Archive 2008 - 2019

Articles 21 – 25: Toward Holliston’s Land Use Objectives

by Karen Sherman

Articles 21 – 24: Toward Holliston’s Land Use Objectives


Village – A small, compact center of predominantly residential character, but with a core of mixed-use commercial and community services. Local scale economic and social functions. Pedestrian orientation.

Zoning is a tool with which to actually regulate land use. Zoning establishes how you can and cannot use land; where each use is permitted; and what dimensional requirements apply. Zoning also serves as a legal set of regulations to prevent conflicting land uses and overcrowding, while providing for future development.


Village Center Commercial Zoning (VC) – Articles 20 & 22. In 1982, the Town converted part of the Commercial district to VC and enacted Section V-K of the Zoning By-Law. The district’s objectives:

a. Provide convenient business and professional services for residents and those passing through.

b. Facilitate the development and maintenance of small businesses.

c. Promote a compact, pedestrian-oriented environment.

d. Develop harmonious visual relations between the VC District and its surroundings.

e. Promote pedestrian and vehicular safety and convenience.

f. Provide for mixed uses in the center of Holliston compatible with its historic village character where residents are able to walk to shops, services and public transportation.

Our objectives within the downtown corridor are to modestly grow the VC district, convert some of the historical Industrial building and property remnants to VC, and in general, do some housekeeping on the physical boundaries, eliminating split-zoned parcels. The design requirements and design guidelines of Section V-K aim to add regulatory protections to Holliston’s center, from the remnants of the mid-18th century pre-urban village of local craft industries with its 19th century Second Empire and Queen Anne reconstruction to the 20th and 21st century additions such as banks, retail centers and traffic signals.

Village Residential Zoning (VR) – Articles 21 & 22. In May 2008, the Village Residential District became part of Holliston’s zoning culture. Residents assisted the board in developing the district’s boundaries, Schedule of Uses and Schedule of Intensity for the new district.

Within the downtown corridor, we studied several cohesive neighborhoods and streets that flank the existing Village Center Commercial District that are “over-zoned”, that is, the vast majority of lots do not meet the minimum requirements for lot area and setbacks. We propose that over 150 properties be added to the VR district to minimize nonconformities, to allow for relaxed dimensional requirements and to foster a regulatory environment that encourages personal investment in historic homes.

Residential (R-1) District Zoning – Articles 22 & 23. Primarily a housekeeping article to eliminate +/- 40 split district lots, these map changes also add additional parcels to the Residential District along Washington Street near the intersection of Highland Street.


Why are we proposing to change the zoning districts in the downtown? To meet Holliston’s community goals to: Reinforce the Downtown as an attractive, historic center of the Town. Enhance the economic value of the area as a place to shop, visit and work. Encourage individual investment, preservation of historic structures, and diversity of housing stock.

How will proposed zoning map changes impact my individual tax bill? Changes should not impact your bill. Taxes are assessed based on active uses within unique structures on unique parcels, not zoning.  Holliston has a uniform tax rate for residential, commercial and industrial uses ($18.52/$1,000 value). Most residential properties within the Downtown Corridor are included (and have been for quite some time) in a “neighborhood” classification used by the Assessors to establish baseline values because of the area’s unique gross density, non-conforming structures, properties and uses, and historic/heritage properties.

What protections does the Town have in place to prevent “tear-downs”? The Town’s Demolition Delay By-Law (rev. 5/06) requires that the Historical Commission make a finding on proposed demolition of any building or structure which is in whole or part seventy-five (75) years old. A structure can be deemed significant to the architectural, cultural, or social history of the Town, in which case a 6-month period to provide an opportunity for preservation solutions applies. Planning Board “Performance Standards for Nonresidential Development” enacted in late 2014 express goals and standards for aesthetics, lighting, landscaping, stormwater, site development, pedestrian & vehicle access, especially within the Village Commercial Zoning District. Strengthening the Town’s tool box further is a central goal of our current planning efforts.   

Will proposed zoning changes impact my ability to farm (e.g. raise chickens, keep bees, and compost yard & food waste)? No. The Town of Holliston, by local by-law most recently revised in 2006, is a Right-to-Farm Community. This essentially means that agricultural pursuits “conducted in accordance with generally accepted agricultural practices” are protected and recognized as being beneficial to the community as a whole. The Zoning By-Law allows for “commercial” agriculture by Special Permit in both VR and VC zoning districts. Your own sustainable agricultural pursuits are not considered commercial agriculture.  

How might the physical environment impact proposed district changes?

1. Downtown is “floodprone”. In July 2014, the Federal Emergency Management Agency revised the National Flood Insurance Program map panels for the area between Linden Pond and Lake Winthrop along the Winthrop Canal (approximately 0.95 miles). A new hydrologic and hydraulic study was conducted using Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR). Some base flood elevations were raised, allowing many people to have their homes removed from “flood hazard areas”, removing or reducing the need for expensive flood hazard insurance. However, the waterways and associated wetlands are still regulated by the MA Wetlands Protection Act and Town Wetland By-law.  

2. Holliston is 100% reliant on individual septic systems (no public sewer). Based on results of a 2002 Wastewater Management Needs Study, approximately 50% of Downtown has significant limitations for onsite septic systems (e.g. limited depths to groundwater). Individual wastewater treatment systems can be a major investment for a property owner and can be viewed as both a limitation to growth and a cost prohibition to desired improvements.

To see detailed maps of each area, go to:

With respect to Article 25, the Planning Board send the following letter to the town moderator:

May 4, 2017

Jackie Dellicker, Town Moderator

703 Washington Street

Holliston, MA  01746

RE: Article 25

Dear Mrs. Dellicker:

The Planning Board advocates Indefinite Postponement of this Article. The process of referral and review under MGL c. 40A, s. 5 was flawed. The Planning Board opened a public hearing on the matter but did not complete the hearing process at the request of some of the petitioners.


David Thorn



Comments (1)

Last night's meeting was quite contentious...curious if there is a simple amendment to be made to these zonings... to prevent anyone from buying contiguous lots and then concatenating them into one big lot. Might this prevent some "McMansions" in downtown areas, and keep the flavor of the neighborhoods as small houses on small lots?

Vince Packard | 2017-05-09 07:03:10