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  • Ruth Bass

Why Richmond Land Trust supports Planning Board zoning amendment

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

Editor's note: The Planning Board proposal was overwhelmingly approved at the May 18 Town Meeting.

In May, Richmond residents will be asked to vote on two, possibly three, town meeting articles that will define the future of open space use in town. The Richmond Land Trust supports the article presented by the Planning Board. Neighbors of Hollow Fields Reserve on Perry’s Peak Road are presenting an alternate article. The vote will be during the annual town meeting, May 18 at Richmond Consolidated School, 7:30 p.m.

Passage of the neighbors’ article would have a significant negative effect on the use of preserved land throughout the town, including Stevens Glen, Tracy Brook Sanctuary and Hollow Fields. The PB amendment has no effect on how preserved lands are used. The event permit requirement has been in effect for many years. The alternatives both include a long, costly process for getting a permit through the Zoning Board of Appeals, and it is unclear what would be considered an event.

The Planning Board’s proposal would mean special events would require a permit from the Select Board, as they do now, in accordance with the town bylaws (not to be confused with Zoning Bylaws, which are separate). Under this Planning Board zoning change, small groups who hike or bird watch, for instance, would not need a permit on any land trust or other preserved tract.

Berkshire Natural Resources Council, which owns Hollow Fields, has already made changes in an effort to answer the neighbors’ complaints. The Council has required dogs to be on leash at all times, improved signage to stop people from missing the driveway and stopped hosting group events at the site. In addition, group hikes from resorts like Canyon Ranch and Miraval have been reduced in size and prohibited in the early morning. School buses are no longer allowed, and trail monitors will be on hand for the busiest weekends.

BNRC has trail counters, which indicate that about 20 people walk at Hollow Fields on an average day. Those numbers were higher during 2020 at the height of COVID, when people relieved the stress of isolation by walking and hiking all over Richmond. At Hollow Fields, the numbers have retreated to a more normal level in recent months. Richmond Land Trust board members actually made impromptu stops at the preserve for several months last year and rarely saw more than two cars there, sometimes none.

The town and its people have a vested interest in this 660-acre reserve of meadow, forest, hills and trails. A former Perry’s Peak resident provided the path to acquiring the first 50 acres. Residents’ donations, Richmond Land Trust monies and the town Conservation Fund have combined with BNRC to make the Reserve possible. All of the acreage is preserved under state conservation restrictions, held by the Richmond Land Trust. Those CRs provide for public access to conserved land.

Richmond Land Trust’s mission is to preserve the special places in our town from development. These undeveloped tracts, large and small, protect water quality, plant and animal life, wildlife corridors, brooks and trees. They provide an oasis from civilization and make a positive contribution to the fight against climate change. The pandemic was devastating but also provided evidence that when a raging virus brings fear and isolation, people turn to nature.

RLT’s stance is that the Planning Board proposal be supported. The vote will be during the annual town meeting, May 18 at Richmond Consolidated School, 7:30 p.m.

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