BOSTON-The state’s secretary of environmental affairs, Robert Durand has designated 63,080 acres of land in 11 towns in Greater Boston as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern. The designation means that any development on these parcels will be subject to higher environmental standards.

Doug Pizzi, Durand’s spokesperson, tells that contrary to many local published reports, the designation does not mean that these sites no longer have development potential. He emphasizes that the designation will trigger the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act review more easily, making the path to approval for developers of those sites that much trickier.

The state says that this latest move represents the largest areas ever to be given the special state designation. One area covers about 25,630 acres in five towns while the other area covers about 37,450 acres in nine towns. This program has been in effect since 1975 with 200,000 acres now under its protection.

“There are vital natural resources that need to be protected,” says Pizzi. “They can be developed upon with a little bit more discretion. There will be more care and stewardship in developing this land.” Pizzi notes that the towns involved all voted to support the designation. The areas involved are located in Harvard, Lancaster, Ayer, Dunstable, Groton, Pepperell, Tyngsboro, Ashby, Lunenburg, Shirley, and Townsend. As much of Greater Boston’s development has expanded beyond Routes 95 and 495, the lands in these towns have become more valuable, and more appealing to developers looking to build from scratch.

The public review process for the designation began last March with a series of 15 public information meetings that were held in the communities.

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