TYNGSBORO -- Residents raised their hands and shouted out their thoughts about the town as they participated in a visioning session for a new 10-year master plan.
Their shared thoughts revealed deep pride in the historic buildings of the town, hope for continued development of the town center, and appreciation for the natural environment.
The Northern Middlesex Council of Governments moderated the event held Tuesday evening in the auditorium at Old Town Hall.
Council Executive Director Beverly Woods explained to the nearly 50 residents who were present that their participation will help determine how the community evolves over the next decade. State law requires planning boards to maintain and update master plans every 10 years.
A master plan helps manage growth and change, assure orderly growth, protect environmental resources and strengthen community identity, Woods said. It also creates a framework for future policy decisions.
Woods turned the main activity of the night over to Council Assistant Director Jay Donovan said that residents would be participating in a SWOT analysis, a brainstorming technique that produces a list of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats on large pages of flip chart paper.
Calling attention to sheets of red, green, blue, and yellow dots that each person received as they entered the brightly lit auditorium, Donovan said residents would use after the SWOT analysis to determine priorities.
As Woods called for attendees to first identify the town's strengths, an NMCOG staffer stood at the flip chart scratching out ideas. When one paper was filled -- sometimes overfilled -- with writing, another staffer walked it over and taped it to an auditorium wall.
Strengths identified included location, historic town center, police and fire protection, public library, "iconic" Tyngsboro bridge, trail access in state forest, town beach, four bodies of bodies of water, active town boards, wildlife, parking for two airports, and the 1st Parish Meeting House.
Moving on to weaknesses a resident shouted "roads." That was quickly followed by the tax rate, lack of sidewalks, access to the other side of the river, proximity to tax free New Hampshire, no opportunities for small business in the town center, town center shopping, abandoned buildings, lack of art and culture opportunities, no cultural and civic facilities, public transportation and public-safety buildings.
As they turned to opportunities for Tyngsboro, one resident urged, "creating a town center alive with arts and culture."
Another resident called for preserving open space while another identified supporting the town's agriculture.
Other ideas included more recreational use of the Merrimack River with kayak and canoe rentals.
In keeping with current events, yet another person shouted "pot shops," explaining that they will be located right at the New Hampshire border and will encourage tourism.
Attendees identified loss of quality of life, over development, over population and "looking like more like an extension of Nashua" as among the threats.
When residents finished identifying threats, Donovan gave them 15 minutes to circle the room looking at the crowded sheets of flip chart paper and covering them with the red, green, blue and yellow dots. A red dot signified highest priority, green second priority, blue third priority and yellow lowest priority.
Participants hovered around the sheets making decisions. Sometimes they gave an emphatic tap as they pasted a dot next to an idea they were passionate about.
After 15 minutes, Donovan called them to order. The sheets of paper he told them would be collected, the votes tallied and results given to the master planning committee for consideration.
He congratulated the audience for coming out. Tyngsboro residents turned out in a substantial number to begin process of planning, and they will have other chances to participate.
The event on Wednesday night was the first of four public forums for town residents help shape the community's direction. Dates and times for each forum will be announced.