City Tackles First Master Plan in 44 Years

By Joe Cohen
Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — In 1964, the city created the forward-looking “Master Plan for 1980.” But since 1980, the city has taken at least a half-dozen incomplete or unsuccessful stabs at a new comprehensive master plan.
Sometimes it was called a strategic plan, plan of development, development summary and vision of the “New Bedford of tomorrow.” Call it what you like, but for 44 years, the city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants and municipal staff efforts, yet no comprehensive, citywide master plan made it past the draft stage.
That might be about to change.
The city is preparing to begin work on the “Master Plan of 2020,” and city officials insist they are serious about delivering a final product, which Scott W. Lang promised during his first campaign for mayor in 2005.
City Planner David A. Kennedy said he has a tentative schedule to advertise for consultant proposals about Dec. 1, to meet with consultants interested in working on the Master Plan for 2020 about mid-month, to receive their proposals in early January and by the end of January to have a recommendation from a municipal review committee to send to the purchasing department. After a contract is approved, work will begin, including neighborhood meetings.
Mr. Kennedy said Mayor Lang is serious about getting a new master plan completed — and soon.
Also pushing the process along is Planning Board Chairman George N. Smith and Matthew A. Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council.
“This is very real — it is not academic,” Mr. Morrissey said. “The only way to sustain the momentum we have built so far is to have an overarching plan that brings it together,” Mr. Morrissey said, speaking about 11 plans for city development that have been or are about to be completed. “You need to have a unifying city plan to connect these areas together,” Mr. Morrissey said. Those plans include the main harbor, upper harbor, downtown, Acushnet Avenue, Hicks-Logan-Sawyer, South End and Route 18.
“The strategy has been that the master plan is the sum of the parts,” Mr. Morrissey said. “To create opportunities for government investment, you need planning, also to attract private investment for economic development and job creation.”
Mr. Morrissey said a master plan should be a “living, breathing document.”
Mr. Kennedy agrees with Mr. Morrissey that a master plan is a living document — meaning it needs to be flexible and adjust with changes over time. He also points out that Massachusetts law requires communities such as New Bedford to have a master plan. Ideally, he said, it would be updated every 10 years or so.
Mr. Kennedy said the master plan has many functions, including to help guide where federal grant money goes, address how infrastructure is put in place and can even resolve “rivalry and strife” in a municipality. It also helps serve as a blueprint for City Council decision-making.
In the upcoming master plan process, Mr. Kennedy said, he envisions much input coming from neighborhood groups. He also expects many city agencies to be involved.
Planning Board Chairman George N. Smith said he is “enthusiastic about a master plan and cannot wait until it is done.”
“When we have companies come into the city, it is of interest to them if they are going to invest to know how that area will be developed,” Mr. Smith said. Zoning decisions also can evolve from a master plan, Mr. Smith said. “The city is farther along than it has been in 40-something years,” Mr. Smith said of efforts to develop a new master plan.
When he first ran for mayor in 2005, Mayor Lang said a new master plan would be a priority. He said Monday that work began on the plan in 2006, the year he took office, there was activity in 2007, and the process continues to move along at a measured pace. He said he wants to see a well thought out plan, not something quickly thrown together.
Mayor Lang said he is anxious to get “a citywide plan for economic development and quality of life” in place, noting it “must be flexible enough so that with a changing landscape it will be able to accommodate economic development that is compatible.” An up-to-date master plan is “something that has been missing,” Mayor Lang said. “This will greatly help.”
Work on the master plan is expected to be funded in part by MassDevelopment, a quasi-public state agency that works to help businesses and create jobs, the Garfield Foundation of Marion, the economic development council along with the city.
Contact Joe Cohen at
November 18, 2008
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