March 23, 2006

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Concord Publisher's Note: Creating community
By†Dan Szczesny

Concord, like the rest of the Merrimack Valley, is on the verge of explosive growth.

Once again the state has been named the most livable in the country. The Interstate 93 widening is expected to help the corridor see a 35 percent growth increase according to the DOT. And itís not pie-in-the-sky thinking to imagine a commuter rail line in time for our children to use it. In other words, people are coming.

Thatís a good thing, but it also means we have to prepare for it. Iíve written quite a bit in this column about the role housing plays in building a livable, walkable community. Now more than ever thatís true, and there appears to be a developer whoís learning this lesson.

Construction has finally started on the 15-plus acre Abbott Village development on North State Street. It took a little arm twisting, but developer Yves Tanguey is creating not just another gated, cookie-cutter housing sprawl, but a real, livable community for the 55-and-older set. The cost for the townhouse will not be inexpensive and itís a shame that the development canít be closer to the city. (Although it is on a bus route, and in many ways itís the city that needs to market and help finance its empty downtown buildings, but thatís a publisherís note for another time.)

Whatís unique about the development is that Tanguey actually listened to the city and to the public and designed the village to accommodate a variety of requests. He scrapped the idea of a gate, centralized a community center and tennis courts, turned cul-de-sacs and branch roads into loop roads and added sidewalks. Most importantly Tanguey decided to not tear down the 246-year-old Abbot house, a Georgian-style house that the developer will use as an office until a buyer comes along.

As a result of these design features, several fewer townhouses are being built, sacrificing profit in order to gain something far more important in the long run: a community worth living in.

Critics will point out that $500,000 condos are hardly a typical mixed-use community space. Certainly Abbott Village is not going to be a starter home community. But the homes of the empty nesters who move here may provide housing elsewhere, though trickle down is not really the point. Whatís important is that Abbott Village reflects the character and pride of a community like Concord. Weíll be watching Mr. Tanguey, but so far Abbott Village seems to be on the right track.

Signs of the times
City councilors hedged their bets Monday by tabling a proposal to ban all electronic message signs in Concord. City staff has 90 days to solicit input from local business owners and return with a more detailed plan before councilors act. The good news is that by tabling the proposed ban, the city in essence adopts the ordinance, at least for 90 days. Letís hope that city staff is able to put together a package that councilors are comfortable passing. Banning aesthetic eyesores like LCD signs is an important step toward Concordís becoming a mature and appealing city..


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