The event, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, took a look at the world of zoning and planning while also providing a look at large development projects coming to town in the near future.
Jennings, who celebrated his second year on the job in Westford on Tuesday night, let the audience know that town planning can be difficult in Massachusetts compared to other states due to outdated laws.
However, he also noted that Westford’s land use future appeared to be bright due to demographic trends and various initiatives and bylaws that would help with upcoming land use issues, such as the Mill Overlay Conversion zoning bylaw enacted in 2000, and improvements with efficiency and institutional knowledge retention in the town’s Planning Department.
The majority of questions from the audience arose once discussion reached the part of the evening relating to new developments such as Cornerstone Square, and improvements to current developments such as at Red Hat.
In particular, the Cornerstone project drew a significant amount of questions. The project, which is expected to be completed this fall, will mark a significant change to the corner of Littleton Road and Boston Road, also known as Minot’s Corner.
Jennings noted that Cornerstone developer Robert Walker had agreed to expansion of Exit 32 off 495 as part of the conditions of the project, and that efforts between Cornerstone and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is eventually expected to add several new lanes to Boston and Littleton Road, in some areas expanding the roads to the equivalent of seven lanes wide.
In addition, changes such as a physical barrier in the middle of Boston Road off Exit 32 and a new signalized intersection near the current location of Eastern Bank on Littleton Road would be coming in the future.
Currently, planning for the traffic changes near the intersection has reached the 75 percent mark and would likely begin past the opening of Cornerstone, sometime in 2013, with new lanes being built first and then traffic being rerouted there while older lanes are improved.
While issues from litigation holding up the development to the fact that Minot’s Corner has crash rates two to three times the state average made planning for the changes difficult, but the most difficult part of that planning process seems to be over in Jennings’ eyes.
“To say it’s been complex has been an understatement, but so far we’re on track and there’s been a lot of cooperation all around,” he said.
Other issues, such as future school enrollment, was also on the docket, with local demographer and audience member George Murray believed that any new residential developments like Graniteville Woods would have a delayed impact on the community.
“We have a long time to look at it, which is good because it takes five years to build a school,” said Murray, who believed the town would not need another school for ten years.
On that note, Jennings agreed, also informing the crowd about recent work with demographers on the same subject for the upcoming Princeton Properties development.
The evening concluded with discussion on a sequel to last summer’s strategic planning retreat, which this year would include outreach to any community members that wished to participate in the process.