The Commissioner — Winter 2011

Commissioner's Voice

It's Good to Be Us

By J.H. Rumpp, Jr., AICP

Town of Dedharn, Massachusetts, Zoning Board of Appeals

The Town of Contentment (now Dedham), Massachusetts, is quite different today than when it was founded in 1635. Our town's history includes development of the first manmade waterpower canal and construction of an early shopping mall, and it is home to the oldest wood-framed structure in the country.

The 1960s brought sprawling development along the Route 1 and railroad corridors, paving acres of wetlands for car dealerships, strip malls, and chain retailers. Over the past 20 years, the elected officials of Dedham have rezoned large areas along the highway corridor to require significant interior landscaping, preservation of open space, and roadway and parking improvements. Developers have recently completed a 675,000-square-foot high-end retail development that by all accounts has been a fiscal success and provided an economic boost for the town.

In addition to the improvements in the highway business district, planners and community groups have focused on revitalizing the historic downtown center. Dedham Square, the traditional heart of the community, has historically provided small-scale retail and services to travelers, residents, and county employees. The central business district consists of approximately 14 acres of land with a high concentration of small businesses and county government uses, but has not seen significant investment or upgrade in more than 50 years.

The town recently began consideration of necessary improvements to maximize the development potential, improve traffic flow, and enhance the visual character of the square. Key to this improvement project was the designation of a municipally owned Priority Development Site that would anchor an improvement program by attracting large-scale private development to an undeveloped site at the edge of the square. The hope is that development of this important parcel would result in job creation, business growth opportunities, and expanded housing options through a mixed use project that would serve as a gateway to the square.

The town was recently awarded a $1.3 million Public Works and Economic Development grant from the state to fund traffic and streetscape improvements associated with the overall improvement plan. With widespread community support and involvement, Dedham Square appears poised to make significant improvements. In addition, residents have recently approved construction of two new schools and an athletic complex. As Dedham approaches its 375th anniversary, it is clear that planning efforts and local involvement have provided the catalyst to modernize the heart of the downtown area, attract new businesses, and improve services. The efforts of our community planners, town officials, and local community groups, for the most part all volunteers, have created an improved sense of place, modernized aging infrastructure, and are upgrading the educational facilities. It truly is a good place to be.