HANSON — The town’s Economic Development Committee on Monday, Sept. 13, presented its latest work in the efforts to revitalize the Main Street corridor.
The EDC gave its second presentation during a joint session with the board. Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett, who also serves on the EDC, along with fellow members Ken Sweezy and Jim Geronaitis attended the session.
Geronaitis and Stantec representative Phil Schaeffing and, at times, former Town Planner Deb Pettey, past and present town administrators have worked on a grant to fund and plan for the Main Street efforts, according to FitzGerald-Kemmett.
The local rapid recovery plan, as it is known, includes actionable plans tailored to the unique economic challenges and COVID-19 impacts of downtown areas through a planning grant funded by the Mass. Dept. of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). Hanson is one of 120 communities — mostly medium or small in size — across the commonwealth to participate in the grant program.
The area between Elm and High Streets is being referred to as South Hanson Village, Schaeffing said.
A business survey was conducted in the spring and the EDC has been reviewing project recommendations during the summer toward drafting a plan and public presentation, which is due to DHCD by Oct. 8.
Those project recommendations include building and façade improvements — which is one of the primary recommendations — maintenance and repair and general improvements such as signage. Projects fall into one or more of six categories: public realm, private realm, revenue & sales, administrative capacity, tenant mix and cultural/arts.
Improvements to the pedestrian environment, to improve access to businesses and the MBTA station are looked to in an effort to aid safety to cyclists or pedestrian, which are also safety priorities of the federal Department of Transportation.
Infrastructure improvements to accommodate present and future development and connection to the Burrage Pond trails are being explored, Schaeffing said, as is the encouragement of more housing.
“From a business perspective, having more residents that are living nearby, especially for retail or service-oriented businesses, is helpful for that business,” he said.
“There’s more to talk about on this,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “It’s not our place to be unilaterally saying that we’re knocking on people’s doors and saying, ‘Please come to Hanson and develop this type of housing.’ We’re talking about is there a way for us to develop a zone and work with it so we can effectuate the outcome more than we have the existing 40B.”
Schaeffing said any housing development depends on having regulations in place that permit the development.
Engaging local business owners is also being looked at to help increase sales and encouraging a “buy local” atmosphere as well as facilitating third-party technical support to help increase online sales and marketing.
Selectmen Chairman Matt Dyer said a town-wide visioning process might be the best step to take next.
“We had some really good outcomes with the Plymouth County Hospital property where that was quite the turnout for a committee,” Dyer said.
Sweezy suggested a good approach would be to look at the area in terms of what image Hanson wants to project as a community.
Selectman Jim Hickey endorsed that approach, but had a question about the funding, especially for sidewalk extension.
Sweezy said the main focus is what funding is available now and then
“What do we want it to look like?” FitzGerald-Kemmett said of the zoning and visioning considerations. “Do we want it to be modern … or are we looking for it to resemble a quaint New England town with lighting so people feel safe?”
She noted that the EDC has received feedback that people do not feel safe walking to the MBTA.
“This is really a pivotal time for the town of Hanson,” Dyer said, while agreeing with FitzGerald-Kemmett that none of it will happen overnight.
“A quick-hit that may make some of us feel a lot better … is the façade piece,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “I really hate to use the analogy about slapping lipstick on a pig, but I’m willing to do that if it makes people not cringe when they drive through that area.”
Selectmen voted to change Town Administrator Lisa Green’s title from interim to permanent, pending a good performance evaluation.
“I think that Lisa’s been doing a great job,” said Dyer. “One of the things I keep on hearing, as I make my way through Town Hall is, ‘Well, we’ll see how long Lisa is with us,’ ‘She’s interim,’ and I think, at this point, … I personally would like to keep her and I would like to see her become the town administrator and drop the ‘interim.’”
FitzGerald-Kemmett said she has done an outstanding job after having to hit the ground running.
“Boy, did she get handed a lot of ticking little time bombs, not getting into details, but you guys all know,” she said, but expressed concern that the board take extra pains to ensure proper procedure.
“She goes constantly above and beyond,” Dyer said. “She’s here for the best interests of the town of Hanson.”
Selectmen Joe Weeks said he did not feel he had enough information to make that decision and preferred to wait until after seeing how Green works Town Meeting on her own. Selectman Kenny Mitchell’s absence also concerned him, as Weeks felt the full board should be able to weigh in.
Selectman Jim Hickey said the issue is simple.
“All it does is take off the interim,” he said. “Her contract runs out next August anyway.”
Hickey noted that, if she misses Town Meeting for a training program, it’s because she wants to be a better town administrator.
Town Counsel Kate Feodoroff said that, while the move might be unprecedented for Hanson, it is not unprecedented for other communities.
“There are certainly many, many examples of interims that morph into a permanent without doing an exhaustive search because its like a probationary period,” she said. “You have the benefit of seeing people in action as opposed to on paper or how the interview. In that sense, it can be quite positive.”
She said that takes place routinely across the commonwealth.
Dyer also argued that former Town Planner Deb Pettey was hired the same way.
FitzGerald-Kemmett also noted that Green was among the top four applicants of an “exhaustive” search that yielded a hire that lasted 16 months.
Selectmen approved the change 3-0-1, with Weeks abstaining.