Proposed Zoning By-Law


Ayer has an advanced zoning bylaw that can help our economy to prosper, encourage necessary redevelopment, help our natural environment and create more housing choices for citizens. It’s an important piece of local land use policy that can help lead the town forward in the 21st century. It also makes our zoning more understandable and consistent and easier for everyone to use. The document was prepared in 2010-2011 by one of the most renowned  planning consultants in the region, Judi Barrett, then of Community Opportunities Group (COG) and now of RKG Associates, and the work was entirely paid for with a state grant. Ms. Barrett’s firm also prepared the last Comprehensive Plan for Ayer in 2005, with the assistance of BSC Engineering.

There is just one problem with this zoning bylaw. In the ensuing four years, it has never been brought forward for consideration and adoption by town meeting. It isn’t yet law in Ayer but it really needs to be.

Zoning is not a static thing that can remain as is for decades. It needs to respond to changes in the real world, such as: the constantly changing economy and the types of businesses it spurs; the impact of technology and the internet; the aging of populations and their need for housing options, while at the same time responding to younger families moving in and growing the town.  Buildings and sites age, the land supply dwindles and guidelines are needed for an era of redevelopment.  Flood elevations are rising and imposing new development challenges. Remaining natural resources need protection. Traffic needs mitigation. Zoning is not the only public response to these needs but it is a major piece of the tool kit.

This is a genuinely exciting time in Ayer. The new Main Street Streetscape Initiative offers real prospects for beautification and a more unified visual appearance. The new railroad and rail trail parking facility will reinforce Ayer as a regional center of activity. The restaurant scene is becoming significant. Kudos to all of those who have invested their time and/or money in these efforts. Our zoning, however, needs to keep up with these developments and encourage like efforts.

Consider just some of the features of the not yet adopted zoning bylaw:

Creation of the Transitional Mixed Use Overlay District, which will cover a considerable portion of Park Street The TMUOD will offer an extremely broad array of business and residential options that complement and benefit one another, eventually resulting in a more attractive and lively part of town. At the same time, the overlay district provides grandfathering protection for all of the existing businesses and other uses in the underlying zone; they can continue to operate as they now do without limitation.

Improvements to the Downtown Business district zoning, allowing an array of uses realistically tailored to the opportunities offered by today’s central business district. The downtown zoning also includes residential options to build-in a resident population on a 24 hour basis, and removes various setback, dimensional and lot coverage requirements that are not suitable to downtown development

Creation of an advanced Open Space Residential Development bylaw to replace the old Cluster provision, with stronger provisions for protecting natural resources and open space, while accommodating new residential development.

Improvements to the two Industrial districts, including removal of the obsolete Heavy Manufacturing classification.

This bylaw needs to proceed to annual town meeting in 2015, under sponsorship of the Planning Board. Here’s how interested residents, businesses and  property owners, organizations and other boards and committees can communicate or help. Watch for Planning Board agendas where the zoning bylaw is publicly discussed and participate if you can. Read the proposed zoning bylaw when it is posted to the town’s website.  Attend the required public hearing in the spring (at least one will be held); e-mail any thoughts you have to Advanced Zoning By Law Comments