The Jose Carreiro Woodland in Marshfield could have easily been a housing development, if not for the longterm dedicated efforts of concerned citizens and the town’s Community Preservation Committee.

Back in December, one of the last stands of trees in the commercial section of Marshfield’s Route 139 was cleared to make room for a new office building. Technically, we’re not supposed to be upset by this, as the land was zoned for business. Still, I heard lots of people bemoaning the loss of the woods, or otherwise commenting on how striking the difference is, landscape-wise, when you drive along that road. Even now, two months later, I still do a double take when I drive past the cleared land. I miss the trees.

This sort of thing is happening all over the South Shore. Take Route 53 in Hanover and Norwell. A number of properties have been cleared, razed, or renovated in the past year to make room for new commercial buildings. In many cases, an eyesore was demolished to make room for a newer, larger, and (I hope) more aesthetically pleasing structure. In other cases, it was only forest that was taken down.

Again, these are commercially zoned parts of town. They are “meant” to be developed. But it’s sad to see the wooded areas go.

Why is this happening all of a sudden? It isn’t sudden, really. It’s been happening all along. My neighbor, who is in her eighties and grew up in Marshfield, told me a story about how when she was a child, she used to sit down in the middle of Union Street to play. Now Union Street is a narrow but busy thoroughfare where cars zip along at 40+ mph and most people wouldn’t even dare to walk along the side of the road. With 40B communities, a day camp, and numerous new houses vying for building permits up and down the road, it promises only to get busier.

When I was a child, in the 1970s and ‘80s, there were acres upon acres of undeveloped land in town. Now the “new” neighborhoods that were carved out of those forests in my lifetime – places like Woodland Hills and Arrowhead – are no longer even considered new. The trend continues. I can’t even count how many new roads and age-55+ complexes are being built in our town. It’s the same all over the South Shore.

You can blame some of it on the trains – the Kingston and Bridgewater commuter lines, and the Greenbush line that is coming to Scituate. Easy access to public transportation makes communities more attractive, and so we’re building houses and businesses to accommodate the population influx. But some of it is just “progress.” As long as they have their permits in order, people who own residentially zoned land are entitled to develop it. Towns that had the foresight to set aside land for conservation will maintain that open space, but where that isn’t or wasn’t a priority, land will just continue to be cleared and built upon.

Here’s my conundrum: how much of it is good, or inevitable, and how much of it is not? I’ve been asked to sign petitions protesting certain developments. I have resisted so far because I honestly don’t know where I stand on those matters, even when presented with facts and figures. But when conservation groups set up campaigns to save parcels of land on the South Shore, I try to give generously.

I don’t have the answers. I am grateful for the Wildlands Trust, the Trustees of Reservations, Mass Audubon, and the Nature Conservancy for maintaining open space here on the South Shore, and where possible, campaigning to acquire more. I am thrilled with the towns that have adopted the Community Preservation Act and who continue to buy land for conservation. I think it’s a foregone conclusion at this point that traffic is only going to get worse around here. Can we make it less worse? We can’t stave off all development, but can we contain it? Can we find a balance somehow?

By Kezia Bacon-Bernstein, correspondent
January 2007

Kezia Bacon-Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168.