Environment, Open Space and Flooding

Planning and Sustainability undertakes a number of projects to enhance the quality of Northampton's natural environment.

The largest single effort is the preservation and management of open space, preservation of agricultural land, and supporting the agriculture commission to support farmers.

More sporadic, but critically important, has been identification of brownfields (sites with real or perceived releases of hazardous materials), identifying whether those releases are real, and promoting cleanup or management actions so those sites can be put into active production.  Successful projects include:
  • Identifying releases at the Roundhouse site and leveraging $7 million of private cleanup.
  • Assessing the old Fire Station and addressing findings to allow the site to be put back into active production as a downtown restaurant and offices.
  • Assessing dozens of sites for permanent open space, addressing any issues as they arise. Often this results in sites perceived to be contaminated being given a clean bill of health (e.g., the Lane Construction site recently donated to the City).
  • Assessing Pleasant Street to allow the state highway to become a city street with lower speeds and on-street parking.
Water quality efforts are shared by the Planning & Sustainability, which supports the Conservation Commission, the wetlands ordinance, environmental cleanup projects, preservation of open space to preserve water quality, and other projects, and DPW, which oversees all stormwater and sanitary sewers and treatment, the stormwater ordinance, and the stormwater utility. For information on water quality issues:
City efforts to prevent damage from flooding is shared by Planning & Sustainability and other city departments:
  • The city has very strict floodplain zoning, preventing any new buildings in most of the 500 year floodplain (the area that historically had a 0.2% chance of flooding in any given year, although the change of such storms has probably increased with climate change.
  • The city, through the Building Department, strictly enforces the state building code in the floodplain and requires Elevation Certificates for any relevant building project.
  • The city has worked with area landowners and state and federal agencies to protect floodplain forest as permanently protected open space and to protect farmland with permanent agriculture preservation restrictions.
  • Additional information is available at Forbes Library (which maintains a collection of FEMA documents on flood risk and mitigation) and at www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/