Open Space Planning Initiative

Open Space Planning Initiative

How are the municipalities around Buzzards Bay doing in their efforts to set aside and protect open space? View this table.

Information on area lands trusts.

{Editors note: This following text was derived from a Land Use Management Fact Sheet from 1997, which was updated in 2002. Due to the success of our open space initiative, the Buzzards Bay NEP has continued to prepare, or assist in the preparation, of municipal open space plans.}

Open Space Planning Initiative


The Problem

Population in the Buzzards Bay drainage basin increased nearly 49% between 1950 and 1986 and is still growing. Between the years 1970 and 2000, population growth slowed slightly but continued to support a very large increase in residential development. Most of this development has and continues to occur in low and medium density areas, indicating a move toward suburban sprawl and away from more established urban lefts. The ability of the Buzzards Bay environment to sustain its relatively healthy water quality and resources is being threatened as growth expands into these previously undeveloped forests and coastal areas.

These recently developed areas are contributing new pollutant loads to the bay ecosystem from increased runoff from roads and lawns and increased wastewater disposal through onsite septic systems or increased loads to municipal wastewater treatment facilities. Imprudent development will ultimately impact coastal systems by providing pollutants such as bacteria, viruses, heavy metals, hydrocarbons, and nutrients with pathways to the bay. Development in flood zones, near wetlands, and on barrier beaches threatens the bay’s natural abilities to attenuate pollutants and reduces habitat for both marine and terrestrial wildlife.

The Buzzards Bay Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) recognizes the importance of land conservation and community open space planning in protecting the watershed’s most sensitive water resources and critical habitats from inappropriate development. Such resource areas include coastal and freshwater wetlands, river and stream corridors, and watersheds to nitrogen-sensitive embayments and public drinking water supplies.

The Solution

In December 1994, the Buzzards Bay NEP applied for and was awarded funding through Section 104(b)(3) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to initiate a technical assistance program to assist a minimum of three Buzzards Bay watershed municipalities in developing comprehensive Open Space Plans. The focus of the Buzzards Bay NEP’s involvement under this grant was to help develop Open Space Plans that enhanced wetlands and water quality protection. This application was based on the Buzzards Bay NEP’s experience in assisting the town of Marion with an update of their Open Space Plan in 1993.

In early 1996, the Buzzards Bay NEP released a Request for Planning Assistance to Buzzards Bay communities to fulfill their Open Space Planning needs. While the response was overwhelming, the Project was only able to offer assistance to five communities: Plymouth, Wareham, Fall River, Mattapoisett, and Westport. While the end result of each of these plans was based largely on the individual community’s natural resources and public input process, development of each of the plans involved a detailed examination and mapping of protected areas, an assessment of environmentally sensitive areas within the town deserving of conservation protection, public opinion surveys or workshops to determine the community’s open space needs, and most importantly, the translation of these needs into a concrete strategy for targeting and acquiring sensitive lands for conservation. Work with the five communities was completed by 1999.

The Buzzards Bay NEP has continued to receive requests for open space planning assistance. In 2000 the BBP began working with the city of New Bedford and the town of Acushnet, at the municipalities’ request. New Bedford’s Open Space Plan had traditionally consisted of an inventory of recreational facilities with almost no acknowledgement of protection of open space or natural resources. An extensive overhauling of the existing plan was done, including the inclusion of a Greenways Plan developed in conjunction with the Buzzards Bay Coalition. Acushnet’s plan also required an update, complete with a scientific survey of resident opinions on open space issues.

Currently, the BBP is completing work with the towns of Wareham and Carver (see results of Carver’s Open Space Survey on this website). Both Wareham and Carver are facing increased development pressures from proposed large scale sell off of cranberry lands. Additionally, the town of Fairhaven has requested guidance on preparing an update to its existing open space plan and the town of Rochester has requested assistance with the creation of a map series for its open space plan.

The Massachusetts Division of Conservation Services, a state agency under the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, approves Open Space and Recreation Plans for five-year intervals making communities eligible for grant funding to purchase land for conservation under the Commonwealth’s Self-Help and Urban Self-Help Programs, as well as the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Open Space Plans the BBP Assisted in Creating

Municipality Type of Assistance Provided Date Plan Completed
Acushnet Updated entire plan February 2001
Carver Updated entire plan January 2004 (draft)
Fairhaven Provided town planner with guidance on how to prepare plan Plan still in progress
Fall River Created city’s first ever plan September 1997
Mattapoisett Updated entire plan January 1998
New Bedford Updated entire plan November 2000
Plymouth Provided mapping assistance June 1996
Rochester Provided mapping assistance Plan still in progress
Wareham Provided plan review and map creation January 2004 (draft)
Westport Updated entire plan January 1999

The Buzzards Bay NEP’s newest initiative involves the creation of a Regional Open Space Land Acquisition Plan for Buzzards Bay. This project will be a cooperative effort between the BBP, local land trusts, the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District, the Buzzards Bay Action Committee, and the Buzzards Bay Coalition. The plan will identify common issues, goals, resources, and protection projects on a watershed-wide basis. A GIS database of protected open space for all of Buzzards Bay is being developed as part of the plan. Additionally, a series of GIS-based maps will be created that compile and display information contained in individual town open space plans. These maps will then be used to draw regional conclusions and provide direction to open space decisions that will positively impact the watershed and the towns.

Profiles – Communities working with Buzzards Bay NEP under this initiative

Acushnet: Acushnet is a small rural town known for its apple and peach orchards. Settled as an agricultural community it still reflects much of its farming background. However, its landscape is slowing changing as development beings to sprawl out from more urban areas, such as neighboring New Bedford. Acushnet’s plan focused on protecting the rural aspects of the town and its natural resources.

Carver: Carver is the cranberry capital of Massachusetts and many issues of the town’s plan revolve around agricultural issues. Additionally, with the economic down turn of the cranberry industry and the currently proposed development of the Makepeace Company land (the largest development ever proposed in New England), Carver is facing new open space challenges.

Fairhaven: Fairhaven’s connection to Buzzards Bay has played a major role in its history, and continues to influence its open space, recreational, and natural character. Much of its working waterfront still survives to this day. Fairhaven is a community with an aging population and a slow rate of growth. Much of the town’s 19th century town left is near buildout, while the northern section of town remains somewhat rural and open.

Fall River: While working with the BBP, the city of Fall River created its first ever Open Space Plan. While the majority of the city is heavily urbanized and drains to Mount Hope Bay; the eastern, largely undeveloped, part of the city lies within the Buzzards Bay drainage basin. Fall River’s Plan focused on preservation of this area as well as coastal and recreational access within the city’s main population lefts.

Mattapoisett: Mattapoisett’s residential atmosphere and summer beach communities are only part of this town’s landscape, which includes vast forested tracks. The Mattapoisett River Valley covers the western portions of the town and supplies drinking water to the town and two nearby municipalities. The Open Space Plan focused on protection of river watershed lands.

New Bedford: New Bedford, once a thriving whaling community, now struggles with economic woes and a Superfund Site that encompasses its entire harbor. New Bedford’s past Open Space Plans were largely inventories of existing recreational facilities, with little mention given to open space and natural resource protection. With the help of the BBP, New Bedford assessed its open space needs and even incorporated a Greenway Plan for the city (written by the Buzzards Bay Coalition) into the Plan. Additionally, the Plan was linked to the city’s recently created Harbor Master Plan.

Plymouth: Like Fall River, only a portion of Plymouth lies within the Buzzards Bay drainage basin (the remainder of the town drains easterly to Massachusetts Bay). The BBP provided Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping assistance to Plymouth of all permanent and temporarily protected land parcels.

Rochester: The town of Rochester enjoys its rural atmosphere and is intent on preserving it. Rochester is still in the process of updating its 1996 Open Space Plan and has asked the Buzzards Bay NEP with planning assistance and the creation of the required map series.

Wareham: The Town of Wareham had already begun work on updating their Open Space Plan when the Buzzards Bay NEP was asked to assist the town in mapping and definition of their Implementation Goals. Open space goals focused on protection of water quality and habitat in the town’s major river systems – the Weweantic and Agawam.

Westport: An agricultural community whose landscape is dominated by the Westport River system. The update, like previous plans, focused on preservation of working farmland. Protection of the Westport Rivers, which suffer from non-point source runoff, was also a prominent feature in the Plan.

What is the Buzzards Bay NEP?

What is the Buzzards Bay NEP? The Buzzards Bay NEP, established in 1985, was among the first National Estuary Programs. Today there are 28 Estuary Programs throughout the United States. In 1991, the Project completed the Buzzards Bay Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) which outlines research conclusions and management strategies for the protection and restoration of water quality and living resources in the Bay and its surrounding 432 square mile watershed. The Buzzards Bay NEP is jointly administered by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management and the US Environmental Protection Agency. The primary role of the Project since the completion of the CCMP has and continues to be to provide technical assistance and funding opportunities to municipalities surrounding the Bay to facilitate implementation of the recommendations contained in the CCMP.