HANSON — The board of Selectmen, met in a joint session with the Economic Development Committee on Tuesday, June 1, discussing the proposed South Hanson Village Rapid Recovery Program, funded by a grant offered by the Mass Dept. of Housing and Community Development (DHC).
Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett also serves on the EDC. The full video meeting can be viewed on the WHCA-TV YouTube page.
The committee has been working with Planner Deb Pettey to apply for the state grant, which provided funding to hire Stantech Consultant Phil Schaeffing.
“There’s a lot of talk on social media about of the Main Street corridor. “I just want to remind everybody, we’re talking about privately-owned property…we do try to encourage compliance.”
She said Stantech was going to boil down all the brainstorming done so far into an action plan, and that Tuesday’s meeting was an update on the consultant’s work so far.
“This is a project,” she said, warning against dreams of a quick-fix. “It’s a process that’s going to require cooperation from the businesses. It’s going to require support from the citizens. This is our first step.”
The grant would cover Main Street to Elm Street and Schaeffing, who is an urban planner, said the Boston design firm was interested in the basic needs for the area and developing actionable recovery plans tailored to economic challenges.
There are 43 communities involved in the grant program, with Hanson’s centering on the Commuter Rail area. The June 1 meeting was the conclusion of the first phase of the program. It will be followed by webinars, consultations and discussions with subject matter experts before a final plan is presented in September.
Recommendations will be made in the public and private realms, revenue and sales, administrative capacity, tenant mix and the potential role of cultural/arts in town.
“We’re putting together, essentially, a road map that says, ‘Here are the projects, here are the potential funding sources, here are some of the responsible parties for these different projects … and kind of a time frame for it,’” Schaeffing said of the planning grant.
Priority areas for recommendations are: a community events and business resource guide, tech aide and outdoor events to showcase local businesses, with improved pedestrian and bike safety and improving the appearance of vacant buildings and business facades in the long term.
“We gave the overall study area a C,” Schaeffing said of sidewalks as well as crosswalks in the Commuter Rail area where pedestrian safety is concerned. Street lighting, meanwhile, earned an F. Signing also earned an F.
“Some of the key takeaways are a real need to make improvements, particularly to support pedestrian activity — improvements to sidewalks and providing amenities that don’t exist today, like street trees for shade in the summer and pedestrian lighting,” Schaeffing said of a recent survey of business owners and residents of the area.
Commuter Rail costs — $10.50 for a one-way Zone 6 ticket, or $340 per month — was another issue Schaeffing spoke of, especially in light of the potential long-term impact of COVID on business.
“There are a number of businesses — 63 in Hanson Village — it’s kind of hard to tell, because some of them are kind of hidden inside buildings that don’t necessarily have signage,” he said.
A handful of residents attended the meeting virtually to ask questions. One resident, viewing from home, asked how new businesses could be attracted to town.
Schaeffing said that, while different types of businesses have different needs, one help would be in creating the business environment where companies complement or support each other.
“Another is to figure out as a town what do we want this area around the Commuter Rail station to be?” he said. “Do we want sort of main street-type businesses to fill in some of the vacancies here, or do we see this as a service/commercial corridor?”
FitzGerald-Kemmett said the EDC has also heard from businesses that some of Hanson’s zoning bylaws “may not be super business-friendly.”
Another resident asked if grant or funding options have been looked into as a method of outreach to businesses to improve exteriors.
“We really need to figure out what we want to see as a town down there,” said Planner Deb Pettey, echoing what Schaeffing said. She said she has looked into block grants, but said Hanson is in a predicament where grants are concerned because of the town’s higher income compared to other competing communities.
Selectmen Chairman Matt Dyer suggested that an economic anchor and a New England-themed recreation option are ways that the town — and the Final Plymouth County Hospital Reuse Committee in particular — are examining to draw people to the area.
Selectmen voted to rescind the COVID state of emergency in town, effective June 15 in coordation with state guidelines ending on that date as vaccination goals are met. The board voted to extend outdoor dining permits until Dec. 1, however.
“I try to look for silver linings and in COVID, this was a silver lining, to try to help all these restaurants expand their footprint outside because there’s a lot of people even still who don’t feel comfortable eating inside,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said, noting that all restaurants in town said they had benefitted from it.
Dyer said the state would have to pass legislation before the towns are able to do so on a permanent basis.
Selectmen voted to approve a cannabis delivery service at Impressed LLC, meaning a potential additional $7 million, of which the town could impose a 3 percent local option tax, on top of the 3 percent tax the state collects and sends to the town, potentially meaning $420,000 annually for Hanson. The company had written a letter to the board requesting such consideration.
In fiscal 2020, recreational cannabis sales generated $122 million in taxes to the state, of which, $30.5 million was in sales taxes and $14.4 million in local tax options, according to Town Administrator Lisa Green.
“This is definitely a substantial revenue generator for municipalities that we really should consider supporting,” said Green, who said there is no time limit mentioned for the fee, which is on top of the impact tax. The Cannabis Control Commission would still have to approve the company’s application. The company will not be doing direct retail business in Hanson.
“People are going to be allowed to deliver cannabis to Hanson whether we allow Impressed LLC to do it or not,” FitzGerald-Kemmett noted, pointing to state law permitting it.
She also requested that the town seek an updated financial forecast from Impressed LLC.
“It’s a commerce entity,” Green said. “You really can’t stop them.”
Dyer asked about the potential for Selectmen getting a tour of the Impressed LLC business, which Green’s office said has been offered as an invitation to the board.
Selectman Jim Hickey, who had voted against the warrant article at last month’s Town Meeting, changed his position citing the potential funds for the town.
“I was wrong,” he said.
“You weren’t wrong, you just got more educated,” Selectman Kenny Mitchell said.