HARVARD -- A need for more convenient retail business was among many issues discussed at a roundtable last Wednesday about the town's C District.
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 at this forum split into two groups to discuss problems and solutions with the C district and transportation.
The commercial C district, which runs 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 highlighted traffic from commercial development as a potential concern.
"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 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. There has to be some way to address those concerns and still allow development."
Keeping the character of the district intact while allowing for businesses to grow was identified as another key issue. Residents expressed an aversion to strip malls and suggested avoiding such an appearance.
Those present proposed looking at the future tax base that could come from building out the district. Taxes from commercial development could 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 were vehicle speeds, sharing roads and the need for comprehensive planning at the town center.
"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 chairwoman 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 is another issue.
"They should be more prominent, because there's many areas I'm not entirely sure what the speed limit is," said Chris McWhite.
On the town center, issues included a lack of lighting and parking, and sharing roads with pedestrians and bicyclists.
Many expert cyclists come to Harvard just to ride the 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 marked bike routes and "share the road" signs.
The roundtable input will be considered in the drafting of an update to the town's master plan, which outlines town goals. The town's last master plan was created in 2002.
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