High levels of participation and community investment helped make the Newcastle Local Planning Committee’s weekend of events and workshops a success, according to Newcastle Local Planning Committee Co-chair Ben Frey.
The weekend offered residents the chance to voice their opinions and help shape the town’s new comprehensive plan and land use ordinance. Maine Design Workshop and the Newcastle Local Planning Committee will write the documents.
“It exceeded expectations,” Frey said. “The amount of people who showed up and got involved was just amazing.”
“We’ve gotten a lot of comments that this was a great process,” Frey said. “A lot of people liked that this was a community project. It wasn’t just people in a room making decisions. It really was all of Newcastle.”
Prior to the committee’s kickoff event at Lincoln Academy, Frey said he and Co-chair Ellen Dickens talked about how they would be happy if 80 people attended. More than 100 people showed up and actively participated, Frey said.
Using maps of Newcastle, participants marked places and features they like and places that could see improvement. A “big idea” list of items residents would like to see in town was also created, including the promotion of solar energy, encouragement of local business growth, and a playground.
Throughout the weekend, Maine Design Workshop worked on plans in a pop-up studio in the OceansWide Marine Resource Center and met with focus groups to discuss a variety of topics.
In addition to the focus groups, the Newcastle Local Planning Committee also did a traffic demonstration at the intersection of Academy Hill Road, Main Street, and Mills Road (Route 215). The committee blocked off the curve with cones and created a four-way stop.
The purpose of the exercise was to see if a four-way stop would help calm traffic and slow the speeds of vehicles coming off Route 1. Frey said he expected the demonstration might receive some pushback, however, he did not expect the amount of people who were grateful.
“A number of people rolled down their windows and said, ‘Thank you,'” Frey said. “We got a lot of comments saying people felt safer and felt the intersection was more in control, which is exactly why we did it. It’s a dangerous intersection, and we wanted to see if there was a way to make it safer, which there is.”
Traffic alternatives similar to the one demonstrated were included in Maine Design Workshop’s presentation Monday evening at the Newcastle fire station. About 90 people attended the wrap-up presentation.
“I think the big takeaway has been that people are invested in this town,” Dickens said. “They see Newcastle as a great, livable place and want it to continue to be that in the future.”
In the upcoming months, Maine Design Workshop and the Newcastle Local Planning Committee will take the feedback from the weekend and begin drafting a new comprehensive plan and land use ordinance. A draft is expected to be completed by the fall.
“I said it before, but this is just the beginning,” Frey said. “There will still be plenty of opportunities for people to get involved. We’re looking forward to continuing the public outreach as we continue on with the project.”
For more information about the planning process, go to facebook.com/thisisnewcastle.