Nestled in the northeast corner of Massachusetts in Essex County, the Merrimack Valley is home to nearly 350,000 residents. The housing options range from urban, loft-style apartments to large, single-family homes in less developed areas. But are the options enough for existing and future populations? Does it provide the diversity, cost, location and amenities that residents want and need?
As with many older cities, there’s little open land left in Methuen, Massachusetts to be developed. But the city’s population is growing, and the number of seniors in Methuen is projected to double from its current 48,000 by 2035.
Methuen’s dilemma is not unique to the region. As a whole, the eastern portion of the Merrimack Valley is already short about 4,000 housing units for its population, and that population is expected to steadily grow over the next two decades.
That’s why the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission is working to complete a regional housing plan, working with each city and town to identify the community’s needs and hammer out strategies to address them.
At an October 17, 2017 community meeting, attendees seemed more interested in renovating old city buildings into housing, suggesting the current school administration building as one option.
In a similar vein, Director of Economic and Community Development William Buckley was in support of revitalizing or improving older homes or buildings, and said he sees the city’s plan to revitalize the downtown district as “the centerpiece of our housing strategy moving forward.”
“We should be looking to do housing in the downtown, where we have underutilized buildings, where we have available development sites, where we have existing infrastructure in terms of water and sewer and road networks,” he said, noting the mixed-use zoning, if approved, would “create economic development opportunities as well.”
MVPC represents 15 individual communities in the region, and has learned that although they are all very different, many of the challenges they face are very similar. Recognizing and supporting community individuality while promoting community cooperation and development is thus paramount to MVPCs mission. That’s why they take a strategic regional approach to solving issues.
Over the next year, the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission will collaborate with residents, communities, non-profits, colleges and universities, developers, real estate professionals, and other stakeholders to assess the needs of the Merrimack Valley residents today and how to meet the changing needs over the next five years. This year-long effort will result in the 2023 Merrimack Valley Regional Housing Plan, with individual chapters focused on housing opportunities and challenges in the 15 communities in the region.
In Methuen, the most popular current strategies focus on reducing sprawl and increasing downtown redevelopment. They want to preserve the remaining open space, partner with CDCs (community development corporations) to increase affordable housing, boost mixed-use development downtown, and restore older housing stock, rather than constructing new buildings and their attendant infrastructure.
Sounds like a very smart community.
Photo of the Methuen City Hall by EraserGirl via Wikipedia.