The town of Charlemont was settled in 1741 for farming and forest-related uses. Some farming still takes place, but today the majority of town is residential development. Charlemont has 56 percent of its total acres in residential land use (refer to Master Plan Background Document). The Mohawk State Forest, approximately 1600 acres in size, is the largest tract of permanently protected land and is located in the western section of town. The Deerfield River is another important land feature in town. The river runs along Route 2 for the whole length of the town and provides a great deal of recreational use for residents and tourists. The river, rolling hills, and open fields are the dominating features of the landscape. The following is the overall land use goal, followed by several objectives and specific recommended actions the town should consider.
GOAL: Encourage land use that preserves the existing rural and agricultural land and provides for the future spatial and economic needs of Charlemont.
Objective 1: Encourage land use that preserves rural and agricultural lands in Charlemont.
The town of Charlemont should form a committee to consider adopting overlay districts to protect rural, agricultural, and historic lands in Charlemont. According to the recent Build-out Analysis completed for all towns in Massachusetts, Charlemont has a total land area of 19,225 acres, of which 9,563 have been deemed as buildable land under the current zoning bylaws in Charlemont. Only 4,850 acres in that total are with no constraints and the remaining land has single or multiple partial constraints. The acreage with no constraints is the most threatened for potential development. Although the Buildouts are possible "scenarios" of what could happen, Charlemont should consider that residential development growth will happen and without taking notice, could cause the town to become quite different than that it is today. Overlay districts would provide additional protection to important agricultural, environmental, and historic areas within town, while working with the current zoning. By evaluating and updating if necessary the Land Use Performance Standards for the Town of Charlemont, the town should revisit its zoning and determine whether the current zoning bylaws are adequate to deal with increased residential development. Charlemont should consider and take action on any additional zoning provisions if necessary. Conservation easements are another option to landowners to prevent further development. A conservation easement is when landowners donate or sell the development rights on their property and the land is permanently protected as open space. By encouraging more landowners to consider conservation easements on their land, Charlemont can preserve more valuable land. The Franklin Land Trust in Ashfield can work with landowners in Charlemont considering this option.
Objective 2: Develop a Community Development Plan under Executive Order 418 to further the implementation of this Master Plan.
The town of Charlemont can further implement this Master Plan with the help of various committees and agencies in the region. By working with the Planning Board, Selectboard, Master Plan Committee, and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, the town of Charlemont can design a scope of services and file an application for funding for a Community Development Plan under Massachusetts Executive Order 418.
Objective 3: Seek out the feasibility of an agricultural incentive area that can be established under the Massachusetts Right to Farm Law, Ch.40L, to protect farmers from rising property taxes, betterment assessments, and nuisance lawsuits.
Having certain sections of town designated as agricultural incentive areas helps to protect farmers and their farmland under the Massachusetts Right to Farm Law, Ch.40L. The town of Charlemont should create a local committee of farmers and town officials to propose and seek out the feasibility of having an area or several small areas for agricultural incentive areas and evaluate the characteristics of the farms within it. Agricultural incentive areas are made official by the approval of the Department of the Food and Agriculture and by a two-thirds majority vote of the town meeting. Involvement in an agricultural incentive area is purely voluntary and farmers who do join are eligible for certain benefits. These benefits include: assessment under Chapter 61A protection for reduced property taxes, exemption from special or betterment assessments while the land is being farmed, higher priority eligibility for land preservation funds, and increased protection from nuisance suits.
Objective 4: Use existing build-out data to project likely growth patterns along existing roads and its impact on town infrastructure and services.
The town of Charlemont should work with Franklin Regional Council of Governments to assess potential development under the "Approval Not Required" (ANR) process along the town's public ways. The ANR process allows houses to be built without approval from the Planning Board under the Subdivision Control Laws, provided the houses are going to be built on existing ways, the minimum required frontage is provided, and there is legal access to the lot. If not carefully observed, the ANR process can produce unprotected growth and can put a strain on town infrastructure and services. Existing build-out data analysis can help the town work with the Franklin Council of Governments to determine what can be done to protect potential growth areas, especially with concern to the ANR process.
Objective 5: Improve scenic viewsheds, especially along Route 2 and along the Deerfield River.
Many visitors come to Charlemont to visit and partake in recreational activities on the Deerfield River. Residents also appreciate the beauty and ecological quality of living near such a beautiful river. In working with the Conservation Commission, residents can improve scenic areas and vistas along the Deerfield River while maintaining necessary buffer zones for the health of the river. A committee should be formed that is interested in the upkeep and beautification of public parcels of land, which are important to the scenic viewsheds and vistas in the town and the town center. This may include mowing of these lands, planting of flowers, etc. Keeping Charlemont beautiful will be important in bringing visitors back to Charlemont and allowing residents to be proud of the place they call home. Many out-of- town visitors drive along Route 2 and raft down the Deerfield River every year, and keeping the Deerfield River clean and free of litter is important. The town should also work with the Deerfield River Watershed Association to keep the Deerfield River clean and to reduce pollution sources in the town's portion of the watershed. The Deerfield River Watershed Association is a non-profit organization with the mission to preserve, protect, and enhance the natural resources of the Deerfield River watershed in southeastern Vermont and northwestern Massachusetts. Residents should also promote programs that the Association is already doing to keep the Deerfield River watershed healthy. The Watershed Association currently has programs that involve monitoring water quality in the river, protecting and monitoring wildlife habitat and wetlands, protecting open space (they sponsor a regional open space forum), improving watershed stewardship through education and recreational opportunities (e.g. The Riverfest in Shelburne Falls, other conferences and forums), and supporting the implementation of the state's Deerfield River Watershed Team Management Plan.