Stepping back in Nahant

Town officials made the right decision to initiate a town-wide survey to gather suggestions for  mapping out the Coast Guard housing’s future.

Like the stubborn lug nut that refuses to turn on a flat tire, the dozen homes on Castle Road and Goddard Drive seem to have a mind of their own when it comes to resisting town development plans.

Purchased by the town 13 years ago, the Coast Guard mini-neighborhood ended up on last year’s Town Meeting warrant as part of a complicated but carefully thought out development proposal. The so-called Bass Point Overlay District was intended to provide a framework for building homes and condominiums on the Coast Guard site.

Meeting members rejected the plan and the site has returned once again to the drawing board.

The survey is a proactive and well-intentioned effort by the Board of Selectmen to rethink the Coast Guard site’s future. But selectmen may have over-limited the survey’s scope.

Surveys by definition are opportunities to step back and gather a wide range of perspectives on a problem or potential opportunity.

The survey asks residents to select the best future for the Coast Guard property from a set of options encompassing selling the homes and imposing zoning restrictions. It also mentions April Town Meeting as a potential opportunity to act on the most popular suggestions emerging from the survey results.

The Coast Guard housing’s history suggests the town might be better off expanding the survey to solicit a wide variety of ideas and viewpoints for using the Coast Guard site. Why not take advantage of the survey and even ask residents for general views about the direction housing development should take in town?

Residents could be invited to offer sweeping opinions about new housing opportunities, the town’s ability to meet affordable housing requirements and the future course of properties like the Coast Guard site.

Because the site is town-owned, residents should be given wide latitude in outlining and proposing suggestions for its use. Past efforts to develop the Coast Guard land suggest straight-forward proposals that might benefit other sites do not apply themselves easily to the Castle Road/Goddard Drive neighborhood.

The town should take its time getting the Coast Guard property right and that measured rethinking of the site’s future use begins with soliciting a wide range of views and opinions about the property and about housing in Nahant.

The Coast Guard site’s history does not bode well for a pell-mell rush to a spring Town Meeting. At this point,  any new development and zoning plan will probably be a well-intentioned idea destined to fail. Deliberation and open mindedness must be guideposts directing the town on a new excursion into defining the site’s future.

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