CUMBERLAND — The Town Council on Monday unanimously approved a land use code amendment that provides a new conservation option for subdivided parcels.

The new rules apply to the town’s Rural Residential 1 Zone, which has a 4-acre minimum house lot size, and to Rural Residential 2, where the minimum is 2 acres.

In a traditional subdivision, an option that still applies in those zones, a parcel with 40 developable acres in RR1 could have 10 lots, or 20 lots in RR2.

In a conservation subdivision, 50 percent of the property would be preserved as open space, but developers would still be able to build as many lots as if they were going the traditional route. As a result, a 40-acre parcel in RR1, with 20 acres set aside for conservation could potentially still have 10 housing lots among the remaining 20 acres.

“Even though the conservation subdivision would reserve 50 percent as open space, if you are the applicant or developer you still get to build the same number of house lots that you could if you were building a traditional format style,” Planning Board member Steve Moriarty told the council at the Feb. 25 meeting. “There’s no loss of the number of lots that can be developed based upon whichever of the models is in play.”

Cumberland’s 2009 Comprehensive Plan established several land use goals, such as requiring that future subdivisions be designed to preserve or protect agricultural uses, scenic areas, and land that is environmentally sensitive, and at the same time clustering homes in areas least visible from the road, Moriarty said.

To that end, the plan called for adopting a conservation subdivision ordinance, a document Moriarity and other residents have spent recent years developing through multiple committees. The Planning Board on Feb. 19 unanimously recommended council approval of the set of rules.

The conservation subdivision would in RR1 and RR2 replace an existing clustered subdivision rule – through which 25 percent of the parcel is conserved – although the clustered option will remain, along with the traditional route, in districts like the Medium Density and Low Density residential zones.

There will be a 75-foot buffer around the perimeter of a conservation subdivision and twice that much along Cumberland’s main corridors – Blanchard, Tuttle, Greely and Foreside roads – Moriarty explained. The rules define “high conservation areas” which particularly deserve protection, he noted.

“We believe (this) achieves the goals and purposes of the Comprehensive Plan” and reflects pro-rural public input regarding “what kind of a town we want this to continue to be as we move into the future and face the continuing pressure of development,” Moriarty said.

A hearing on the matter Monday drew no public comment.

Alex Lear can be reached at 780-9085 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Steve Moriarty, a Cumberland Planning Board member who has worked in recent years to help establish a conservation subdivision ordinance, describes the set of rules Monday to the Town Council.