METHUEN — The master plan steering committee recently held its final two workshops concerning the city’s future. The first session focused on natural resources and recreation.
Bill Giezentanner of Community Preservation Associates presented a slide show of Methuen’s current natural resources and recreational facilities at the Oct.12 forum. “There are many assets such as the rivers and wildlife in the city. We need to discuss how to protect those areas and how to access them.”
The existing open space is broken down into three groups: protected Conservation Commission land, limited-protection land and land with no formal protection.
Land protected by the Conservation Commission consists of 356 acres, including the town lake and forest. The 150 acres of limited-protection land includes the property the schools are on and the cemeteries around the city, while the golf courses, hospital land and the MSPCA land fall under no formal protection.
The city also has Chapter 61 (agricultural) land, which includes Raymond’s Turkey Farm and Mann Orchards.
“The agricultural land offers owners tax reductions,” Giezentanner explained. “And it offers the city a very small, limited window if the owner decides to sell.”
Giezentanner emphasized the need to increase recreation areas and the expansion of access for those existing areas.
The final workshop in the four-part series focused on community facilities and cultural resources.
Daphne Politis, a facilitator at Community Circle, said facilities and services need to grow and change as the city grows and changes. Politis added the administration buildings are in good working condition, especially the Searles Building, which serves as City Hall.
The schools, according to Politis, should be an area of concern for the citizens of Methuen. “Methuen is projected to have a lot more children enrolled in the future and some of them will have special needs, such as English as a second language.”
What came as no shock were the comments regarding the high school. “The high school is about 30 years old and no longer state of the art,” Politis said.
Brian Barber, a city and town planner for Community Preservation Associates, discussed public safety. With the Police Department and the Health Department in the Quinn Building, Barber said there is enough room to expand.
The Fire Department works in cramped quarters in the Central Station on Lowell Street. “Historically, that is a very important building,” Barber said. “But, the bays were not designed for the large fire vehicles we have today.”
Barber also said the biggest need for the Fire Department is the replacement of the firehouse in the east end of the city. “That station is in bad condition; it floods with every storm,” Barber explained. “It’s very small too and needs to be replaced.”
In regards to the sewer system, Barber said Methuen is part of the regional setup, with the treatment plant in North Andover. “Even though it is a very large capacity, it will be reached at some point because it’s used in vast, growing communities.”
Politis encouraged those that could not attend any of the workshops to enter their comments and/or suggestions on the master plan Web site: www.methuenmasterplan.com.
The residents of Methuen made sure their concerns and suggestion were heard at the master plan visioning workshops. At the end of the presentations they broke into smaller discussion groups and came up with the following suggestions.
Ways to protect natural resources: Land stewardship, raising funds, creative zoning, purchase open space, control residential development throughout the city and improving access to the Merrimack River.
Ways to improve recreation in the city: Make the Merrimack River a destination for boats from neighboring communities, combining playground use, putting lights on all athletic fields, build bike routes and an indoor playground with an ice rink and swimming pool.
Most improvement needed for community facilities: Upgrading or building a new high school, police substations, address the overcrowding issue in the entire school system, multifunctional, multicultural community center, building sidewalks throughout the city, a new center for the Arlington Neighborhood and building a visitors center.
Cultural and heritage areas that need protection, preserving and enhancing: Maintaining the role of historical planner to oversee projects, preventing the demolition of historical properties caused by neglect. Areas to preserve are the historical stone walls throughout the city, Sand Bridge, Grey Court, Organ Hall, Old Nevins Home and the landscape along the Merrimack River.
To make comments or suggestions about the future of Methuen, visit the master plan Web site, www.methuenmasterplan.com.