Spotlight on Sustainability: Boston and Littleton, Massachusetts

The following is a guest post from Mark Racicot, Land Use Division Manager for Boston’s Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC)

Littleton, MA by Flickr user TalkingTree
Last year, a coalition led by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council of Boston was awarded a $4 million grant through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program (part of the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities). The MetroFuture Regional Plan, a groundbreaking initiative, is designed to strengthen the economy, create jobs, increase transportation options, and improve quality of life for area residents.

Residents of the Town of Littleton, Mass., have already seen the major impact this funding can have on a community. A few weeks ago, Littleton residents voted to amend the uses allowed on active farms in residential districts and protect the future of their farming economy. As one component of the larger MetroFuture plan, Littleton used Sustainable Communities funding to protect agricultural land and will use additional funds to look at wastewater treatment programs and development in the village.

Keith Bergman, Littleton Town Administrator, said, “Littleton is committed to economic development consistent with community character. We’re host to IBM’s largest software development lab in North America, but we’re also a rural community with a rich agricultural tradition, active farms, and even a town-owned orchard. We want to help our farmers keep their land in agricultural uses by expanding ancillary uses, so we’re big on green, as well as Big Blue.”

The first zoning bylaw approved a few weeks ago 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.

The second bylaw 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 this week, developers are provided with incentives to permanently protect roadside agricultural lands.

With support from the HUD grant, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council’s coalition will continue to work to make smart growth goals a reality through local planning efforts, state and regional policy work, development of tools and data, and capacity building for local residents and leaders. By helping specific communities align their growth with the MetroFuture vision, the Consortium will create models and templates to make it easier for other communities in the region to follow suit. Recognizing that smart growth looks different, for example, in downtown Boston than it does in developing suburbs, and that each of these community types has different strengths and challenges, the Consortium’s work will vary to suit the needs of the places where they are to be used.

For more information on this project in Littleton, go to the town’s web site at or contact Mark Racicot at mracicot [at] mapc [dot] org.