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Worcester city leaders propose new zoning for open spaces

Zoning laws in Massachusetts are not set in stone, as a recent article reminds us. According to a recent vote of a Worcester City Council subcommittee, local developers may have to pay heed to new open space considerations.

Specifically, the council members approved a 131-page plan to create more city parks, rectangular fields, dog parks, other open spaces and playgrounds over a seven-year timeframe. If approved by the full City Council, the proposal will be submitted to the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

The plan is the work product of both civil leaders and public input, gathered at over 20 public hearings in the past year and a half. Yet more than public opinion was involved. In order to qualify for state and federal grants, the city must revise its open space and recreation plan at seven-year intervals.

One of the more notable features of the plan is its contemplation for how distressed or under-performing properties might be converted to park use. The proposal is also forward looking, contemplating an increase in bicycle commuters and suggesting naturally vegetated play areas over traditional playground equipment systems.

From the perspective of a real estate attorney, however, the proposal may be lacking certain legal provisions. For example, one councilor-at-large member indicated that the proposal would not be implemented through involuntary land-takings, such as eminent domain, or the imposition of environmental restrictions or easements on private property. However, that assurance has not yet been reduced to a written provision in the proposal. According to reports, an amendment containing that language is being drafted for inclusion in the plan.

Source: Telegram, “Worcester City Council committee OKs open space plan,” Nick Kotsopoulos, June 23, 2014

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