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Zoning amendment would preserve open space

September 24, 2009
CHARLESTOWN — The planning board is in its third draft of a proposed amendment to the zoning ordinance to allow what is commonly referred to as cluster housing.

The amendment, which involves the implementation of a lot size-averaging program, would allow for flexibility in subdivision designs while also promoting the preservation of important natural resources.

According to the board's most recent draft, "the minimum acreage for a lot size averaging subdivision plan shall be 20 acres."

Under the typically scenario, the land owner would be able to build the same number of units on the parcel, but on a smaller percentage, leaving the rest as open space.

Some of the factors the board would use in evaluating a proposed lot arrangement would include: protection of important habitat areas, protection of wetlands and tree preservation.

Planning Board Chair Bob Frizzell said he's wanted to pursue an open space-type program for years.

"I really want to preserve farm land so we still have a place to grow our food," Frizzell said.

Although Frizzell said there hasn't been much dissent from board members towards the program. He said the board will definitely hold public hearings on before a potential town vote in March.

Frizzell added that a similar plan offered by TFMoran Inc. last spring served as an impetus to get the planning board thinking about lot size averaging.

"TFMoran came to us and they wanted to implement their plan immediately, but we wanted to look into it first," Frizzell said. "They did push us to get going on it."

TFMoran President Robert Cruess said their proposal — for developing property owned by Charlestown resident Chris Valencourt — was well-received by the planning board, but "they had no mechanism to deal with it at that time."

Cruess said he intends to bring up the proposed development again if voters pass the amendment next year.

"We've done developments like this all over the state," he said.

Town Administrator David Edkins said the zoning amendment would allow developers to "perhaps get a modest density bonus in exchange for setting aside a portion of the property for open space protection."

"One of the things the board would like to do is apply [the amendment] to a couple properties on a hypothetical basis," Edkins said.

Edkins added that if the planning board approves of the zoning amendment, it would hold at least one public hearing on it, probably in December or early January. If further changes were made to the amendment, more public hearings would need to follow before the item could be placed on the town ballot for vote in March.

"Right now we're in the process of circulating a draft to get some comments from others such as the conservation commission, local developers and surveyors," Edkins said.

While the recession has certainly slowed down the planning board's bi-weekly operations, Frizzell said he "expects it to pick up in the years to come."

Martin Lord Osman
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