Supporting Agriculture: 2011 Zoning Amendments

Voters at the Town of Littleton's May 2, 2011 Annual Town Meeting approved amendments to the zoning by-law to amend the uses allowed on active farms in residential districts and protect the future of the farming economy. ATM Article 18 authorizes, by special permit, a range of agriculturally related business uses that would not otherwise be allowed within residential areas. The ability to have accessory business uses such as a small welding shop, a farmstand restaurant, or a seasonal outdoor function facility is critical to supporting and maintaining a vital agricultural economy. ATM Article 19 provides an incentive for the protection of farmlands or scenic woodlands. Previous piecemeal growth in Littleton has led to development of roadside forests and fields, the loss of active agricultural lands, and the diminution of the rural character of the town. Under the zoning approved at this year's town meeting, developers are provided with incentives to permanently protect roadside agricultural lands. See the text of the zoning amendments, below.


Read Smart Growth America's Spotlight on Sustainability: Boston and Littleton, Massachusetts 


In 2006, Littleton passed a Right-to-Farm By-law and established an Agricultural Commission.


May 2, 2011 Annual Town Meeting

Article 18 - Planning Board - Zoning Amendment: Farmland Protection
To see if the Town will vote to amend the Zoning By-Law of the Town of Littleton as follows:
1. Amend the Use Regulations Schedule set forth in §176-26.B by inserting, immediately below the row labeled “Roadside stands (agricultural)” a new row as follows: 
                                            R     VC     B     IA     IB
Accessory Business Uses     P     P         P     P     P
at Active Farms (See § 173-57)
2. Insert a new §173-57, as follows:
§173-57. Accessory Business Uses at Active Farms
A. The Town of Littleton finds that in order to protect and preserve the agricultural, horticultural, viticultural or floricultural lands (hereafter “agricultural uses”), to protect and preserve natural resources, and to maintain land in active agricultural uses, it is necessary to enable the owners of said lands that are in active agricultural use to conduct, in addition to any primary or accessory use subject to the protection of M.G.L. c.40A, §3, par. 1, certain other appropriate accessory business uses to supplement the income from said agricultural uses.
The Planning Board, by special permit, may grant approval for the following accessory business uses at active farms on contiguous farmland parcels in excess of 5 acres:
• Veterinarians’ office.
• Agricultural equipment and supply dealers.
• Custom farm providers.
• Feed milling and delivery.
• Facilities for hosting or staging of revenue-generating events, tours, weddings, and functions which are appropriate in scale to the premises and any surrounding residential area, including the preparation and serving of food and beverages for such events, provided that the facilities are primarily outside or under an open shelter and shall be operated seasonally.
• Small-scale abattoir/meat processing facilities.
• Facilities for the production and sale of farm-related products, such as but not limited to cider, baked goods, butter, wine, cheeses, or ice cream, whether or not the farm is the main source of the raw materials used in the farm products, provided that the facilities and associated parking shall not occupy more than 10% of the total farm area.
• Farm stand restaurants designed and used for the sale of farm crops and livestock grown on farms in the local agricultural area; provided that the facilities and parking for the farm stand restaurant, and the associated farm stand, shall not occupy more than 10% of the total farm area.
• Animal boarding facilities for the boarding of up to 50 animals other than those stabled, raised, or kept onsite in connection with the primary agricultural use.
• Farm implement and similar heavy machinery repair services, such as a welding operation, blacksmith shop, etc. that the farm operator would normally undertake in maintenance of machinery for his/her own farm.
• Subsurface disposal of septic effluent from nearby or adjacent residential or commercial facilities, or municipal waste water treatment facility, provided that the surface of any such area shall be placed under a conservation or agricultural preservation restriction.
B. The Planning Board may set conditions such as hours of operation, number of employees, or other conditions that they deem appropriate when granting a special permit pursuant to this section. In order to maintain agriculture as the primary use for the property, the uses provided for herein (excluding those uses for which a specific maximum is provided above), and any associated parking, shall occupy no more than 5% of the land area of the farm parcel(s). The Planning Board may require that the special permit, including all conditions, be recorded at the Registry of Deeds. The special permit shall recite the circumstances under which the special permit is being granted (e.g. the amount of land area in active agricultural use, the nature of the primary agricultural use, etc.) and shall include a condition requiring that the given circumstances continue to exist.
C. Decision Criteria: Special Permits for accessory business uses at active farms shall be granted only if the Planning Board determines that the criteria of Section 173-7C are met, after consideration of the following:
(1) Roads, water and drainage facilities are existing, or as committed by the applicant to be improved, and their ability to serve this proposal adequately and safely without material deterioration in service to other locations.
(2) Degree of assurance that no planned process or unplanned contingency will result in undue hazard or contamination of air, land, or water resources.
(3) Visual compatibility with the vicinity, including consideration of site arrangement, consistency in architectural scale (or reasonability of departure), retention of existing site features, especially trees, and architectural character.
(4) Degree of threat to environmental resources, including loss of valuable trees and other vegetation, disturbance to habitats, and soil loss through erosion.
(5) Buffering and screening from any nearby uses of different character.
(6) Retaining prime or important agricultural soils in active production.
Specific uses that are prohibited on residentially zoned agricultural lands include:
• Gas stations or retail or wholesale fuel storage or delivery.
• Retail Stores such as drug, department, hardware, and clothing stores.
• Manufacture of non-agricultural products.
D. This section does not preclude a landowner from applying for other permits for Extensive Recreational uses of the agricultural lands that are not incompatible with the seasonal agricultural uses of the agricultural lands.
E. This section is not intended to, and does not, impact the ability of the landowner to undertake any use or construct any structure allowed by right under local zoning, M.G.L. c.40A, §3, first par. and/or state definitions related to agriculture.
Or take any other action in relation thereto.

Motion: Moved and seconded by the Planning Board that the Town vote to amend the Zoning By-Law of the Town of Littleton precisely as set forth in Article 18 as printed in the warrant.

Planning Board supports Article 18.

Declared passed by a 2/3rds majority vote [65-18]. So voted.


ARTICLE 19 - Planning Board - Zoning Amendment: Open Space Development
To see if the Town will vote to amend the Zoning By-Law of the Town of Littleton as follows:
1. Amend §173-104.A by inserting a reference to Subsection E, so that the first sentence begins “Except as modified by Subsections B, C and E below,”
2. Insert a new §173-104.E, as follows:
E. The number of dwelling units that may be constructed in an Open Space Development may be increased by the Planning Board if it finds that the developer has incorporated into the Open Space Development significant areas of scenic woodland or agricultural lands along public road frontage that may otherwise have been developed into “Approval Not Required” (ANR) lots prior to the submittal of the Open Space Development, and if the Planning Board finds that the proposed Open Space Development protects this significant roadway frontage in the open space to be protected in perpetuity under the provisions of the Open Space Development bylaw. The number of dwelling units to be added to the calculation in Subsection A shall not exceed two times the number of ANR lots that could have been developed prior to the submittal of the Open Space Development, but that are instead included in the protected open space area.
; or to take any other action in relation thereto.

Motion: Moved and seconded by the Planning Board that the Town vote to amend the Zoning By-Law of the Town of Littleton precisely as set forth in Article 19 as printed in the warrant.

Planning Board supports Article 19.

Declared passed by a 2/3rds majority vote [78-7]. So voted.