Better subdivisions: Meet Anne

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I’m Anne Mazar, a resident of the small town of Mendon in the Blackstone Valley (central Massachusetts). I’m Chair of the Mendon Land Use Committee and the Mendon Community Preservation Committee.

Mendon has an “open space residential development” ordinance, often called cluster development. Our community has benefitted from allowing developers to use open space residential development as of right. I’d like to tell you about one example where a developer used it in our community.

There was a 36-acre parcel of land that had an 1830 farmhouse perched on a hill surrounded by iconic New England farm fields, forest and vibrant wetlands. The land was home to several wildlife species, including the wood turtle, a species of special concern. Residents enjoyed driving by the historic property. It added to Mendon’s rural character.

However, the plan by the developer was to cut up the whole property into 16 sprawling house lots. This would have involved cutting down huge legacy trees, breaking up the wildlife corridor that existed and eliminating the fields, which provide critical habitat to ground nesting birds, which are in drastic decline. The developer also did not want to be bothered with the historic home, which was in disrepair, and it was slated for demolition.

Since Mendon had the open space residential development as of right, this option was suggested to the developer. He accepted.

He is currently building his homes on 12 acres of land, the historic home is being restored and the remaining 23.5 acres is now preserved open space protected with a conservation restriction, paid for by the developer, to preserve the land in perpetuity. The open space includes forested trails, a stream, rolling fields and wetlands. It will be open to the public and the Boy Scouts are looking forward to camping on the property and providing community service by maintaining the open space.

None of this would have been possible without the open space residential development bylaw. If other towns had this option as of right, the historic MA landscapes could be preserved, the subdivisions could be of higher quality and passive and active recreation possibilities could be opened to more towns.

Open space residential development is a cost saving and environmentally friendly alternative for developers. It is win-win situation where the town can preserve land for open space or active recreation without having to purchase the land. The benefits to the developer include the cost savings from installing fewer roads and driveways, which can be very costly, and the increased the value of the homes in the subdivision having it surrounded by beautiful open space.

Offering this more thoughtful and creative option as of right supports wildlife habitat protection and low impact sustainable development and is a win for all. We need to reform our state zoning laws so that more historic MA landscapes and scenic views could be preserved, instead of having them replaced with sterile ‘cookie cutter’ subdivisions that are eating up the physical personality of classic New England, which the current zoning encourages.

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