Workshop with renowned planner Randall Arendt – Photo by Mark Archambault

Protecting Our Communities and Our Natural Resources through Land Use Planning

Land use planning is the process by which communities decide how their land should be used, both in the present day and in the future. By planning for development, communities can protect their drinking water and other important natural resources and simultaneously guide their business and residential development to areas that are not environmentally sensitive.

Aerial view in the Squannassit sub-basinIn New England, most land use planning takes place at the municipal level through the oversight and guidance of Planning Boards, with state limits on the types of activities Planning Boards can regulate. Local land use planning should be guided by a central document, usually called the Master Plan or Comprehensive Plan, which takes the long view, from five to ten years or beyond. Once adopted, a Master or Comprehensive Plan can be used to develop zoning ordinances or bylaws—the code of requirements governing how land in a community can be used. View an example of a Master Plan—Town of Groton Master Plan. Strong limits can be placed on how environmentally sensitive lands, such as wetlands, floodplains, and steep slopes, can be used. Local Conservation Commissions often have a large degree of oversight on proposed uses of wetlands and floodplains.

The NRWA introduces its watershed communities to the more innovative, environmentally-friendly forms of zoning and regulations. Some of these planning tools come under the name of Smart Growth, which is a planning philosophy that seeks to minimize human impacts on the land while still providing for needed development. The NRWA also assists with Low Impact Development and Stormwater Management, Open Space Plans, and drafting of protective Bylaws, Ordinances, and Regulations. NRWA also offers professional workshops for land use planners, developers, engineers, and municipal officials to offer an opportunity to learn about the latest land use innovations and to network with colleagues facing similar development challenges.

For more information on NRWA’s land use projects, 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.