The Town of Westborough Prepares a People-Driven Master Plan

Smart community planning puts public input first

May 31, 2021

A diverse group of community members sit at a round table together while one person writes ideas on a large writing pad.

The Town of Westborough, Massachusetts, has been known as a crossroads, where historic trails brought settlement, farming, mills, and taverns. Industrial progress catalyzed by native son, Eli Whitney, Jr. led to commerce located in a downtown that still serves as the commercial and cultural center for the community. Today’s Westborough retains its historic charm and small population (nearly 20,000), but has big dreams for its future. Recognizing the rising impact of factors like growth in population and development, housing affordability, epidemics and pandemics, and climate change, the Town asked VHB to help update its Westborough Master Plan, which was last published in 2003. VHB’s approach prioritized smart community planning through a focus on stakeholder engagement and plan co-creation.

The Master Plan engagement process included public forums, topic-focused stakeholder workshops, electronic and hardcopy surveys, and in-person outreach at community meetings and popular town events such as the Westborough Holiday Stroll. Additionally, the VHB Team created a comprehensive website to communicate the master planning process and outcomes and to solicit feedback in a variety of formats, such as traditional surveys, interactive idea generation, and storytelling. The data that VHB planners gathered through these engagement mechanisms will help set short- and long-term goals to guide decisions about equitable, smart growth, and will retain and build upon the best of this Metro Boston community for future generations.

“We want to prepare Westborough for the next wave of development we see coming, including office, industrial, and mixed-use transit-oriented development that is so important to New England towns on heavily trafficked corridors and roads,” said Donny Goris-Kolb, Senior Environmental and Sustainability Planner. “Creating attainable housing for residents and preserving the town’s natural resources like rivers, ponds, and wetland systems is also important, especially for attracting a new generation. So is enhancing Westborough’s downtown as its cultural and economic hub – all while making sure to retain the town’s New England charm and apply sustainability principles every step of the way.”

The Westborough Master Plan will be a smart growth roadmap for the community for many years. It will outline priorities that address the community’s vision for the future. Examples of priority actions include:

  • Evaluate the potential of establishing a “Downtown Village Overlay District” that solidifies the community’s vision for the downtown area and works to eliminate an inconsistent development pattern.
  • Market the Town’s unique strengths and attractions within the Metro Boston region, including its large commercial developments, historic downtown, and Route 9 retail corridors.
  • Expand the town’s network of recreational and commuter trails, including the completion of its beloved Charm Bracelet and the Boston and Worcester Air Line Trail (BWALT).
  • Promote the development of small farms to balance the development of remaining open space between actual building sites and open land. Including the promotion of agrihoods, which is the development of homes surrounded by working farms.
  • Engage the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and other pertinent partners to evaluate the feasibility for a commuter rail station in downtown Westborough and/or explore other transit options that leverage new technologies or modes of travel.
  • Adopt a Climate Action Plan to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the community-scale and across all of the Town’s municipal operations consistent with state goals.
  • Work with health care providers to confirm health services are located in areas accessible to residents, prioritizing the communities with the most demonstrated need.

VHB has worked extensively with communities across New England to develop master plans that elevate stakeholders’ needs, including the Towns of Hudson, Greenfield, Maynard, and Somerset, to name just a few. For more information about smart community planning for more sustainable, resilient, equitable places to live, work, and play, contact Donny.

Large poster boards at the 2020 Westborough Holiday Stroll hold sticky notes with handwritten ideas from the community. A view of City Hall in downtown Westborough, Massachusetts, beside an historic memorial statue