Proposed Conservation Development Bylaw Revisions






Historically in Wendell, existing lots along roads are subdivided to create building lots. If the resulting lots conform to zoning bylaws (3 acres and 200 feet of road frontage), the owners may obtain building permits with no additional approval by the planning board.  This results in sprawl along town roads.


The proposed bylaw revisions encourage a new form of development that maintains a working landscape, a viable wildlife corridor connecting the Quabbin Watershed through Wendell to the Connecticut River, and encourages ecologically responsible residential development.


Wendell undertook this planning project because the Town’s Community Development Plan (2004) and Open Space Plans both stated that Wendell’s pattern of residential growth could be redesigned to better fit Wendell’s forested landscape. Also, it was noted that the existing Conservation Development bylaw hasn’t been used, and could be replaced with a more appealing and up-to-date approach to housing development. Shutesbury provided an example in 2008 by enacting its Open Space Design bylaw, a version of a technique called Natural Resource Protection Zoning (NRPZ).


Wendell and Pelham were awarded a grant from the Commonwealth (Smart Growth Technical Assistance Grant) to explore changes to zoning and town regulations that might encourage forest conservation. Wendell Town Meeting voted $3,000 in matching funds in June 2006.




Two bylaw revisions work together: One regulates how often building permits can be allowed for lots subdivided from a larger lot. The rate at which permits could be issued would be once every 7 years for such lots, thus slowing the roadside suburban sprawl typical of development in Wendell for the last 40 years. Landowners who want to develop lots more frequently can use the second bylaw, Conservation Development, with lots that don’t require 3 acres or 200 feet of frontage, but does require a percentage of the project land to be permanently protected by a conservation easment. Both development options would be considered “by right” in the revised zoning bylaws.  




Under the proposed bylaw a project area considered for development would be divided into two sections: 75% of the land, including areas determined to have the most significance for forest and timber management, biodiversity, wildlife habitat and corridors, historical importance, agriculture, visual assets, or recreational use, would be set aside with a permanent Conservation Restriction. The protected land may include land with development constraints (water bodies, wetlands, 100-year FEMA defined flood plains, or slopes over 25%) up to the same percentage of constrained land found in the whole parcel. The remaining 25% of the land may be developed with greater flexibility, streamlined reviews, without dimensional requirements, and allow creative building layout design consistent with the rural character of Wendell.  The Conservation Development’s project area includes the protected and developed land which can be located on one lot, multiple lots or a portion of one or more lots.  Therefore the Conservation Development Applicant may be one or more property owners.




 The Applicant defines the area to be protected after a Conservation Analysis and the Conservation Finding are produced.  First, an Applicant meets with the Planning Board and prepares a Conservation Analysis of a project area. The Conservation Analysis identifies areas of significant value in the project area, such as areas for pasture, farming, tree-cutting, trails, wildlife, etc. The Planning Board reviews the Conservation Analysis (assisted by other Boards and with public input), visits the site, and then prepares a Conservation Finding Report.  If 85% of the project area is protected, then a full Conservation Analysis is not required.  If the Applicant has land previously protected (with an existing restriction), that acreage is not included in the project area, but the Applicant can designate some of that land to reach the 85% threshold and forgo the full Conservation Analysis.


Then, the Applicant delineates the whole area(s) to be separated from a “development envelope” and drafts a Conservation Restriction to ensure that the delineated land is permanently protected from development. The Applicant defines this area, consistent with the Conservation Finding. 


The Conservation Restriction may allow activities consistent with a working landscape, such as, agriculture, tree cutting, gardening, hunting, fishing, gathering, and trails, or it could limit one or more of those activities, at the option of the Applicant. If necessary, the protected land could contain a septic system or play area, subject to Planning Board approval. 




The draft Conservation Development proposal allows the Applicant to develop this area with greater flexibility and a streamlined permitting process. Most significantly, the limits on lot size and frontage are removed to foster flexibility and creativity in design.


The proposed bylaw would allow the Applicant to use common driveways of any length to access the dwelling units in the development. This saves the Applicant the legal, financial and environmental costs of a standard subdivision road.


The proposed bylaw removes certain limits on secondary dwellings so that they can be among the dwelling units incorporated in the development envelope from the outset (not just for primary dwellings that are 10 years old).



The Conservation Development uses a formula for determining a maximum number of dwelling units, since frontage and acreage requirements don’t apply. It requires the Applicant to identify total acreage and acreage having development constraints (water bodies, wetlands, 100-year FEMA defined flood plains, or slopes over 25%). Half the acreage with development restraints is subtracted from the total lot acreage; the remaining acreage is then divided by 5 to calculate the maximum number of dwelling units.


Credit – to allow more dwelling units – is given for affordable housing as defined by MGL chapter 40B or for work the developer does to enhance public access to the protected land. Bonus density is also allowed in the developed area if 85% of the original project area is preserved.



This proposed bylaw is included in the Town Warrant for the Special Town Meeting to be held on December 15, 2010 at 7pm. Pleas attend the Special Town Meeting; this is a substantial change to Wendell's Zoning Bylaws.


For more information contact:

Nancy Riebschaleger             544-2741           
Deirdre Cabral                      544-3678            
Heather Reed                       544-7705            

write: Wendell Planning Board, PO Box 41, Wendell, MA  01379. call:  Town Office 544-3395 x 203



 Submitted December 07, 2010