Local leaders pushing for zoning reform

BOSTON (WWLP) — Local community leaders are advocating for a healthy community design on Beacon Hill; they say zoning reform can change the culture of cities and towns.

Folks from the Pioneer Valley say Massachusetts zoning laws are antiquated and contributing to the 39 to 45 percent obesity epidemic among children in towns like Holyoke, Springfield and Granby.

Local community leaders are advocating for more sidewalks, fresh produce options, public gardens and bicycle lanes that promote outdoor activity and health living.

They say a lack of these options create isolated communities plagued with poor nutrition and physical inactivity.

Advocates suggested that lawmakers make it easier for towns to amend land-use laws, which currently require a two-thirds majority rather than the more common simple majority, which is over 50 percent of votes cast.

Catherine Ratte, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Principal Planner, told 22News, "This is a slight exaggeration, but trying to build healthy communities right now in Massachusetts would be like trying to build a house with a hammer that has a handle made out of balsa wood and it's made out of tin foil."

According to Liz Budd Greater Holyoke YMCA, Built Environment Coordinator, "Our community is predominantly Hispanic, doesn't speak English and doesn't read English and so when you have policies that are notifications of land-use changes that are very small and slight and the community wants to participate, they don't even get the notification."

In Holyoke, advocates encouraged the creation of a "Walking Committee", that is, a joint committee of residents, agencies, and local Planning Department officials that work together to develop health community design.

They encourage this model of community organization as a successful example to repeat throughout Massachusetts.

Copyright 2014 WWLP TV. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

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