Priority Preservation Areas (PPAs)
Priority Preservation Areas are targeted for conservation due to significant environmental features, such as endangered species habitats, large blocks of high quality intact natural areas, locations critical to water supply, important agricultural lands, and scenic vistas or historically significant sites. In general, existing parks or new park facilities do not fall within this category. PPAs should also be viewed in a regional landscape context. Many provide critical links to other, already protected open spaces, and connect trails across municipal boundaries as part of a larger, regional network.
This section of the toolkit provides resources that can assist communities and their partners (neighboring municipalities, state agencies, land trusts, private landowners, and developers) in identifying and utilizing funding, zoning, and other tools for the protection of these priority natural and cultural assets.
Open Space Planning Resources
Land Protection Funding
Land Protection through Development and Land Use Regulation
Agricultural Preservation, Farming, and Forestry
Quick Links to Resources for Preservation and Agriculture
- Open Space and Recreation Plans. An up-to-date Open Space and Recreation Plan is essential for every community. It not only establishes the community's priorities for land protection and recreation, it qualifies municipalities for grants administered by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs’ Division of Conservation Services. Local
- MassGIS. The Commonwealth's Office of Geographic Information Services provides a comprehensive, statewide database of geospatial information. Data on a wide range of land characteristics is available.
- BioMap2. The BioMap2 report and interactive map identify areas that are most critical to the integrity of the Commonwealth’s natural communities, including core habitats and critical natural landscapes.
- Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. This program documents and protects native plants and animals. Interactive Priority Habitat maps for state-listed rare and endangered species are useful in open space planning and identifying areas regulated under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act.
- Conservation Assessment and Prioritization System (CAPS). UMass has developed an innovative landscape-based modeling tool that generates maps of ecological integrity and habitat of regional or statewide importance.
- Losing Ground, Mass Audubon’s statewide analysis of land use trends documenting the pattern of sprawl around the 495 region and providing online interactive access to community-level data. Shaping the Future of Your Community provides plain language explanations of Massachusetts land use laws and guides citizens in participating in local action to reduce sprawl and promote community sustainability.
Land can be protected in full (fee) or by protection of the development rights (conservation restrictions or agricultural preservation restrictions) through gift, bargain sale, or purchase by government agencies or nonprofit land trusts.
- Community Preservation Act. Municipalities adopt the CPA to preserve open space and historic sites, create affordable housing, and develop outdoor recreational facilities using a combination of local and state funds.
- LAND and PARC grant programs. The Division of Conservation Services provides grants to municipalities for natural resource protection, parks, and outdoor recreation purposes.
- Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). DCR provides grants for greenways and trails. DCR also acquires land for conservation and recreational purposes, and is the single largest conservation landowner in the state.
- The Department of Agricultural Resources assists in protection of farmland.
- The Department of Fish and Game/Division of Fisheries and Wildlife protects important wildlife habitat.
- The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection provides maps, guidance and grants including programs to assist communities with drinking water protection.
- The Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition provides links to many other sources of funding and advice on land protection. Check the interactive map to find a land trust near you.
Open Space Residential Design (OSRD) or Natural Resource Protection Zoning (NRPZ). OSRD and NRPZ are zoning techniques that provide flexibility in project design for producing high marketability, mixed housing types and land uses while minimizing disturbance to the natural terrain. Priority conservation areas are permanently protected within these developments.
Conservation & Development Working Together
Planning for conservation together with development has many benefits environmentally, economically, and for quality of life.
The Devens Reuse Plan is an example of regional cooperation in sustainable development. One-third of the 4,000 acres on this former Army base dedicated to a connected matrix of open space, linked to other protected lands in the surrounding region.
Devens has some unique features, but the overall planning approach and many of the regulations such as site design, lighting, water resource protection, and viewshed preservation provide models that can be applied in any community.
- Transfer of Development Rights. Permanently protects open space for certain purposes through transfer of development rights to more suitable locations.
- Protecting Scenic Views/Viewsheds. DCR’s Heritage Landscape Program inventories significant landscapes and provides guidance for protection. Some communities regulate development height, lighting, coloration, vegetative screening, and other factors to protect scenic viewsheds.
Farming is a vital part of our landscape and heritage. Locally produced food is important economically, for sustainability and energy efficiency, and to preserve community character. Sustainable forest management is also an important, productive use of land.
Renewable Energy Grants for Agriculture
- The Department of Agricultural Resources promotes the preservation of farmland and the viability of farming in Massachusetts. The Agricultural Preservation Restrictions (APR) program pays farmland owners the difference between the fair market value and the agricultural value of their farmland in exchange for a permanent deed restriction protecting its agricultural viability.
- Chapter 61 provides private landowners with reductions in property taxes in exchange for maintaining the land in agriculture, forestry, or open space use. While not a permanent method of land protection, it offers an alternative to development for landowners faced with high property taxes.
- Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). NRCS is a federal agency that provides funding and technical assistance for conservation of soil, water, and other natural resources.
- Massachusetts Association of Agricultural Commissions supports municipal agricultural commissions and right-to-farm bylaws.
- American Farmland Trust is a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting farmland and promoting the economic viability of agriculture.
- MassWoods is a program at UMass that helps forestland owners protect their land and sustainably produce local forest products.
Community Preservation Act (CPA). CPA funds can be used to preserve or rehabilitate historic resources and structures.
CPA and Historic Preservation
Ashland Town Hall Rehabilitation
Restoration of the historic Town Hall that expanded the usable space from 6,500 to 15,000 square feet was funded through the CPA.
- Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC). MHC identifies, evaluates, and protects important historical and archaeological assets of the Commonwealth.
- Preservation Massachusetts. This non-profit organization promotes preservation of historic buildings and landscapes as a positive force for economic development and the retention of community character.
- Department of Conservation and Recreation Historic Landscape Preservation Initiative maps historic landscapes and provides technical assistance and publications including useful how-to guidebooks.
- Massachusetts Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit supports the rehabilitation, reuse and revitalization of historic properties for housing, community centers, commercial and office space, performing arts venues, restaurants and other uses.
- Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
- Massachusetts Division of Conservation Services
- Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources
- Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation
- Massachusetts Historical Commission
- Community Preservation Coalition
- American Farmland Trust
- Massachusetts Association of Agricultural Commissions
- Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation
- Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area
- Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition
- New England Forestry Foundation
- Mass Audubon
- Sudbury Valley Trustees
- The Trustees of Reservations
- Trust for Public Land
495/MetroWest Development Compact
The Patrick-Murray Administration through Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development partnered with Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the MetroWest Regional Collaborative, the 495/MetroWest Partnership, and Mass Audubon to engage the region in the preparation of a comprehensive land use and development plan.