With 16 Acres in the Center, What Do We Do Now?

I joined a group of about 30 citizens to talk about a big issue in Deerfield tonight. On November 16, the town will own a 16-acre piece of land in the center that was once a pickle factory. Now they want to form a steering committee to find out what to do with it. The meeting was lead by planner John Mullen, who has done this many times before: gathered a diverse group of citizens, looked at all of the possibilities, and helped a committee put forth a well-considered roadmap on what to do next.

One person whose name came up more than once was local developer Steve Upton. He is clearly one person in town with a lot of development experience–and one finance committee member said that was needed for a group like this. Upton stopped speculation dead in its tracks when he announced that he wasn’t going to try develop the land himself. So I guess that means he might want to be on the steering committee.

At the end Mullen went around to everyone at the meeting and asked them what they got out of the 90 minute session. People offered up some of their own highlights: “transparency.” “think outside the box.” “UMass is a great resource.” “Work slowly, No rush.”

My own personal favorite point was made early by Mullen. It was a thought he had as he sat waiting to begin speaking, and he just threw it out but I loved it. He suggested that the town could give a developer a 100-year lease and not have to sell the property at all. After I said that this was the idea I liked best, Finance Committee heavyweight Gordon Oakes echoed my sentiment. And then a third man agreed. The idea: Creative ways the project can unfold.

So Deerfield now has to decide what the mission should be, and then they will begin the process of forming a powerful steering committee to start the considering their many options.