Protecting Natural Resources - Sharing Information from the CPTC Conference

It isn't news that Community Preservation Act funds can go only so far to protect open space and natural resources - there just isn't enough money to protect every significant swath of land.  That is why we also need to incorporate other methods into your community's tool kit to achieve land preservation goals.    Planning tools are often put into one of two categories:  "carrots" (incentives - like CPA funds) and "sticks" (regulations - like zoning).  One of the sessions that I attended last weekend at the Citizen Planner Training Collaborative (CPTC) Conference was about a big "stick" that your community could adopt to more effectively protect natural resources - it's a fairly new concept (at least in Massachusetts) called Natural Resource Protection Zoning. 

Imagine this:  A property owner, in order to avoid applying for a special permit, approaches the town before any conceptual design work has been done to ask the town to analyze where the most suitable location for development is.  The town, now "in the driver's seat", independently completes a conservation analysis to determine the most important site features to protect and, in turn, to designate the developable areas of the site.   The town then calculates the acreage of open space to be permanently protected (65 to 90% of the property) and the maximum number of dwelling units (based on one unit per five acres base density).  With these site-specific parameters established, the property owner is authorized to create a design for the development.  

This, in effect, is the new by-right development process adopted in Shutesbury through the Natural Resource Protection Zoning (NRPZ) bylaw.   The main goal of NRPZ is to ensure that swaths of open land remain viable for farming, forestry, recreation, and/or wildlife habitat by concentrating development in areas with the least impact on natural resources.  In turn for the control given to the town to determine location and density of development, the owner is given great design flexibility within the designated developable areas. 

Although NRPZ does not prevent development of open space, as CPA-funded purchases can, it could prove to be a highly effective regulation to protect natural resources in Massachusetts.  The authors of the Shutesbury model are Jeff Lacy, AICP, Regional Planner at the MA Department of Conservation and Recreation, and Joel Russell (planning consultant and land use attorney). 

For more information, including the conference handout and power point, contact Jeff at 413-323-6921, jeff.lacy@state.ma.us or Joel at 413-584-7228, joel@joelrussell.com.