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Planned Conservation Development in Stow

March 15, 2016

For over 10 years, Stow’s Planned Conservation Development process has improved wildlife habitat, protected scenic views and provided for recreational trail opportunities on over 300 acres of permanently preserved land. This spring the Planning Board is asking for community input as it updates and improves the Town’s Planned Conservation Development bylaw (PCD) to build on that progress. The update is based on the Planning Board’s lessons learned in permitting under the existing bylaw; research on best practices from across the state; and discussions with town departments; open space interests; and past applicants.


What is Planned Conservation Development?

PCD is a process of developing residential land that provides the opportunity to create flexible lot sizes in exchange for the permanent protection of no less than 60% of the land.  Unlike conventional subdivisions, in which the land is carved into standard lot sizes – often with little attention to unique or sensitive environments – Planned Conservation Development is a process that puts Stow’s rural lands first.


Why the Update?

On Monday, March 28th the Planning Board will be holding a public forum at 7pm in Stow Town Hall to discuss improvements to the PCD bylaw and gain public feedback.  The updates will streamline the design process to ensure that distinctive site features are clearly identified upfront.  Since Stow’s geography contains so many unique landscapes, the improved bylaw proposes needed flexibility to preserve the best features of the land on a site-by-site basis.

Check out the below map sequence to see the design progression at the Hemenway Farm Planned Conservation Development and the lessons learned that have helped inform the new updates



Prior to development, the former Banks property offered some interesting site characteristics, including a small pond, a long, open meadow and a shared border with the nearby Hale/Corzine Woodlands preserve.


Proof Plan

An important step in the PCD design process is “proving” the number of allowable lots that can be created under conventional zoning.  The ensuing plan is called a Proof Plan (shown below), which provides a sometime’s jarring view of how a property can be developed if it were a conventional subdivision.   The image below shows the original property divided into 26 lots, a winding loop road, and two cul-de-sacs.  Clearing of trees under this conventional plan would likely have been extensive, with views from Walcott Street extending far into the property.  In the far top left of the image, a small connection of land is provided for access to the nearby conservation land.


PCD Plan

At Hemenway Farm, the developer chose the Planned Conservation Development process, over the conventional proof plan, allowing them to propose the same 26 lots, yet retain 60% of the land as proposed open space.  The dark green in the below image represents the portion of the property proposed as permanently protected open space.  Large portions of the open meadow were preserved, as well as stands of pine and several wetlands.  Once built, residents of the new development and surrounding neighborhoods will have access to trails and connections to the nearby Hale/Corzine Woodlands, which will make up a large complex of protected wildlife habitat.



Lessons Learned

Having approved 10 PCD plans since 1995, the ways in which the Planning Board can improve the permitting process have become increasingly easy to spot.  For instance, the updated bylaw will prioritize a collaborative design process for identifying unique site features at the beginning of the process – allowing the Planning Board and the public to be have a more proactive role.  The current bylaw also contains rigid dimensional standards for lot shapes and sizes.  These standards limited design creativity at Hemenway Farm, reducing the options for siting homes away from unique features.  The updated bylaw allows the Board to be more flexible in the standards, particularly where such flexibility can further enhance the recreational and open space values of the property.

We hope to see you on March 28th at 7pm in Stow Town Hall to learn more about the proposed improvements to the PCD.

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