Growth & Resource Protection

Cape Cod Fall Color

The high quality of life we enjoy on Cape Cod depends on a healthy environment, with safe drinking water, clean ponds and bays, unspoiled open areas and vibrant mixed use village centers. How successful we are in protecting the qualities that make the Cape so special is directly related to the choices we make in utilizing our limited land area and protecting our natural resources.

Existing patterns of growth, perpetuated by ineffective local zoning bylaws and state land use laws, have caused us to sprawl across the landscape. The resulting development has needlessly consumed thousands of acres of land, fragmented critical habitats on the local, regional and state level to reduce growth’s impacts and to increase protections for our land and water. The following program areas outline some of APCC’s work..


“The hope of the future lies not in curbing the influence of human occupancy - it is already too late for that - but in creating a better understanding of the extent of that influence and a new ethic for its governance.”

– Aldo Leopold
Town Center Revitilazation

The traditional New England village is a pattern of development that has served Cape Cod well for 350 years. APCC has assisted several Cape towns in efforts to revitalize and redevelop their town centers. Reducing growth in outlying natural resource areas while promoting growth in existing town centers helps protect the Cape’s environment and discourage the sprawling development that has occurred on Cape Cod in recent decades. At the same time, revitalized mixed use town centers provide opportunities for economic development, create additional housing, and help decrease the region’s reliance on automobiles.

In 2003, APCC provided the town of Dennis with conceptual visualizations of how Dennisport village center could appear if zoning were changed to allow increased height and a mix of commercial and residential uses. These visualizations were followed in subsequent years by other visualizations APCC produced for Main Street in Orleans, North Falmouth, downtown Hyannis and East Harwich. The resulting visualizations depict desirable communities that are harmonious with Cape Cod’s charm and character.

Land Use Planning

Land use and zoning laws determine how well a community can manage growth and protect natural resources. APCC advocates at the state and local levels for laws and bylaws that enable communities to plan and implement effective growth management strategies.

State Zoning Reform

For several years, APCC has actively advocated for reforms to the state’s zoning and planning laws, which have been identified as among the worst in the nation for their inability to allow communities to plan effectively for growth, protect natural resources and preserve community character. Existing state law actually serves as an impediment to local planning by allowing developers to easily circumvent efforts to improve zoning bylaws. APCC is a member of the Zoning Reform Working Group, a body of planning and land use professionals, environmental organizations, housing advocates, municipal representatives and state elected officials who are seeking reforms to the state’s antiquated land use statutes. The working group has drafted proposed zoning reform legislation, and is working with members of the legislature for the adoption of these much-needed reforms.

Improving Local Zoning

APCC is also a strong voice in promoting improvements to local zoning bylaws and regulations that currently perpetuate sprawl and needlessly consume open space. APCC works with town officials in identifying areas where changes to local bylaws are needed in order to direct growth to village centers and away from environmentally sensitive areas. In addition, APCC generates powerful grassroots support to push for the adoption of zoning changes that will better protect the natural resources and character of a community.

Planning Tools

APCC actively promotes utilization of a host of planning tools that can assist regional and local efforts to shape our communities and protect our natural resources. The Cape Cod Commission Act provides Barnstable County with tools that are not available to other Massachusetts communities.

One of the most effective tools available to Cape Cod enables are area in one or more towns to be designated as a District of Critical Planning Concern, or DCPC. A DCPC provides a temporary time out from development while new zoning and other regulations are drafted to protect one or more resources in need of special protections. APCC has been a strong proponent of the DCPC tool. In particular, APCC worked extensively to support DCPCs in Barnstable, Sandwich, Harwich, Dennis and Brewster that have helped protect water resources, critical habitats, coastal regions and the unique character of those communities.

APCC also advocates for Natural Resource Protection Zoning, a highly effective and innovative planning tool only recently introduced to Massachusetts and adopted by the town of Brewster through APCC’s efforts.

Natrual Resource Protection ZoningAPCC advocates for the use of Natural Resource Protection Zoning, or NRPZ, a highly effective and innovative planning tool only recently introduced to Massachusetts. In 2009, APCC was instrumental in the successful adoption of NRPZ in the town of Brewster, making it the first community on Cape Cod and only the second in Massachusetts to utilize this important land use tool.

NRPZ combines low densities and compact patterns of clustered development so that a larger percentage of the most environmentally sensitive land is set aside as permanently protected open space.

Development Review

Some of APCC’s most important work includes safeguarding the Cape’s environment from harmful development and encouraging communities to make wise growth decisions.

APCC is the region’s only nonprofit environmental organization that scrutinizes all large development projects in every Cape Cod town. APCC analyzes potential impacts of projects that seek local, regional, state or federal permits, testifies at public hearings, submits position statements and speaks out as the voice for Cape Cod’s environment.