One step in the multi-step process for the creation of the Sturbridge Agricultural and Equestrian Center is the creation and adoption of an Agricultural Entertainment Overlay District (AEOD).
At the October 28th Town Meeting, Sturbridge residents will be asked to adopt a proposed Agricultural Entertainment Overlay District (AEOD) that will allow this project to move forward and on to the next step. Click here to read the AEOD online.
Given the importance of this decision, we believe everyone should understand what this overlay will and won’t allow.
What is Zoning?
Zoning is the rulebook that governs and dictates what can and cannot be done with each specific, unique parcel of land in a community: i.e. what use is allowed or prohibited; how big a lot must be; what can be built on it; the height and density and setbacks required; and additional restrictions.
Why do we need a Zoning Overlay District?
Zoning, in most communities, has been in place for decades and consequently, as times, needs and industries change, the underlying zoning may change or alternatively, a zoning overlay may be added to supplement the underlying zoning and allow for a specific and limited change in use.
Overlay zoning districts are a common process for updating the zone (and thus the allowed uses) on a parcels of land where the existing zoning may be outdated. In this specific case, the overlay district only pertains to about 380 acres in the south west corner of the town on the Connecticut border. (For context, the Town of Sturbridge is over 24,000 acres, with about 6,000 acres held in conservation.)
This proposal is the result of more than a year of work and consultation with Sturbridge’s town government. Before the AEOD gets to Town Meeting, the overlay district will be presented to and voted upon by the town’s Planning Board.
What does this Zoning Overlay District do?
#1. It determines what can and cannot be built on the land.
If adopted, the land in question would be allowed to be used for an equine center, a racetrack, a sports restaurant and sports betting, agricultural activities as well town dedicated recreational and sports facilities. If the racetrack is not granted a license by the state to operate, this project will not move forward.
#2. It puts into the hands of the town the authority to approve or disapprove of the project as it moves forward.
The AEOD requires any applicant who wants to develop an equine center to get approval from the town for every facet of the project. From traffic to noise to parking, any applicant will have to provide detailed impact studies and satisfy the requirements of both site plan and special permitting bylaws.
#3. It defines and determines explicitly what can never be done on the land.
This includes restrictions expressly prohibiting a casino and slot machines, as well as restricting retail development. In short, if this passes at town meeting, this land can never be turned into a casino or a strip mall.
At every step, Sturbridge maintains ultimate control over what is acceptable use for the land in the overlay district. The town’s Planning Board must be consulted and grant approval from beginning to end.