RICHMOND – Should the city’s open spaces, including the Berkshire Natural Resources Council’s Hollow Fields reserve, be accessible to the public by right for recreation and for educational and research activities with minimal restrictions? Or should special permits be required for organized and promoted public activities?
It’s the controversy to be discussed and potentially decided by Richmond voters, now that the Select Board has approved the placement of competing versions of a revised zoning bylaw on the term of the annual municipal meeting.
But, despite the similarities, two or even three proposals present a difficult choice for voters.
The proposal approved and recommended by the Planning Board makes all open space and conserved city lands of 5 acres or more, including Hollow Fields, available for recreation, education and research in their own right throughout the city, including organized activities offered free of charge. No off-road motorized vehicles would be permitted.
But the version put forward by six residents of Perry’s Peak Road off State Road (Route 41) would be more restrictive. Their proposed settlement would require the city to issue a special permit for group activities promoted and advertised in BNRC’s Hollow Fields reserve and the council’s two other open space sites in the city, as well as other open spaces and conserved land held by the Richmond Land Trust, MassAudubon and landowners elsewhere in the city.
Under the plan, activities requiring a special permit from the Zoning Appeal Board would include “guided tours for the observation and study of fauna, plants, flora, geology and other natural features that the landowner promotes or advertises, by any means or means”. , to the general public. »
According to the residents’ proposal, a special permit would also be required for “hiking, snowshoeing, hiking, hunting, fishing, bird watching, photography or other similar recreational activities that the landowner promotes or announcement to the general public.
Expressing his support for the presentation of the Planning Board’s proposed by-law to the voters of the Municipal Assembly, coach Roger Manzolini said that “it would put the whole Municipal Assembly in turmoil if we didn’t do it. I think we have an obligation to do that.
As planning board chairman John Hanson explained to elected officials: “At our last meeting, we made sure, at the request of the residents of Perry’s Peak Road, that their amendment includes everything we have in ours, identically.”
But residents, long concerned about what they see as an invasion of their privacy by group activities adjacent to their homes, have included provisions to minimize such intrusions.
Manzolini and Board Chairman Neal Pilson agreed that legally, a third separate citizens’ initiative petition on how the city’s open space should be used must be included in the meeting mandate of the city, although it is almost certain to be withdrawn by the same 20 residents who filed it.
After a brief discussion – avoiding taking a position on the alternatives – the select council voted 3 to 0 to place the Perry’s Peak Planning Council and Residents Zoning By-law amendments on the terms of the 18 May at 7:30 p.m. at Richmond Consolidated School. A two-thirds supermajority is required for the approval of any by-law or zoning change.
The outcome of the vote, if either settlement proposal is approved, would affect an ongoing lawsuit in Massachusetts Land Court. Last summer, the BNRC sued the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals for requiring it to obtain a special permit for group activities. Neighborhood residents joined the lawsuit as defendants to have a say in the outcome, according to Jeff Morse, a leader of the group.
Last August, Land Court Judge Robert B. Foster ruled that the ZBA could not enforce the special permit requirement until Richmond voters enact a zoning amendment or other court order had been made, whichever came first. He also asked the BNRC to limit passive recreational activities at Hollow Fields from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and not to hold special events.