxes to the town” (Mr. Briere said his understanding, however, is that these have been paid).
The town is also eyeing “other areas along West Main St.” including the Dudley Plaza, as sites that could be given “a village feel,” Mr. Johnson said. Referring to this as “place making,” he nodded in agreement at reference of Putnam as a community where a tight-knitted atmosphere has been achieved. Downtown Putnam with its antique shops, art galleries, restaurants and the Bradley Theater has benefitted from having “a strong downtown business association—and Riverside Park,” he said.
Dudley’s Schofield Ave. is being targeted for upgrades, too.
“We are also looking to promote farming in town,” Mr. Johnson said. Agriculture is what Dudley has long been known for. “We have the highest percentage of land devoted to agriculture next to Amherst. Out of twenty square miles, that’s a lot of land. We have at least one dairy farm and a lot of haying going on.”
Residential development is part of the picture, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Horne said. Rocky Hill Estates still has six or so lots still available for housing, Pierpont Estates a dozen or so.
“We have a 55-and-over subdivision going up off Dudley Hill Road, between there and Airport Road, and an eighteen-unit conventional subdivision is planned off Jesse Road,” Mr. Horne said. “There is a lot of concern” circulating around the latter project. “At the bottom of the hill there is a huge amount of runoff, and wetlands that lie fifty feet below Alton Drive.”
There may be no big plans on the drawing board in the town of Dudley, but smaller ones are commanding their share of attention.
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.
The Dudley Municipal Complex on West Main St.