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A significant zoning bylaw amendment is coming to Town Meeting, one that backers say would preserve more of the land in residential developments in its natural state.

The "Open Space Residential Design" amendment, currently Article 39 in the upcoming meeting's 47-article warrant, seeks to give the Planning Board authority to issue a special permit that would keep more space open on properties being developed. The bylaw would also allow for more flexibility and creativity in residential development design and would further support the goals and policies of the town's Master Plan, according to the article's wording.

The article was designed by Town Planner Jacki Byerley and is backed by the Conservation Commission.

"It is a great article that can benefit both the town and the development community," Byerley said. "We brought this forward to try to give (developers) a better option for the land that will be developed."

The special permit, if approved at Town Meeting, would only affect parcels of five acres or more set to be developed and subdivided for residential use.

The bylaw would use a four-step process that begins with the identification of sensitive environmental areas, such as wetlands, prime farmland, meadows, wildlife habitats and more on the property to be developed.

Then, house sites would be chosen based on the location of the sensitive areas, roads would be aligned to the house sites in a similar fashion and lot lines would be drawn to make as balanced a use of the protected space as possible.

The end result would be development that protects at least 30 percent of the land as untouched, unaffected open space, according to Conservation Director Bob Douglas.

"There's more open space for people to enjoy, and wildlife," Douglas said. "It has been shown that having open space has helped increase the value of people's property."

Having protected open space also helps protect water resources and minimize pollution, according to Douglas.

Homes with protected woodland also tend to sell faster, according to Byerley.

There are no bylaws or proposed amendments that would require developers to use the Open Space Residential Design permit, but the Planning Board would encourage its use, Byerley said.

"If you can build a conventional division today, we prefer you use a special permit," Byerley said.

Residents will vote on the article at Town Meeting, which begins on Wednesday, April 27 at 7 p.m. and continues, if necessary, on Thursday, April 28, Monday, May 2 and Tuesday, May 3, all at the same time. The first two dates will be held at the Collins Field House at Andover High School, and the final two dates would be held at the Collins Center for the Performing Arts, also at the high school.

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