It is not uncommon for cities and towns to actively seek economic and industrial development in times of economic stress. However, the desire to promote industrial activity and broaden the tax base is often left to the government or the town leaders. Town residents do not necessarily share this vision of development with town government. Industry, especially in rural Massachusetts, is still perceived as belching smokestacks creating myriad environmental problems.
Although a large number of towns wish to broaden the tax base and share the tax burden with new development, few have positioned themselves well to gain from or proactively encourage economic development. The following is a partial listing of recurring trends when dealing industrial siting or development.
There is a tendency to remove land from industrial use across the Commonwealth. The absorption rate and the buildout rate for industrial land is slower than that for commercial or residential property. Thus, there is often pressure placed by land owners on a community to change the uses such that they can get a quicker return on investment. Community consensus is also easier to obtain for residential developments than for industrial projects.
There is a historic tendency to place land unsuitable for other uses into the industrial category. Historically, parcels along rivers and streams were zoned for industry as it depended on water power. Unfortunately, today, much of that land lies within the flood plain and is unusable. As well, increased environmental awareness coupled with stringent laws for wetland protection, buffer zones and protection of aquifer recharge areas have removed much land from consideration. Land zoned for industry also needs to be visible and, therefore, leftover land in the far corner of the town is not always desirable. Industrial land needs to be within closed proximity to the interstate highway system and within 30 minutes of an airport. Arterial roads need to have a level of service (LOS) capable of handling additional traffic. Furthermore, the perception of industry as being environmentally unclean and incompatible with the overall character of a community is clearly reflected in our zoning.
Physical characteristics of the land are critical to the development potential. In order to maximize the potential of development, a minimum of twenty-five contiguous acres of land is required in most of our communities. Development is also facilitated when the contiguous acreage is in one ownership. Land assembly can be a tedious and expensive task. Physical constraints such as soils and slopes dictate the density and pattern of development. Soil types not only determine the load bearing capacity but also regulate sanitary facilities and excavation requirements and costs. Slopes of greater than 15 percent are considered unsuitable for development. If industry requires rail sidings, the slopes have to be less than 3 percent. By the time all these factors are examined, it is not uncommon to find industrial parcels that have lot coverages of under 20 percent.
One of the major recommendations for pro-active economic development and planning is creating an inventory of all industrial property that would be realistically suitable and provide a competitive advantage to new industrial development.
This study is step one toward that goal. The Franklin County Community Development Corporation (FCCDC) contracted with the Center for Economic Development (CED) at the University of Massachusetts to compile an inventory of all industrial property in the County. The goal being to have the necessary information (in one place) required to market such property.
Knowing that land zoned for industry might not always be suitable for industry, a preliminary assessment of some key factors is also provided.
Section 2: Pages 1-19
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