Ayer, a small town located on the edge of Middlesex County along the Nashua River, was one of the first communities to adopt the Community Preservation Act (CPA)- in April 2001. Ayer's CPA program has generated just over $2M since adoption and 50% of all expenditures were for community housing projects, the other expenditures were split between recreation and historic preservation projects.
Ayer's CPA program funded many good projects, but citizens complained. The main criticism citizens directed at the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) was that nothing had been spent on open space yet. Nothing.
Over 23% of Ayer's total land area (excluding the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone) is unprotected open space and over 85% of this land is zoned for residential development. Open space, water resources, and wildlife habitat areas are key characteristics of Ayer's quality of life and character.
I was contracted with the Town to help the CPC figure out how to bring an open space project to fruition and to create Ayer's first Community Preservation Plan, which the CPC adopted in April (now posted online).
The CPC and I worked diligently over the past year plus to determine community preservation needs and engage a variety of stakeholder groups to help set goals and generate ideas for project possibilities. Our process was intended to increase awareness of the CPA program and create broad buy-in for the final Plan.
The Plan's open space objectives - to identify and seize conservation opportunities - has a good chance to manifest into real projects for two reasons: political will and about $600K of CPA funds already reserved for open space protection.
Through my work with the CPC, in addition to the Plan, we created a step-by-step strategy to identify, prioritize, and implement a land protection deal in Ayer. The CPC's next endeavor is to execute their open space strategy.