A Stealth Weapon Enters the Land Control ArsenalBy Michael R. Potaski
Blackstone Valley Tribune, 8 November 2006
Property owners in the Blackstone Valley need to be afraid--very afraid! A stealthy new weapon has entered the arsenal of the anti-development land control crowd.
Dubbed with the cutesy title of "Historic Landscapes Preservation Initiative" this program is the latest tactic dreamed up by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. The program's stated aims are to inventory "heritage landscapes" and help communities plan for their preservation.
Under this program, the DCR will assist groups of pro-conservation, i.e. anti-development, activists in the cities and towns to identify and list public and private resources as part of the community's heritage and therefore subject to control.
The escalated assault on property rights in the Blackstone Valley and surrounding areas has already begun. The DCR has partnered with anti-development activists in the 23 cities and towns that fall within the John H. Chaffee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor and the Quinebaug-Shetucket Heritage Corridor in order to "identify heritage landscapes in need of protection in the communities". The initial meeting was held on 12 October at River Bend Farm in Uxbridge as a workshop to launch the effort.
Significantly, an 8 October press report announcing that meeting took pains to point out that people involved in land use decisions were to be invited to the meeting. The article went on to emphasize that the meeting was to foster relationships between local advocates (presumably anti-development) for natural and cultural resources and the DCR. No where was there any indication that property rights advocates would be allowed to observe the proceedings.
As described on the DCR's web site, this effort is all-encompassing in its reach. What is missing, however, is any indication that the property owners will be informed if his/her land is to be placed on the inventory of heritage landscapes, nor any indication that the property owner has any right to object, nor any procedures for the property owner to appeal having his/her property so designated.
The end result will be that property owners may one day awaken to find that some appointed Heritage Landscape Committee has encumbered their property with restrictions on how it might be used. As briefed to the Uxbridge Board of Selectmen on 23 October, one aim of implementing the program in the Valley will be to preserve "vistas". The implication being that these unelected committees can arbitrarily declare that the views along designated sightlines may never be altered in order to preserve the "vista".
It is fortunate for Millbury that the Shoppes at Blackstone Valley was built before this program was implemented because that hilltop would probably rate as a heritage landscape vista under the new scheme. Other communities looking for similar progress and economic development will now have another major hurdle to face.
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