By Valerie Franchi, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – At a public hearing at the Aug. 6 Shrewsbury Planning Board meeting, residents had the opportunity to express their opinions about a proposed amendment to a zoning bylaw to limit clearcutting – the removal of most or all trees from an area.
The amendment would prohibit clearcutting over more than 20,000 square feet during a calendar year unless it is part of an approved development or foresting plan.
According to the Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Maurice DePalo, who was in attendance at the meeting along with Selectman Henry Fitzgerald, the proposal stemmed from residents’ concerns regarding the recent clearcutting of a large area along Route 9 West between Maple Avenue and Oak Street.
“This was the reason we brought it forward,” DePalo explained. “We were all concerned about what happened there.”
Although he noted that the clearcutting was “not illegal,” he said it was “one of the biggest issues we had heard about from a long time.”
DePalo noted that the board looked at other town’s bylaws “to come up with a reasonable solution.”
“The bylaw is not meant to try to stop development, but not to have woodlands cut before development is approved,” DePalo said. “We are trying to preserve the woodlands as long as we can.”
Currently, at the Route 9 site, there has been no formal application for development submitted to the Planning Board, according to Assistant Town Planner Matt Sarcione.
“We don’t know if [the new development] is going to happen in one year, five years or 10 years,” DePalo said. “In the meantime, we have to look at this.”
He added that the proposed bylaw amendment would have affected the clearcutting on Route 9.
Residents who spoke at the hearing were in favor of protecting the town’s woodlands, but questioned the amount of square footage in the proposed bylaw amendment.
When asked if 10,000 square feet would be more appropriate, DePalo replied that the board thought 20,000 was a more reasonable amount.
“Twenty thousand square feet [about a half-acre] is consistent with other towns,” he said, adding that reducing the area would make it too restrictive for homeowners who might want to clear trees on their own property.
Planning Board Chair Melvin P. Gordon said, however, that the area to be included in the bylaw amendment is up for discussion and welcomed more input from residents. The public hearing will continue at the board’s next meeting Thursday, Sept. 3.
Copies of the proposed bylaw amendment may be found at the Engineering Department or the Town Clerk’s office at Town Hall, 100 Maple Ave., or at the Shrewsbury Public Library, 214 Lake St.
In other business, the board continued the public hearing on the proposed development at Fairlawn Plaza at 378 Maple Ave. Several residents voiced requests for a new fence or tree planting along the rear of the development, between the current west and north fences, to allow for more privacy. Representatives of developer Shrewsbury Maple, LLC, responded that they would follow up on their concerns with the owner. The public hearing was continued until the September meeting.
The board was updated on the status of the town’s new Master Plan as well as the Burns Bridge renovation. Sarcione reported that the bridge is expected to be completed by September 18, “three months ahead of schedule and under budget.”