Copyright © Citizens for Cohasset's Future,
All rights reserved.

Note: this law does not impact current homeowners.  It only deals with previously. undeveloped land. 

 Why do we need new bylaws to deal with land alteration? 

Cohasset lacks strict laws around building and zoning because it was traditionally difficult to build here.

New technology and the expansion of the sewer districts has changed that.  Our laws have not

kept pace.

Further, a large proportion of new construction in Cohasset is speculative development.  We have seen developers who seek maximum profit at the expense of the neighborhoods where they build.

Nothing stops developers from clear cutting or removing all of the stone ledge on a property.

Our law would.  Full text of our proposed law is at right.

MOTION: Moved that Article XVIII, Land Alteration Management Bylaw, be added to the General Bylaws:




1.       General Applicability


All development activities proposed to take place on Undeveloped/Unimproved parcels of land, as defined herein, in any zoning district, which exceed the land alteration thresholds set forth below, shall obtain a Site Alteration Permit from the Planning Board (“Board”). “Subdivision Approval Not Required” projects shall be subject to this Bylaw.


2.       Definitions


The following definitions shall apply in the interpretation and implementation of this Bylaw.


A)  Clearing: The complete removal of ground vegetation or trees down to a height of 2" or less, and/or the complete removal of areas of tree canopy. 


B)  Exposed Ledge Face: Any portion of rock ledge lying above a height of two feet or greater above Pre-Construction Grade at any given point.


C)  Grade: The surface, level and/or elevation of the ground.

Pre-Construction Grade:  The Grade of a lot or site prior to the Development proposed.

Post-Construction Grade: The Grade of a lot or site upon completion of the Development proposed.


D)  Developed/Improved Lot: A lot or site that has previously been altered from its natural state by the addition of still-existing, man-made Buildings or by man-made Clearing done for the purpose of adding to still-existing Buildings.


E)  Undeveloped/Unimproved Lot: A lot or site 1) that has not been altered from its natural state, or 2) if developed in the past, that no longer has any man-made Buildings upon it (but which may still have a fence or stone wall), or 3) which was cleared for agricultural use, or 4) upon which the sole human activity has been exploratory work for a septic system or other Development. For purposes of continuing regulation under this Bylaw, a lot remains deemed as Undeveloped/Unimproved for a period of 3 years from the date of issuance of a certificate of occupancy for the new construction thereon.


3.       Land Alteration Thresholds


A)  Clearing:


1) In the Residential Districts, 50% of the total lot area.


2) In the Non-Residential Districts, excluding the OS District, ten percent (10%) more than the proposed total lot Coverage for the Development. If a variance were granted to exceed total Coverage limits under Sect. 5.3.1 of the Zoning Bylaws, however, for this Bylaw the Clearing limit would remain 10% more than the maximum Coverage allowed under said Sect. 5.3.1.


3) In the Open Space District, zero percent (0%), except for the minimum necessary for any permitted structure.          


B)  Earth Removal: In the case of excavation of soils, gravel or ledge for permanent removal from the site and commercial re-sale purposes, no more than ten (10) cubic yards per 15,000 sq. ft. of lot area may be removed in a given calendar year, excepting the amount necessarily excavated in connection with the lawful construction of a building, structure, foundation, basement, septic system, or other utility.


C)  Grade Changes: In the further case of excavation, and in the case of filling and grading, outside the footprint of any building or structure foundations, Post-Construction Grade shall differ from Pre-Construction Grade to the limit permitted pursuant to a Stormwater Management Permit, or where no such permit is required, by no more than five-percent (5%) change in grade, plus or minus, whichever is greater.


D)  Ledge: In the further case of excavating, chipping, blasting or otherwise altering or impacting upon Exposed Ledge Face, as well as being subject to the limitations of subsections (B) and (C) above, removal of Exposed Ledge Face shall be limited to no more than a 15% decrease in height of the Exposed Ledge Face relative to Pre-Construction Grade at all points, and to no more than a 2-foot deep removal into the Exposed Ledge Face.


E)  Slopes: In the further case of grading and filling, where new slopes are created by the permitted grading and filling activity, such slopes shall be limited to no greater than a 2:1 slope, while preserving, matching, or blending with the remaining natural contours and undulations of the land to the greatest extent possible.


F) Phased Development: Activities that are completed in phases, such as subdivision developments and phased commercial developments which could be reasonably expected to alter more than the thresholds set forth below over the course of all phases shall require a Site Alteration Permit prior to beginning the first phase, with all anticipated land alteration over the phases accounted for and regulated as necessary up front. If exceeding the thresholds is not expected at the beginning of the project, or if a Site Alteration Permit is granted at the beginning of the project, and during a later phase exceeding the thresholds becomes necessary, or will exceed thresholds previously permitted, a new or amended Site Alteration Permit, as the case may be, shall be required at that later phase.


     For purposes of the 3-year continuation of status as an Undeveloped/Unimproved lot as set forth in Sect.  2€ above, the 3-yr. period begins on the issuance of the last certificate of occupancy in the last phase of a Phased Development.


4. Exemptions:


The following activities are exempt from the requirements of this Bylaw:


A) Roadway Construction: Construction and maintenance of public and private streets and utilities within town-approved roadway layouts and easements or in connection with a subdivision approved in accordance with the town’s Subdivision Rules and Regulations or as Approval Not Required, limited to the minimum area necessary to construct such infrastructure.


B) Exploratory Work: Exploratory work associated with the siting of a new individual sewage disposal system, provided that such activity shall be limited to the minimum area necessary to maneuver a backhoe or other construction equipment, and which is otherwise being monitored by the appropriate boards having jurisdiction.


5.         Application Requirements


A)  Unless determined otherwise by the Board or by subsequent rules and regulations specific to this Bylaw, submittal requirements for a Site Alteration Permit shall include (but may not be limited to) the following: 


1.   A site plan with all Pre-Construction and Post-Construction Grades, the location of all existing and proposed structures, and the location of all Cleared and vegetated areas with relative percentages of lot area.  

2.   Abutters list which includes direct abutters and those within 300 feet of the property lines of the site.

3.   For subdivision applications, a plan showing the building envelope within each house lot and proposed grading, drainage, and stormwater disposal for each lot.


B) The Board shall have the authority to waive any particular application requirement(s) on a case-by-case basis, as the particular project requires.


C) The Board may appoint a Licensed Professional Engineer, or such other professionals as may be needed, as its Agent to assist the Board.  This position shall be funded from application and review fees charged to applicants during the Site Alteration Permit process.  


D) The Board may also conduct a pre-construction site meeting, and other necessary site inspections and investigations to monitor and enforce permit conditions. 


E) The Board shall further establish an appropriate filing fee and may require a fee for review by its consultant.


F)  Before seeking to obtain a Site Alteration Permit, applicants should first obtain any necessary permits from the Zoning Board of Appeals (special permits or variances), the Board of Health (for septic system permitting), the Sewer Commission (for sewer line location), and Conservation Commission (for wetlands and stormwater permits).  


6.         Review and Decision


A) The Board shall act on applications according to the procedures and time limits specified in Section12.4 of the Zoning Bylaw. Appeals shall be governed by M.G.L. c. 40A, s. 17.


B)  The Board may grant a Site Alteration Permit after a public hearing only where such conditions and safeguards as required have been made, and only after a determination that such grant would not be detrimental to the public health, safety, welfare, comfort, or character of the neighborhood and would not denigrate from the intent of this bylaw. The Board will consider the following factors as part of its determination:


            1) The availability of reasonable alternatives to the site alterations proposed.

            2) Comparison to neighboring properties for consistency in topography.

3) Avoidance of adverse impacts upon rare and endangered species and wildlife habitat on a site, and maintenance of contiguous forested areas.

4) Priority shall be given to retention of existing stands of trees, trees at site perimeter, contiguous vegetation with adjacent sites (particularly existing sites protected through conservation restrictions), and Specimen Trees (as defined in Article XVII of the General Bylaws).


C) Required Mitigation Measures. If work is permitted, the following mitigation measures will become part of the Decision as are applicable:


1)  Any Clearing of vegetation and alteration of topography shall be mitigated with native vegetation planted in disturbed areas as is reasonably needed to restore the affected area to its previous native condition. A minimum of 4" of topsoil shall be placed on all disturbed surfaces which are proposed to be planted. Post-Construction Grade shall be no higher than the trunk flare(s) of trees to be retained. If a grade change of 6" or more at the base of the tree is proposed, a retaining wall or tree well may be required.

2)  Clearing for utility trenching shall be limited to the minimum area necessary to maneuver a backhoe or other construction equipment. Roots should be cut cleanly rather than pulled or ripped out during utility trenching. Tunneling for utilities installation should be utilized wherever feasible to protect root systems of trees.


7.         Further Rules & Regulations


The Board is authorized to promulgate regulations to further application and enforcement of this

Bylaw, including but not limited to, regulations setting forth application procedures, review procedures, specific

review standards and specific design criteria consistent with this Bylaw.


8.         Surety


For projects requiring a Site Alteration Permit, the Board may require the posting of a surety bond until work is completed. 


9.         Enforcement 


This Bylaw shall be enforced on a day-to-day basis by the Building Inspector.


A) Failure to File – Failure to file for a Site Alteration Permit where needed shall result in an immediate stop work order from the Board and/or Building Inspector, shall necessitate an immediate filing as detailed above, and may result in an order for restoration measures to be taken.


B)  Failure to Comply – Failure to comply with the terms of a Site Alteration Permit may result in an order requiring remedial measures to be taken, may include fines as set forth below, and may result in enforcement through non-criminal disposition under M.G.L., Chapter 40, Section 21D and Section 1(h) of the Town’s General Bylaws.


C)  Fines - Anyone who violates the provisions of this Bylaw may be fined through non-criminal disposition under M.G.L., Chapter 40, Section 21D and Section 1(h) of the Town’s General Bylaws, at a fine of $300 per day, with each day’s failure to comply constituting a separate and distinct offense.


10.      Severability


If any provision, paragraph, sentence, or clause of this Bylaw shall be held invalid for any reason, all other provisions shall continue in full force and effect.






Moved that Section 11 of the Zoning Bylaw, Earth Removal, be deleted.