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Dover tries for voluntary land preservation

Email|Print| Text size + By Anna Fiorentino
Globe Correspondent / February 17, 2008

After two failed attempts, Dover's Planning Board is again trying to get residents to adopt a land preservation bylaw, aimed at having builders of new homes set aside 50 percent of their land as open space.

This time, however, the proposal would make the set-aside voluntary.

Versions of the bylaw that would have made open-space requirements mandatory for builders failed to pass at Special Town Meeting in 2006 and at Town Meeting last spring.

But Dover planning officials are hoping that making the measure voluntary will boost support for it. While leaving the open-space transfer up to builders might make it less effective, they said, some form of the measure is necessary to help preserve the town's character from the next round of development.

"There is no downside to having a voluntary bylaw," said the Planning Board's chairwoman, Jane Remsen. "We're bringing it back because we think this a great idea and the town thinks it is, too. We were two votes short of the two-thirds required to pass it last time."

The bylaw would give developers of subdivisions, as well as residents building homes, the choice of putting aside 50 percent of their property's land area to be permanently pre served as open space. A public hearing on the new measure is scheduled for April 2 at the Town House. The Planning Board also plans to ask the Board of Selectmen for its support of the article at annual Town Meeting, scheduled for May 5 and 6.

"We supported it when it was before the town last year," said Selectman David Heinlein, who hasn't seen the most recent version. "In general, over the years selectmen have consistently supported preservation of open spaces. We'll see what they come up with this time around."

In the past, the article has generated concern among residents anxious that the proposed bylaw too closely resembled cluster zoning, even though the Planning Board has insisted it's not, Remsen said. Cluster zoning generally bunches homes close together as a way to create larger areas of open space. Remsen said at past hearings on the measure, residents voiced concern that the article would lead to homes being built closer together than allowed under conventional zoning.

"This is different than cluster zoning because it is driven by conservation interests," Remsen said. "Cluster zoning is driven by the builders' interests."

The proposed bylaw would encourage preservation in rural areas that otherwise would not be protected, officials said.

In addition to the set-aside being voluntary, changes to this year's proposal include a 1-acre minimum lot size, and the elimination of the six-lot minimum required to trigger the bylaw. Last year, officials amended the original version of the proposal by taking out some incentives to builders for increasing the density of their developments, making it less desirable to developers, said Dover's town planner, Gino Carlucci. He said the voluntary article would still offer a number of incentives for builders.

"It reduces infrastructure costs, provides more flexibility in design, and it helps in marketing, and part of that is they're protecting environment and natural resources," Carlucci said.

Another enticement is that there is no limit on the amount of profit a developer may make on each unit. This is in contrast with the state's Chapter 40B affordable housing law, which allows developers to circumvent some local zoning requirements if they agree to offer a percentage of the units at below-market rates.

The open-space proposal offers the same number of lots and houses as existing conventional zoning. It could protect more than 80 unrestricted parcels covering 2,000 acres, which is 22 percent of all the land in Dover - a cause worth fighting for, Carlucci said.

"Years ago, there were lots of houses going up," Carlucci said. "It's good timing to adopt this now before the next wave of subdivision development."

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