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Walpole’s MPIC faces uncertain future

August 18, 2015

The Walpole Master Plan Implementation Committee, at one time held out as a key player in revitalizing Walpole’s economic development hopes, now must either re-calibrate itself, or face potential irrelevance, or worse, as it contends with a shifting political current at Town Hall and increasing internal challenges.

Town Hall sources who spoke to 180 on the condition of anonymity paint a picture of an MPIC that is now searching for direction, with some internal problems that emerged before the June town election but have hastened with the re-election defeats of the committee’s two most prominent political supporters, Selectwoman Nancy Mackenzie and Planning Board member Ed Forsberg.

Forsberg and Mackenzie were on the Planning Board at the time the MPIC was formed, as an advisory committee to the Planning Board, in 2004. During their stints on the Planning Board, and during Mackenzie’s subsequent tenure on the Board of Selectmen, both individuals were integral to keeping the MPIC active at Town Hall.

As the Planning Board’s appointed representative on the committee, Forsberg had served as the MPIC Chairman since 2009. He replaced Mackenzie, who had held the chairmanship since the committee’s creation.

Mackenzie lost her bid for a third Selectman term in the June election to political newcomer David Salvatore. Forsberg lost his own bid for re-election in an upset to Elizabeth Gaffey. Their departures from the political scene essentially means that there are no current elected town officeholders with the combined institutional knowledge of the committee’s work, and the drive to actually see the MPIC’s work come to fruition.

In an indication of the leadership void that has now emerged, the first MPIC meeting after the election, earlier this summer, saw a dispute occur over who should succeed Forsberg as chairman. Even though the committee’s charter requires that the Planning Board’s representative serve as chairman, at least one other member wanted to take over the chairmanship themselves.

The MPIC was formed in 2004 with great promise, armed with what appeared to be a solid blueprint for the future – the much-acclaimed 2004 Walpole Master Plan.

The Master Plan, initiated by the Planning Board with involvement by the Board of Selectmen and a private consultant, outlined the town’s hopes and dreams, on everything from revitalizing downtown to creating more open space and affordable housing.

The MPIC, as its name suggests, was intended to oversee the implementation of the plan, and is composed of representatives from the Conservation Commission, Historical Commission, Board of Selectmen, School Committee, Walpole Chamber of Commerce, and several town departments, along with residents at-large appointed by Selectmen.

The MPIC’s charter requires that the Master Plan be reviewed and updated every ten years, and that public meetings be organized every five years to review and modify the Master Plan.

Under state law, every community must have a Master Plan, updated every ten years.

Although the MPIC made important strides in a variety of categories in the Master Plan, some members now privately admit that the committee ended up sidetracked on less important projects, including, most recently, the much-derided “Bridge to Nowhere” near Town Hall.

The footbridge, built at $80,000 of taxpayer expense, was intended to link two different portions of what is now known as Spring Brook Park, and help beautify the downtown area. The surrounding park was improved through donated labor and funds.

The continued work at the Spring Brook Park, including the recent construction of a ramada there, has dominated the committee’s focus for much of the last several years, at the expense of other priorities in the Master Plan.

Business owners, in particular, have grown impatient with the MPIC’s failure to come through on revitalization of the downtown area, which the creation of the Spring Brook Park was intended to help foster.

Other MPIC critics, on both sides of the political aisle, have also argued for years that the MPIC takes too much power away from the Planning Board and Economic Development Committee, and meddles in issues it should not be involved in, such as town facility construction.

Last year, the MPIC embarked on an effort to update and revise the Master Plan’s tenets, but low meeting attendance combined with waning interest from the members never provided the momentum that the committee needed to pursue any serious updates.

Committee members interviewed by 180 say that the recent dispute over the chairmanship has now been settled, but the contention suggests that the committee is made up of divergent visions lacking unifying leadership. These members told 180 that they hope to complete the Spring Brook Park project soon, so they can move on to other pursuits, and re-engage the committee’s members and other town boards to complete the Master Plan revision process.

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