By Julie Huss
---- — Residents from three area towns got a chance to give their input on what the region’s future should look like.
About 20 residents representing Londonderry, Derry and Windham met Saturday at Ernest P. Barka Elementary School in Derry to take part in a regional visioning workshop hosted by the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission.
Topics of the morning session included focusing on key questions about each town’s life and where it’s headed in the future including transportation, open space, attracting business, maintaining charm and character, and economic development.
Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission executive director David Preece said the workshop’s information will be used to update a regional master plan for release by 2015.
“There is a lot going on within our region,” Preece said.
After Preece welcomed the workshop participants, he instructed them to break in to three smaller groups for a more intimate discussion about the region’s future.
All suggestions would prove helpful in the end, Preece said.
He said similar visioning workshops were scheduled in other communities, too, giving those residents their say in what they felt should happen in their towns and Southern New Hampshire.
“We will then take all the info from the visioning sessions and are in the second year of drafting up our plan,” Preece said.
By December, a draft of the plan should be ready.
The topics of conversation moved from one subject to another quickly as focus groups were assigned specific questions to answer about transportation, using land wisely, natural environment and protection, energy and how to make communities economically viable.
Londonderry resident Anne Chiampa said the area has changed a lot and continues to do so.
“I’ve seen it all, Interstate 93 coming in to the cow pasture I used to play in,” she said.
Chiampa said Londonderry is facing more major development with the proposed Woodmont Commons plan and future plans for Pettingill Road.
Windham community development director Laura Scott said there is never a “one size fits all” when it comes to the fine balance communities try to protect open space, bring in new business and offer good living and pay for recent college graduates.
“We tend to focus on who’s coming, who’s not here anymore, but it’s a life cycle,” Scott said. “It’s also about learning from your mistakes and finding ways to move past it.”
Derry Rep. Betsy Burtis came to the workshop to hear what people were saying about their towns, what was working and what needed help. As a state representative, she said it was important for her to be there and hear what people were thinking.
“I came here specifically for that reason, to hear what people want,” she said.
Having people contact their state legislators is also good, Burtis said, as it keeps the topics that are most important to residents in the forefront.
“Most of my colleagues do pay attention to that,” she said. “They do listen and you get (residents’) feelings out there.”
Burtis hoped more people would have taken an interest in the visioning workshop as only about 20 attended. Everyone there had sound ideas and knowledge about individual towns and what the main points of concern were.
“But I found the process very transparent and I am very impressed,” she said.
Preece said he always appreciates the people who take the time to attend the planning workshops and programs offered.
“These are exciting programs we are trying to get communities involved with,” he said.
Preece said officials need to plan for growth and want to hear from communities about what they want to see in the future.
“We need to have a regional vision of how we proceed economically,” he said. “The input we received today we will use in development and the update of our regional plan. It’s an opportunity for all of us to be involved.”
He said all those who take part will see the fruits of their labor.
“If we’re not proactive about planning for our future, it’s still going to happen,” Preece said, “and we’ll say ‘Where was I in the process?’”