Tag Archives: sprawl

Smartgrowth in Wrentham, Pt.2: Cluster Developments and Effluent Drainage

As I tried to highlight in my last post, Wrentham is a town that does not require a complete “Smartgrowth” approach to its town planning and construction. With a population slightly over 10,000 and density of around 500 residents per square mile, Wrentham is not yet big enough to effectively support an approach like that of Portland, Oregon. The other two towns in the “tri-town” region, Norfolk and Plainville, are in roughly the same situation.

According to Wrentham Planning Board member Alex Lyon, Wrentham and surrounding towns in the proximity of the Charles River have taken a proactive approach to Smart-planning. While more densely populated cities center their Smartgrowth planning around infrastructure, Wrentham employs a conservationist approach when building new housing developments.

Possessing much of the rural land that Wrentham is known for, Sheldonville’s (West Wrentham) housing developments are quite large (and affluent). A great example of the adoption of Smart planning is at the Oak Hill Avenue development. Oak Hill Avenue possesses several aspects of a Smart residential development. As a residential cluster development, developer Howard Bailey makes Oak Hill stand out from most other large-home residential developments in Wrentham.

The Wrentham Open Space Preservation District (OSPD) has advocated cluster development, a process in which a developer purchases a certain number of acres to construct houses on, yet decreases the average zoning size of each lot. With decreased lot sizes, the developer is left with more open space – conserved land for communal use by residents. This land “communal use” usually involves an environmentally friendly idea, like a walking trail or bike path.

According to Lyon, this “tighter density” building allows for the developer to make more money than that of the traditional approach of building larger lot sizes. Obviously, the developer saves money on building materials such as gas and asphalt. In addition, he or she can charge the normal price for a lot, despite the decreased size by advertising the communal space. In the case of Oak Hill, Bailey appealed to the town to decrease the average lot size of 62 large homes in Sheldonville (2 acres) to only one, while preserving the $2 million worth of undeveloped forest for communal walking trails.

While not necessarily “Smart” in the urban sense, cluster development certainly focuses on minimalist use of energy. Take a look in your back yard. Most likely, you have a septic tank that needs to be pumped manually when it fills up with solid waste. As it fills, the wastewater (mildly referred to as “effluent”) overflows into an overflow tube, seeping into the group elsewhere in a leeching field. This effluent includes that of your washing machine, sink, and shower.

In cluster developments, developers are creating effluent sewage systems rather than septic ones. Rather than having all the waste and effluent sit in a septic tank, an effluent system leaves solid waste behind while draining the wastewater to an centralized treatment plant underground through gravity. From there, it percolates back into the water table, usable again for drinking. Often, groundwater recharge ponds are created to help rainwater and surface water leech back into the ground. Cluster developments are perfect for this system, as narrower streets and underground utilities make for easy maintenance and “very little impact on natural surroundings” according to Lyon. For residents living on one of the three lakes in town, extra care is taken – drainage requires frequent solid waste removal as well as constant pumping to keep effluent away from the water body.

New developments are being build all around east Wrentham too, for example: Fox Run (Park Street), Eagle Brook Village (140), and Christina Drive (Creek Street). Unlike the rural landscape that is more permissive to construction in Sheldonville, development closer to Wrentham’s center poses the challenge of constructing around wetlands. All three of these developments are close to bodies of water, mainly the Eagle Brook, which flows south to feed Lake Pearl. Certainly, a Smartgrowth method such as cluster development will be used in lieu of other traditional development methods.


Fox Run on Park Street (that’s a lot of land!)


Developments close to the Eagle Brook and Lake Pearl


In my next blog, I’ll discuss potential planning ideas for the town as well as bad proposals that have been made over recent years. Of course, it will be related to Smartgrowth!





-Eagle Brook Village


-Fox Run (look at the price of those houses! The housing bubble is still inflating!)




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Addressing “Smartgrowth” in Wrentham, Pt. 1: An Overview

On the East and West coasts, urban sprawl is everywhere. You may not have heard the term “sprawl” before, but you’ve almost certainly grasped the idea of it. The most popular (yet indirect) depiction of sprawl can be seen in AMC’s “Breaking Bad”. The urban sprawl in Arizona and New Mexico is incredible – nearly one million lots were prepared for use in Arizona at the time of the market crash – yet, those who couldn’t afford such expensive property simply halted development.

For example, the Laveen Farms community in Central Arizona contains lots that were in the early stages of development, yet were abandoned as the project got more expensive. Fire hydrants, utility stanchions, and even manholes sit in the sand of empty lots, strikingly out of place.


Sprawl outside of Rio Rancho, NM (the balloon really tells the story here)

This the most obvious, yet underreported story outside of major cities on the East and West coasts. Whether land is unused or pre-developed, unresolved economic shortcomings have truly exposed the rate at which sprawl is affecting states. Thankfully, more and more city planners have come up with the idea of Smart growth as a viable social and economic solution to unnecessary neglect of usable land.

For those who are unfamiliar with Smart growth, it is a method that originated in cities, with the purpose of reducing sprawl. An ambiguous term, sprawl is most commonly associated with decentralization of an urban center as the population moves outward.

Many people have the perception that suburbs are “cleaner” and more community-oriented than cities. This is a complete misperception. Unlike cities, most suburbs are not planned out with community in mind. Nothing is within walking distance. Houses are either built in isolated clusters, or with at least an acre of lot space. Workers commuting to their city centers flood state and interstate highways, creating traffic and the potential for injury (not to mention they pollute the air)!


“While densely-populated cities produce less greenhouse gas emissions per person, the suburban sprawl around these cities — and the increased driving, bigger homes, and higher emissions from goods and services that accompany suburban living — essentially cancels out that benefit, according to new research from the University of California at Berkeley.” (Think Progress)


Although it seems like a straightforward process, it isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” solution, according to Daniel Kammen, a professor of Public Policy at Berkeley’s Goldman School. For example, Portland, Oregon has reduced it’s CO2 emissions by approaching Smartgrowth through transportation policies; as a result, it has the lowest per-capita vehicle ownership of all large cities in the US.

My hometown, Wrentham, is a great example of a town that hasn’t experienced the full effects of sprawl, but is en-route to such an end result. (GPL as example) I remember the dangerous and lengthy process of riding my bike from the East side of town to the West as a teenager. The discontinuous sidewalks on a major roads had me checking over my shoulder for cars for the entire 30 minute cycle. MOST residents in Wrentham commute and get where they want by car. Aside from the daily joggers, our town-center is usually devoid of pedestrians – but there’s ALWAYS traffic impatiently edging forward at a four-way intersection.


In my next blog post, I’ll discuss an interview that I conducted with a town planner, and how Wrentham (and other towns around us) are approaching Smartgrowth and sprawl.



Some sources for my “general knowledge” statements (unquoted information)





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