HARVARD - A need for more convenient retail was among many issues discussed about the town's C District at a roundtable Wednesday.
About 20 residents attended the discussion, one of a series that ran last week to collect input for a 2014 update to the town's Master Plan. Residents split into two groups to discuss problems and solutions with the C district and transportation.
The commercial C district, which runs roughly along Ayer Road from the northern side of Route 2 to an area just before the town boundary, has been cited as a potential area for a grocery store.
This year, residents will also vote on whether to zone for adult entertainment and medical marijuana districts there so that such businesses are legally confined if they wish to enter the town.
"One of the things that we know is that in the C district, the current zoning hasn't attracted a lot," said Joe Hutchinson, who serves on the town's Planning Board.
Residents also highlighted traffic from commercial development as a potential problem.
"When they talk about a bigger supermarket, the problem with that would be the 18-wheelers that come in to deliver," said Rosemary Theriault. "The more volume, the bigger the trucks."
Town Planner Bill Scanlan said there also needs to be some communication with north Harvard residents who live near the district.
"When ideas are proposed or some development, the neighborhoods seem to come out and oppose change up there," he said. "I'm sure they have legitimate concerns.
Keeping the character of the district intact while allowing for businesses to grow was also identified as another main problem. Residents put forth of a fear of strip malls and suggested avoiding a strictly development look.
Residents also proposed looking at the future tax base that could come from building out the district. Taxes from commercial businesses might be able to relieve the residential tax burden.
But Brenda Cunningham said she and her husband heard that argument as residents of Westford for 35 years, and development still never solved the problem.
"Acres and acres of orchards and trees are gone, it's just a traffic nightmare," she said. "We moved here to get out of that."
The top three transportation issues included vehicle speeds, sharing roads and the need for comprehensive planning at town center.
The speed of vehicles throughout town might be posing a risk for children waiting for school buses.
"I'm on Ayer Road and my kids stand at the end of the driveway and cars are going by 45-50 miles an hour," said SusanMary Redinger, who is also chair of the School Committee.
Redinger suggested reducing the speed limit on Ayer Road, arguing that people see the 40 mph speed limit and go 50. The lack of speed signs was also pinpointed as a problem.
"They should be more prominent, because there's many areas I'm not entirely sure what the speed limit is," said Chris McWhite.
Residents examined a number of issues with the town center, including a lack of lighting and parking. Sharing roads with pedestrians and bicyclists was also a problem.
Many expert cyclists come to Harvard just to ride the towns hills, said Laura Villain, a member of the finance committee.
"We're courting them over at the General Store," she said. "It's a gathering place."
Proposed solutions included pathways, marked bike routes and "share the road" signs.
The roundtable input will go toward drafting an update to the town's master plan, which outlines town goals for the coming years. The town's last Master Plan was created in 2002.
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