Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) members are continuing their update of the 2004 Town Plan of Conservation and Development, recently focusing on the open space aspects of the town plan, which is intended to guide land use decision making during the coming decade.
Conservation Commission members have aided P&Z members in formulating the open space section of the town plan.
The document lists an inventory of local open space areas, indicating that there are more than 7,759 acres of open space in town, representing more than 12 square miles or more than 20 percent of the town’s 59.1-square-mile area.
That open space includes land owned by the town, private land preservation groups, the state, public utilities and golf courses.
The document lists criteria that would help determine what additional parcels are worth protecting as open space in the future. These include: areas that serve as a important wildlife corridors; the preservation of town character and local views; the connectivity of open space parcels; the protection of critical elements, such as threatened species, valuable wetlands, and vernal pools; and the potential for greenways, which are long, narrow, vegetated pieces of land intended for public recreation.
The document lists the expected sources of additional open space areas in town. These include: property designated as open space within subdivisions; the creation of “open space conservation subdivisions,” which are residential developments where houses are clustered to preserve large open space areas; the outright donation of land to the town or to private land trusts; the purchase of properties or purchase of conservation easements for properties that have been identified as environmentally important; certain land exchanges; and the use of abandoned, unused roads as open space connectors or as trails.
According to the P&Z, open space is important because it provides for natural character, economic value, recreational opportunities and environmental protection.
“Open space lands…make Newtown more attractive to residents, potential residents, visitors and investors.” It provides “traditional New England scenic beauty and attractive viewscapes that can be enjoyable and shared with future generations,” according to the draft plan.
The presence of open space promotes agricultural integrity, increases property values, provides recreational opportunities, fosters environmental education, preserves native plants and wildlife, and supports environmental sustainability, according to the P&Z.
P&Z members had planned to completes the town plan revision in 2012, but are now expected to complete the document this year.
The town plan is an advisory document that provides the P&Z with general guidance. P&Z approvals or rejections of land use applications typically state whether a given application respectively adheres to or diverges from the tenets of the town plan when P&Z members state their reasons for a decision.
The current town plan addresses a broad range of issues facing the town, including: community character, conservation, natural resources, open space, housing, economic development, community facilities and transportation. The document lists a wide variety of planning goals for the town.