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Boston Wetlands Ordinance common questions

Review a list of common questions and answers about the Boston Wetlands Ordinance.

What is the Boston Wetlands Ordinance?

The Boston Wetlands Ordinance gives the City, through its Conservation Commission, greater authority to protect its wetlands. Our wetlands control flooding and protect Boston’s neighborhoods and green space. It is stricter than statewide standards.

When did the Ordinance take effect?

The Ordinance took effect on Monday, December 23, 2019.

What does this mean for projects?

The Ordinance adds new requirements for projects. It also extends the Conservation Commission’s jurisdiction. Projects must receive approval under both:

Which abutters need to be notified?

The Ordinance requires abutters within 300 feet of the property to be notified. These include abutters in:

  • neighboring municipalities, and
  • neighboring Conservation Commissions.
What values does the Ordinance protect?

The Ordinance protects the following resource area values, including, but not limited to:

  • protection of the public or private water supply and quality
  • protection of the public and private groundwater supply and quality
  • short-term and long-term coastal and stormwater flood control
  • erosion and sedimentation control
  • storm damage prevention, including coastal storm flowage
  • protection of surface water supply and quality, including water pollution control
  • flood conveyance and storage, and
  • protection of fisheries, land containing shellfish, wildlife habitat, rare and endangered plant and animal species and habitat, wetland plant habitat, and recreation.

Our goal is to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public. We also want to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Are there new areas under the Commission’s jurisdiction?

Yes. The Commission now has jurisdiction over:

  • Isolated Vegetated Wetlands
  • Vernal Pools and Vernal Pool Habitat
  • Ponds 5,000 square feet or greater
  • lands adjoining Salt Marsh out to 100 feet, and
  • the Waterfront Area.

Intermittent Streams also now have Riverfront Area associated with them.

What is the Waterfront Area?

The Waterfront Area is the area that:

  • extends 25 feet horizontally from the edge of any coastal beach, dune, bank, tidal flat, rocky intertidal shore, salt marsh, or land containing shellfish, or
  • any inland bank, lake, pond, intermittent stream, brook, creek or riverfront area.

The Commission can require applicants to restore or maintain:

  • a strip of continuous, undisturbed or restored vegetative cover, or
  • waterfront public access throughout the Waterfront Area.
What is the extent of the Riverfront Area?

The Riverfront Area is the area that extends 25 feet horizontally from the mean high-water line along any stream or river within the City. The Ordinance also allows the Commission to extend the Riverfront Area up to 200 feet.

The Commission will conduct a review of the City’s waterways. We want to determine where it might be appropriate to extend the Riverfront Area. The Commission will hold public hearings if it chooses to extend the Riverfront Area.

What are the Coastal and Inland Flood Resilience Zones?

The Ordinance allows the Commission to protect areas that could flood in the future. The Commission will develop maps and standards to establish these zones. We will also review projects within them.

At present, these zones do not exist. The Commission will hold public hearings when it creates such zones and standards.

Are there provisions about climate change?

Yes. The Ordinance requires applications to consider the effect that:

  • projected sea level rise
  • changes in storm intensity and frequency, and
  • other climate change consequences may have on resource areas and the proposed activities.

Applicants must integrate climate resilience and adaptation into their project.

Have questions? Contact:

Boston Conservation Commission
1 CITY HALL SQUARE, ROOM 709
BOSTON, MA 02201
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