Vol. II No. 13 7/1/2021
Introducing Town Square
Welcome to Stockbridge Updates Town Square - a new section!
There are issues before us that would benefit from community dialogue. The gatherings in the Town Square of old were vibrant and informal. The discussions were the stuff of our nation's history. We can replicate it here in our local — very local — newspaper Stockbridge Updates. Read Town Square and respond — all sides of the debate welcome.
Discussion topic for next Town Square
In this round of Covid Relief allocation (the American Rescue Plan Act), Stockbridge will receive approximately $500,000. How would you like to see that spent? There may be limits on how we can spend it, but that does not have to limit our dreams. Weigh in. (400 words or less, deadline July 12 — thank you).
Our first Town Square discussion
At the last Planning Board meeting, Vice Chair Marie Raftery suggested all PB members share their opinions on NRPZ. The exchange was at the conclusion of the PB meeting. PB members commented that it was interesting and enjoyable. To kick off the new Town Square section, All PB members were invited to submit their comments in writing to SU. Bill Vogt, Marie Raftery, Gary Pitney, and Carl Sprague did; they are posted below in the first SU Town Square. We also invited townsfolk on either side of the issue to write something, Anita Schwerner, Bruce Blair, and Barney Edmonds did. Weigh in and let the Town Square discussion begin.
Bill Vogt's statement to the members of the Planning Board regarding NRHPZ bylaw draft June 15, 2021
I enthusiastically support the bylaw. It's an improvement over the existing cluster bylaw for the following reasons:
- The existing bylaw applies to subdivisions only, but the NRHPZ bylaw applies to both subdivisions and, by special permit, non-subdivisions.
- The existing is an option; NRHPZ is required for subdivisions.
- The existing has no set amount of open space required; NRHPZ has substantial open space required.
- The existing has no method of permanent protection of open space; NRHPZ requires a conservation restriction.
- Existing has no requirements for establishing a homeowners' association; NRHPZ does.
- Existing has no procedure for selecting open space versus developed land; NRHPZ contains a Conservation Analysis and Rural Siting Principles. This is an entirely new process that the PB must approve before development can proceed. This maintains local character, reducing sprawl and isolation.
The bylaw creates a new approval process that encourages the builder to work with the town and the neighborhood in laying out the development, rather than using a computer to maximize the number of lots he gets. This protects fragile habitats and would require less covering of impervious surfaces and fewer maintenance costs for the town. Mixed housing types can be included.
The identification and preservation of open space in Stockbridge should be a high priority for the town. This bylaw would assure the priority is met. Bylaws like this one are environmentally friendly and are promoted by environmental and conservation organizations like Mass Audubon.
Photo: Lionel Delevingne
Marie Raftery: My thoughts on the NRPZ bylaw draft given at the PB meeting June 15, 2021
I am totally in favor of the NRPZ bylaw for our town. I would like to see as much land conserved as possible and the land that is to be conserved be the best land for conservation of natural resources that can be on any given piece of property. On the other hand, I understand that taking away housing is not fair to landowners or the town that needs housing stock and tax dollars. Therefore, equal housing density, same density as our present bylaws allow, seems fair to all. I am still not sure how I feel about counting bedrooms or living units.
I would like to see the areas where housing is allowed to be zoned for different styles of housing — not to create more density but because I feel there is a need or a market for condo or apartment style living for people wanting to downsize or are just starting up. I would like to see more housing options than just single or two-family houses.
I like the rules governing the CR, conservation restrictions, with required homeowner associations. This ensures that the preserved, common land will be always taken care of.
I like the conservation analysis at the beginning of the process, with thoughtful analysis by a landscape architect or someone similar and qualified, and presented to the PB and other various groups in town. This should alleviate a lot of problems for the town later in the process.
I would like to see that the area or areas set aside for housing have rules and parameters so everyone knows what is allowed or not. The Rural Siting Principles are a commonsense view of land development. The Design Requirements use a 4-step process done with the use of a landscape architect with approval by the PB at each step of the way. With the correct regulations and understanding at the beginning of the process, this bylaw should last a long time and be able to change as society and the town demands it.
Please do not be afraid of change, if it is a change for a better way. That is what this bylaw is, a better bylaw for our land.
Photo: Lionel Delevingne
Gary Pitney: My thoughts on NRPZ shared at PB Meeting June 15, 2021
The Planning Board was asked to address The Cottage Era Estate Bylaw. We did and the recommendation was to eliminate the bylaw.
Since then, we have transformed that request and subsequent suggested remedy into the NRPZ process.
I do not support it for the following reasons:
The NRPZ is unnecessary.
Site Review vs Special Permit
Selectboard is eliminated as part of the decision-making process
The NRPZ is Developer-Friendly
The NRPZ is a gateway perhaps through further bylaw revisions, to transform Stockbridge
into a Town we will no longer recognize as the Destination and Home we who live here and those who visit have grown to appreciate and love.
Photo: Kate Fletcher
Carl Sprague: Thoughts on NRPZ
First of all I don't understand yet how this bylaw proposal would be implemented. Is it intended to replace the Cottage Era Estate bylaw and our present cluster zoning provisions, or is it another layer on top of the existing zoning map? Making the existing zoning bylaw more complicated than it already is doesn't seem like a good idea.
What I came away from Mr. Arendt's presentation was that the goals are laudable. I believe we're all in favor of open space preservation and fighting residential sprawl. But looking at the plans he presented as examples, I felt the proposal opens the door to greater density in neighborhoods where we are not used to seeing that.
We have had a clear vision for the Town in terms of where development should be focused since the zoning map was adopted in the 1960s. I think we have controlled growth more successfully than surrounding communities. I'm not quite sure what needs to be fixed here.
We have been butting heads over the Cottage Era Estate bylaw for some time. I think that regulation was a high-minded response to the concerns of a different era. Perhaps we don't need it anymore. With regard to the existing cluster bylaw, I'm not sure it's ever been used.
The planning process that's described in the proposed NRHPZ is thoughtful, but it's a process that will require energy and expertise to navigate.
How much development pressure are we really facing? Stockbridge has always taken a "go-slow" approach with the result that we have been able to grow spacious, historic neighborhoods and keep our tax rates and infrastructure needs relatively modest.
About twenty years ago, working on the Historic Preservation bylaw, I took the Boston representative from Mass Historic through all our neighborhoods and back roads. It struck me what a treasure we have in this community, and I don't see that we should hurry to change it. The balance between affordable housing and wealthy weekenders is a primary concern which none of the current proposals really addresses.
Our current zoning is a map, and before we change it, we need to look at the map, consider conservation lands, preservation priorities and development possibilities. It's worth looking at it closely.
Photo: John Hart
Anita Schwerner: Response while watching the discussion on NRPZ
The stated purposes of Stockbridge's zoning by-laws include "to minimize the adverse effects of development on the town's unique environmental and historic features and for the protection and enhancement of the town's existing small-town character, open spaces, low density of population and, in the interests of the town's orderly growth at deliberate pace." (Section 1.3.d) For over a year, the planning board has had a total of 3 different planners working on a bylaw that would impact all these areas and more depending upon the details of the bylaw and its implementation. There is disagreement surrounding the need for the bylaw as well as its details.
If you are confused about the necessity for and details of the 6th draft of the NRPZ bylaw, you are not alone. At the June 15 meeting of the Planning Board, the 5 members who participated in person responded to the agenda item "Comments from Board regarding NRPZ bylaw" which Vice-Chair Marie Raftery requested at the previous meeting. Each member expressed their thoughts and concerns about the NRPZ bylaw.
Raftery wanted the comments because board members hadn't had the opportunity to give directions to planner Jeff Lacy about what they wanted. They only responded to and questioned the drafts that were presented to them. Previously, an ad hoc committee of Chairman Vogt, former vice-chair Christine Rasmussen and Member Nancy Socha were the only members permitted to give directions to Lacy. After concerns about the appearance of an open meeting violation, only Rasmussen interacted with Lacy. No member of the former ad hoc committee was at the June 15 meeting. Vogt sent a statement comparing NRPZ with the existing Cluster Housing bylaw. Why not address any valid concerns by amending the existing bylaw?
Member Slosek questioned how the board was derailed from looking at its priority — the Cottage Era Estate Bylaw — and instead became focused on NRPZ. Member Pitney explained his rationale for abolishing the CEEB and I strongly agree with him.
I highly recommend watching the meeting on CTSB. The comments and discussions were calm and thoughtful. They addressed areas of agreement as well as disagreement and some in need of clarification. As Slosek pointed out, they had never gotten to the cons of the NRPZ bylaw. Pitney expressed his concern that this bylaw could transform Stockbridge into something we would no longer recognize. Stay tuned.
The exquisite Luna Moth. Photo: Jay Rhind
Barney Edmonds: Some thoughts on proposed NRPZ bylaw
While thinking about ways to improve this new proposed bylaw I found myself exploring the concept of Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM).
"Evidence-based medicine refers to the application of the best available research [data] to clinical care, which requires the integration of evidence with clinical [consultant] expertise and patient [citizen] values."
The goal of EBM is "the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients." How would this approach help us consider NRPZ?
I think there are four critical questions we need to be asking:
- Is there any evidence this proposed bylaw would benefit towns like Stockbridge?
- What have been the best practices and outcomes of other towns in changing their bylaws?
- Has a conscientious effort been made to integrate citizen's values in creating this bylaw?
- Is this bylaw judicious — prudent, sensible and do the least harm — or is it a rush to judgement?
The only hard evidence I can find about the success of NRPZ in Massachusetts is here...
This is a MassGov "Case Study" (actually more of a public relations effort) which promotes NRPZ in five towns: Newbury, Hopkinton, Rowley, Bellingham, and Ipswich. These towns are nothing like Stockbridge. They are all within 25 miles of either Boston, Worcester, Providence, RI, or Portsmouth, NH. They all have easy access to MBTA commuter lines. The smallest has a population three times larger than ours; the largest town is eight times more populated than Stockbridge. Two of them border the Atlantic!
We are far from a metro area. We are without any meaningful public transportation. We are truly a small and rural town. I think we need to act judiciously, keeping in mind our small-town values, and maintain our current (and proven) cluster housing bylaw. Look at Lenox — which of us has more conserved open land and protected natural resources? Let's keep it that way and preserve Stockbridge's health.
Bonney Hartley, tribal preservation officer for the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohican Nation. Photo: Jay Rhind
Bruce Blair: Comments on the NRPZ and a look ahead
I would like to thank Marie Raftery for introducing more discussion and viewpoints regarding the new development bylaw draft at the last Planning Board meeting. As Wayne Slosek pointed out, we have heard a lot of "pros" for the past year about this, but not much in the way of critical discussion at Planning Board meetings.
If there is a way forward on this bylaw, I believe it will need more credible support based on data and research on taxes, infrastructure, legal sufficiency, checks and balances, the environment, etc. I think this does not require outside planning consultants so much as it requires a broader and inclusive effort that represents more of your own members, other boards, and constituents. As last year's sub-committee showed, transparency of your intent is critical.
But I also believe Stockbridge already has in place the bylaw tools needed to continue appropriate incremental development. I do not believe the Lacy bylaw addresses the scale and scope of how much new building impact the town can absorb without undoing the legacy that makes us who we are. Our quality of life and our economy depend on the preservation of the town's unique characteristics.
Spending money on outside consultants to help sell this bylaw did not work. Telling us about it is not a discussion. The Planning Board needs to talk — among yourselves and with your constituents. If you establish trust and a common purpose among yourselves and residents, I think you will find people more than willing to look at the future and find answers with you.
Photo: Lionel Delevingne