Bylaws, Ordinances, and Regulations:
Guiding Growth and Development to Protect Natural Resources

Communities administer their land-use plans through the adoption of bylaws, ordinances and regulations. The terms “bylaw” and “ordinance” designate the highest level of land-use regulation in the towns and cities in our watershed. They must be approved by Town Meeting in our towns and by the City Council or Board of Aldermen in our cities. Bylaws and ordinances have the force of law, and communities may use their full police power to enforce them. Regulations, which provide guidance and specificity as to how bylaws and ordinances are administered, can be adopted after majority approval of the Board or Commission charged with their administration, like Planning Boards or Conservation Commissions. Bylaws, ordinances, and regulations should be in compliance with the vision for the future of the town as described in its most recent Master Plan.

There are many bylaws, ordinances, and regulations (we’ll refer to them altogether as “bylaws” here) which towns can adopt to better protect their water and other natural resources. Among these are local wetland bylaws, steep slope and erosion control bylaws, wellhead and aquifer protection bylaws, riparian (river) corridor protection bylaws, open space residential development bylaws, and low-impact development regulations.

As a part of NRWA’s “Protecting Today’s Water for Tomorrow” project, the NRWA assisted several communities in the combined Nissitissit and Squannacook sub-basin of the watershed with several such environmental protection zoning measures. Several of these bylaws were adopted by Town Meeting vote or by approval of the Planning Board, and may serve as models for other watershed towns seeking to address the same or similar subject matter.

Open Space Residential Development

To protect fragmentation of forest and other natural habitat, residential development can be planned under an Open Space Residential Development bylaw which requires that a certain percentage of natural habitat be preserved in its natural state. That open space can then be linked to open spaces in other subdivisions or to other public or private open spaces such as local and state parks and forests. Two examples developed by NRWA in collaboration with municipal officials:

Ashby, MA- Open Space Residential Development - adopted by Ashby, a good model for smaller towns without planning staff.

Pepperell, MA- Open Space Residential Development Bylawadopted by Pepperell, a good model for larger towns with planning staff to assist in its administration.

Stormwater Runoff and Erosion Prevention

To manage stormwater runoff that threatens water quality, communities can develop bylaws to address runoff and prevent erosion. Two examples developed by NRWA in collaboration with municipal officials:

Townsend, MA- Phase II Stormwater Bylaw —adopted by Townsend, a good model for small towns subject to the USEPA’s Phase II stormwater program.

Greenville, NH- Steep Slope Ordinance -- though the NRWA believes this is a good model for small towns, it was not adopted by Greenville.

If you would like the NRWA to assist your community with bylaw, ordinance, and regulation development to protect your natural resources, please contact Mark Archambault, NRWA Smart Growth Circuit Rider, at (978) 448-0299, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..