Planning & Development FAQ

Miscellaneous Planning FAQ

Do I need a permit to erect a temporary sign?
No. However, temporary signs must be taken down within seven days after the activity advertised has ceased or after 30 days, whichever comes first. Temporary signs that are regularly or occasionally replaced are considered permanent signs that require a permit. Temporary signs painted or placed on a window cannot exceed 20% of the area of the window glass. For further details on temporary signs, see section 200-34(H) of the Zoning Ordinance.
What does the Conservation Commission do?
The Greenfield Conservation Commission was established to protect the city's natural resources. The Commission is responsible for environmental planning, accepting gifts of land and money for conservation purposes, acquiring grant money for city acquisition of open space, advising other city boards on environmental concerns, and administering the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act (Massachusetts General Law Chapter 131, Section 40).
Where do I find the schedule for the Conservation Commission, Planning Board, and Zoning Board of Appeals?
You can find the list of scheduled meetings for those boards (and all other city boards and commissions) on the city calendar.
What's the difference between the Planning Board and the Planning Department?
The Planning Board is a five member, voluntary board that meets the first and third Thursdays of the month. The Planning Board is charged with specific duties and responsibilities to include:
  • Long-range planning (master planning),
  • Reviewing of subdivision plans,
  • Holding public hearings and forwarding recommendations on proposed zoning changes, and
  • Reviewing major developments.
  • The Department of Planning and Community Development consists of 5 staff funded by the Town and the Community Development Block Grant Program. The Planning Department provides technical and clerical assistance to the Planning Board and to various other Town boards, commissions and committees.
What permits do I need to develop a particular project?
The number and type of permits that may be required depends on the specifics of the project and where it is located.

  • If there are wetland issues, a permit from the Conservation Commission would be required.
  • If the proposed use is a special permitted use, a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals would be required.
  • Depending on the size of the project, Major Development Review may be required as well as state and/or federal permits.
For a more thorough explanation of the permitting process, see the Guide to Development Permits.
What am I allowed to do on my property under zoning regulations?
To find out what types of uses or activities are allowed on your property, first check the Zoning Map to see what zoning district the property is located in.

Next, look under the use regulations of the Zoning Ordinance (sections 200-4.1 - 4.16). Uses are broken down into uses allowed by right and uses that require a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The number and type of permits that may be required depend on the specifics of each project proposal. If you have further questions, you can reach the Planning Department by email or by phone at 413-772-1548.

Wetlands FAQ

How can I find out if there are wetlands on my property?
The city does not have parcel by parcel wetland mapping. In order to determine whether or not there are wetland resource areas on your property, a site inspection is required. You can schedule a site visit with the conservation agent, who is the agent for the Conservation Commission. For this initial site inspection, the role of the conservation agent is only to let you know if there are wetlands on the property or if further investigation is necessary, and not to delineate wetland boundaries in the field. A professional wetland consultant is required for this. To get a list of local wetland consultants, you can contact the conservation agent at 413-772-1548, ext. 3 or via email.
What activities are prohibited in wetlands and floodplains?
Under the law, no one may "remove, fill, dredge, or alter" any wetland, any floodplain, or any land within 100 feet of a wetland without a permit from the Conservation Commission. The term "alter" includes but is not limited to any destruction of vegetation, any change in drainage characteristics or flow patterns, or any change in the water table. Examples of activities which require a permit include construction of a house, garage, or shed; filling to enlarge a backyard; installation of drainage ditches; and disposal of landscaping debris and other materials.
What is a wetland? What is a floodplain?
Essentially, the Wetlands Protection Act covers any wet area where the groundwater level is at or near the surface of the ground for a long enough period during the year to support a community of wetland-type vegetation.

Wet areas include any salt- or fresh-water marsh, meadow, swamp, or bog. These are the classic wetlands described in the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection regulations as "Bordering Vegetated Wetlands."

To be protected under this Act, these wet areas must border any one of a list of water bodies: lakes, creeks, streams, rivers, ponds, estuaries, or the ocean. Resource Areas are also protected by a surrounding 100-foot buffer zone.

The Act also covers work in floodplains. A floodplain is an area that experiences surface flooding during storms.

Two types of floodplain areas are protected under the Commonwealth's Act. The more common areas are those bordering streams that flood during a 100-year storm, which is the worst storm that can be expected to occur, on average, once every 100 years. The less common areas are isolated depressions that flood at least once a year to an average depth of 6" and to a volume of one-quarter acre-foot (10,890 cubic feet).

Floodplains are protected because they provide "storage" for flood waters during storms. Any alteration of the land that reduces the storage capacity will displace floodwaters and cause greater flooding elsewhere. Unfortunately, there are too many examples of houses flooded and even lives lost through the cumulative effect of many people filling in a floodplain over the years.
What is the Wetlands Protection Act?
The Wetlands Protection Act was enacted to safeguard wetlands, associated resource areas, and floodplains from overdevelopment. The Wetlands Act identifies eight reasons why wetlands should be protected including:
  • Flood control,
  • Storm damage,
  • Prevention of pollution,
  • Public or private water supply,
  • Groundwater,
  • Fisheries,
  • Shellfish, and
  • Wildlife habitat.
The Wetlands Act does not prohibit activities within wetland resource areas, but each resource area is presumed to be significant to one or more of the particular interests mentioned above. This presumption of significance may be overcome by good evidence supplied by the applicant.

Resource areas are protected in the regulations by performance standards. Performance standards are environmental criteria that must be met to minimize the impact of the project on the resource areas. If the standards can be met, or if the presumption of significance can be overcome, the proposed project can be approved.
What must I do if I want to conduct a regulated activity in or near a wetland or floodplain?
The first thing you should do is contact the Planning Department. The Conservation Commission staff can explain the law more completely to you and its effect on the particular project you have in mind.

The next step is to submit a formal application, known as a notice of intent, to the Conservation Commission. The Commission will set a time within 21 days for a public hearing in the Greenfield Recorder newspaper at your expense. Once the public hearing is closed, the Commission must issue its decision, known as an order of conditions, within 21 days.

If you or other interested parties are unhappy with the order of conditions, the order may be appealed. Under the state Act, appeal is first to the regional office of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection which will consider the appeal and issue what is known as a superseding order. Further appeal of this order is possible, first to the DEP, and then to Superior Court.

To determine if you have wetlands on your property or for small projects located only in the 100-foot buffer zone, there is a simpler, alternative application process. A landowner or other interested party may submit a form known as a request for determination of applicability to the Commission. The Commission must hold a publicly advertised meeting within 21 days to discuss the matter and issue a decision. For projects with no wetlands impact, the applicant is given permission to proceed as soon as the appeal period is over.
Why are wetlands important?
Left in their natural state, wetlands provide many free services to the city. These low areas provide floodways to channel storm waters and act as a buffer to prevent storm damage to nearby roads and buildings. These functions minimize the need for engineered flood control structures. Wetlands provide temporary storage for flood waters, allowing floods to slowly recede, and recharge the groundwater aquifer.

Directly or indirectly, some resource areas serve as sources of public or private water supply. In addition, the wetland can purify the water it receives. Wetlands provide natural settling ponds whose vegetation traps sediments which bind, and in some cases chemically break down, pollutants into non-toxic compounds. For example, the sediments under marsh vegetation absorb chlorinated hydrocarbons and heavy metals such as lead, copper and iron. The wetland also retains nitrogen and phosphorus compounds which, in large amounts, can lead to nuisance plant growth in water bodies.

Over half of this country's original wetland acreage has been lost to agricultural and urban development, and the cost of this loss is degraded water quality, increased storm damage, and depleted fish and wildlife populations.