NATICK — Residents want fewer banks and more bites in Natick Center as a plan gets underway to rejuvenate the area surrounding the MBTA commuter rail stop.
According to a recent online survey and other polling conducted at the T station, restaurants, cafes, bars, and even a grocery store were among the most requested amenities when residents were asked what they wanted to see more of in the area.
Representatives from Natick and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council held the second of a pair of public forums Feb. 10 to discuss the survey and polling results and a proposed master plan to add housing and businesses to Natick Center while making the entire area more accessible for pedestrians and cyclists.
According to Chris Kuschel, a regional planner from the planning council, increased dining options and parking availability drove the conversation when about 1,000 people were asked what improvements needed to be made in Natick Center.
Residents expressed a desire for larger diversity in food offerings and higher-quality restaurant options. There was a strong feeling among those polled that Natick Center needed more small cafes and healthy dining options and that people wanted to veer away from pizza shops. Others said they wanted more nightlife, noting that they would appreciate the option of bars or breweries with craft beer selections.
Residents favored more housing in proximity to the commuter rail stop, with a particular emphasis on multifamily, low-income, and senior living opportunities. Most polled also agreed that keeping modest-scale single-family homes in the neighboring residential areas should be a priority.
When asked what people liked about the center, a majority pointed toward the Common, which frequently hosts farmers markets and has become a place where local artists and musicians can showcase their talent.
Kuschel noted that Natick’s director of community and economic development, Jamie Errickson, who has spearheaded the plan with the planning council, once described the area as the “Metrowest Cambridge.”
“There’s so much going on and I think there’s so much opportunity,” Kuschel said. “The art scene does seem to be picking up and I think if they implement some of these strategies it can become a really cool place.”
Kuschel laid out some of those strategies in his presentation, including plans to implement safety features to make Natick Center a pedestrian stronghold. He put heavy emphasis on calming traffic and increasing pedestrian thoroughfares to make the center a more desirable place to walk.
Kuschel also urged the town to encourage developments that have both businesses and multifamily living units in the same building. He explained that in order to increase business, it is necessary to increase the volume of residents living in the Natick Center area.
The master plan idea falls in line with an ongoing project between Framingham and Natick to transform an unused freight railroad track into a pedestrian and cycling path that stretches from the Saxonville neighborhood in Framingham to Natick Center. Dubbed the Cochituate Rail Trail, the project would connect neighborhoods and businesses around Natick to a pedestrian and cycling path that would lead directly to the Natick Center MBTA stop.
While the rail trail project is already underway, Errickson hopes to put together a team of planning, engineering, and market analysis experts within the next few months to get the Natick Center master plan started. The plan may take years to take shape, but according to Errickson, the most important part is to keep the residents of Natick involved.
“The key to having a successful project is making sure that people feel committed to it, people can buy into it, people feel that it’s being transparent, and that there’s legitimacy to it,” Errickson said. “There has to be a sense that this is actually what the community wants to see and is not necessarily a top-down approach.”