Richmond Zoning Changes
Proposed Bylaw Changes
Two proposals known as the Residents' Amendment and the Planning Board's By-right Use Amendment are on the Warrant for the Annual Town Meeting on May 18th. They are identical except for one important difference.
Planning Board’s By-Right Use Amendment
The complete text of the By-Right Use Amendment is on the Town of Richmond website here.
What is By-right Use?
Planning Board's By-right Use Amendment grants Use By Right for Open land parcels over 5 acres. This would allow unconditional public access and recreational use of unposted open land without review, oversight, or approval by the Town even for locations that may not be in the best interest of a residential neighborhood or the town as a whole. By-Right Use, once established, would be difficult, if not impossible to reverse when problems occur.
Not every Richmond neighborhood is suitable for public access
The Planning Board’s By-right Use Amendment assumes that the conditions in every neighborhood in Richmond are suitable for unconditional public access. Clearly, the conditions in each location vary and, in some cases, unconditional public access would NOT be in the best interests of the neighborhood or the Town. It is impossible to predict where future recreational sites could be located and impossible to know what impact unconditional use might have in those new locations.
The Difference between Amendments
The important difference between the amendments is the advertising and promotion of open land for recreational use. The Residents' Amendment is identical to the Planning Board's amendment but adds the following use definition and stipulates that a Special Permit from the Zoning Board be required by the Landowner for: "The use of Open Space Residential Land, Open Space Agricultural Land, or Conservation Land, open to the public, for hiking, snowshoeing, backpacking, hunting, fishing, bird watching, photography or other similar recreational activities that are promoted or advertised, by any means or medium, to the general public." Both amendments equally protect the recreational use of all unposted open land and access by the public to it.
*Allowing* Recreational Activity is an Inherent Right
It is critical to understand that the Residents' Amendment does not prevent or restrict any landowner from *allowing* any person or group to use their land for recreational activities like hiking, birdwatching, skiing, snowshoeing, or nature study. That is already an inherent right by all landowners in Massachusetts and will not change regardless of the outcome of the voting at the Town Meeting.
Hollow Fields will not close
Despite rumors to the contrary, the adoption of the Residents' Amendment would NOT mean the closure of Hollow Fields or any other recreational properties in Richmond. Regardless of the outcome of the voting on either amendment, whether public access to Hollow Fields continues is entirely up to BNRC.
Advertising/Promotion Changes Everything
When recreational use of Open Land is advertised or promoted to the public, the intensity of recreational use is multiplied and, in some situations, the character of some of our neighborhoods could be dramatically altered. The Residents’ Amendment will give Richmond residents the opportunity to voice concerns before the unconditional use of Open Space in their neighborhood becomes a problem. The Planning Board’s By-right Use Amendment simply does not because, by definition, a by-right use requires no review or approval by the Town. By-right use eliminates the opportunity for residents' voices to be heard.
Special Permits and Event Permits
Event Permits issued by the Selectmen have been, and will continue to be required of any event promoter for organized events that use Town resources. Neither amendment contains language regarding events or Event Permits. Special Permits can be used to require reasonable conditions of use by a landowner that would try to mitigate detrimental impacts on the character of a neighborhood. The Special Permit is a prudent step that helps ensure the character of our Town is preserved and protected by providing an opportunity for the neighborhood to voice its concerns. Despite what you may have heard, the process of obtaining a Special Permit need not be lengthy, onerous, or costly. A Special Permit Public Hearing notice must be published in the Eagle on each of two consecutive weeks to provide an adequate notice to all interested parties. Second, a mailing to abutters must be made. There are properties in Richmond that have been in operation by special permits for over 20 years. The Residents' Amendment does NOT require that any person or group apply for a Special Permit to hike or otherwise use recreational property in Richmond. Only the Landowner would be required to obtain a Special Permit for public use of their land ONLY if it is advertised or promoted.
A Special Permit does NOT mean: NO!
Some proponents of the Planning Board's By-Right Use Amendment would have you believe a Special Permit means NO. In reality, requiring a Special Permit means YES, but with caution and care taken by the Town to ensure our neighborhoods' present and future character is not adversely affected. Voting to adopt the Planning Board’s By-Right Use Amendment puts at risk reasonable control over the present and future character of our neighborhoods. The Town’s hands will be tied for any recourse when problems arise, from negative impacts such as the increased traffic or the continuous daily access to the location by the public.
What happens if neither amendment is adopted
There is no urgency to adopt either amendment. Should neither amendment receive a 2/3 majority vote, the current bylaws which have served the Town well since they were adopted years ago would remain in effect. The suit brought by BNRC against the Zoning Board of Appeals would proceed as scheduled in Massachusetts Land Court and eventually a decision would be handed down on the case.