Growing Greener: Putting Conservation into Local Plans and Ordinances / Edition 2

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Growing Greener is an illustrated workbook that presents a new look at designing subdivisions while preserving green space and creating open space networks. Randall Arendt explains how to design residential developments that maximize land conservation without reducing overall building density, thus avoiding the political and legal problems often associated with "down-zoning."

The author offers a three-pronged strategy for shaping growth around a community's special natural and cultural features, demonstrating ways of establishing or modifying the municipal comprehensive plan, zoning ordinance, and subdivision ordinance to include a strong conservation focus. Open space protection becomes the central organizing principle for new residential development, and the open space that is protected is laid out to form an interconnected system of protected lands running across a community.

The book offers:

  • detailed information on how to conduct a community resource inventory
  • a four-step approach to designing conservation subdivisions
  • extensive model language for comprehensive plans, subdivision ordinances, and zoning ordinances
  • illustrated design principles for hamlets, villages, and traditional small town neighborhoods

In addition, Growing Greener includes eleven case studies of actual conservation developments in nine states, and two exercises suitable for group participation. Case studies include: Ringfield, Chadds Ford Township, Pennsylvania; The Fields of St. Croix, City of Lake Elmo, Minnesota; Prairie Crossing, Grayslake, Illinois; The Meadows at Dolly Gordon Brook, York, Maine; Farmcolony, Standsville, Virginia; The Ranch at Roaring Fork, Carbondale, Colorado; and others.

Growing Greener builds upon and expands the basic ideas presented in Arendt's earlier work Conservation Design for Subdivisions, broadening the scope to include more detailed sections on the comprehensive planning process and information on how zoning ordinances can be updated to incorporate the concept of conservation design. It is the first practical publication to explain in detail how resource-conserving development techniques can be put into practice by municipal officials, residential developers, and site designers, and it offers a simple and straightforward approach to balancing opportunities for developers and conservationists.

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of the American Planning Association

"Through such an introspective review, a community will be better equipped to refine its land use provisions to direct growth along a socially, economically, and environmentally desirable path…. Growing Greener is an excellent reference for local planners."
IN SITU International Institute of Site Planning

"These recommendations are both timely and useful for creating a future of greener existing communities as well as that of greener future community growth."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781559637428
  • Publisher: Island Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/1999
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 292
  • Product dimensions: 11.00 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Randall Arendt is a land-use planner, site designer, author, lecturer, and an advocate of "conservation planning". He received his B.A. degree from Wesleyan University (magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa) and his M.Phil. degree in Urban Design and Regional Planning from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, where he was a St. Andrew's Scholar. He was formerly vice president for conservation planning for the Natural Lands Trust and is now president of Greener Prospects, a land use consulting firm in Narragansett, Rhode Island. He is the author of Growing Greener Ordinance Language (Natural Lands Trust, 2001), and Conservation Design for Subdivisions (Island Press, 2001).

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Read an Excerpt

Growing Greener

Putting Conservation Into Local Plans and Ordinances

By Randall G. Arendt


Copyright © 1999 Natural Lands Trust
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55963-742-8



Growth and Development Trends

Although the techniques in this book were originally devised to deal with growth problems experienced by communities in Pennsylvania, they are applicable in most other parts of the country as well. Zoning laws throughout the United States are based on the same original source: the Zoning Enabling Act passed by Congress in 1926, proposed by Herbert Hoover during his tenure as commerce secretary in the Coolidge administration.

Even though the scale and rate of development vary among the different regions of the country, a fairly constant and relatively unchanging aspect of this growth is its pattern as it sits upon the land, consuming important natural resources and converting them into bland, unproductive suburban lawns, streets, and parking lots. That pattern is one of geographically dispersed growth, typically occurring in a sporadic, haphazard fashion.

Whatever the rate of growth may be in a particular state, county, or locality, of far greater significance is its physical manifestation in the explosive increase in land consumption relative to population growth.

For example, in the 30-year period from 1960 to 1990, the population in Pennsylvania's ten largest metropolitan regions grew by 12 percent while its developed land area mushroomed by 80 percent. In other words, the amount of resource land taken for urban and suburban development grew six to seven times faster than population. Unfortunately, this trend is not unusual. Similar but less extreme trends have been reported in many other parts of the country. In Florida, for example, developed land grew twice as fast (by 80 percent) as did total population (38 percent) between 1974 and 1984. The experience was even worse in four metropolitan-area counties around Puget Sound, where total acreage of developed land grew two and one-half times faster than population growth (87 percent versus 36 percent). The habit of zoning for ever-lower densities in new development is a sad but common phenomenon, one that afflicts nearly every state in the union.

The situation in Pennsylvania has been strikingly illustrated by a simple graph produced for the report of the Governor's 21st Century Environmental Commission (see Fig. 1-1).

Recognizing the huge societal and economic costs imposed by the land-consumptive results of implementing outdated local land-use policies, the Governor's Environmental Commission has identified sprawl as the commonwealth's most basic underlying problem. Yesterday's techniques for coping with the challenge are insufficient to the task. For example, while 115,000 acres of farmland were protected through expensive buy-back programs from 1982 to 1992, Pennsylvania lost more than one million acres of cropland and pastureland during that same time period. Significantly, the American Farmland Trust has ranked south-central and southeastern Pennsylvania as the nation's second most threatened agricultural area. Although traditional buy-back programs should continue and be expanded, they must be supplemented with more creative approaches that are capable of conserving more land than can possibly be saved through the expenditure of tax dollars. Among the key recommendations of the Governor's Commission is that local governments must begin to implement more innovative land-use practices, with conservation subdivision design specifically mentioned in its final report.

Similar stances and actions—some considerably stronger—have been adopted by other states around the country, including Maryland, New Jersey, Vermont, Florida, and Hawaii, and the Growing Greener approach could be used to good effect in all these states and in most others as well. The exception to this rule of general applicability is Oregon, whose strict Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) program limits suburban land consumption far more effectively. However, even in such situations the illustrated design guidelines for hamlets, villages, and traditional small-town neighborhoods contained in Appendix 3 could be of significant value to planners, site designers, and local officials, where new development within the UGBs would otherwise tend to be simply a denser version of the standard cookie-cutter design.

The accelerating loss of critical resource lands to inefficient low-density sprawl development will almost certainly lead to greater conflicts among resource users. While environmentalists work to preserve woodland habitats and farmland preservationists seek to protect productive fields and orchards, developers must find sites for new subdivisions. Many of these new developments will be served by central sewage treatment facilities that discharge into nearby waterways. Downstream, fishermen will suffer from declining or diseased catches. Individuals may feel that their actions have only insignificant impacts on the environmental resources of their region, but every part of the natural system is related. The cumulative effects of these individual actions can be profound, especially over the longer term, and sound planning will be essential to conserve and protect your community's natural and cultural heritage.

In this regard, the remarks of Representative Tayloe Murphy of the Virginia State Legislature on the problems of the Chesapeake Bay are relevant—if only as one example of actions that produce indirect, cumulative impacts beyond those imagined by the people most directly and immediately involved:

Every individual and seemingly isolated action has consequences. Most activities that affect the bay and other public resources are of little apparent consequence in themselves : a subdivision here, a road there, a filled wetland, a new field cleared from a forest—but as they are added together, they have the effect of an avalanche that starts with a few pebbles rolling down a hillside.... There are simply too many of us doing too many things in the bay's vicinity to continue with the notion that our individual actions make no difference.

Our Natural and Cultural Heritage

Every state embodies a wide expanse of ecosystems that endow it with a rich natural heritage. These areas provide habitat for wildlife, protection for rare plant and animal species, and natural water quality buffers for streams and rivers. Wetlands serve a variety of important functions such as protecting water quality, preventing floods, and providing wildlife habitat (e.g., nursery areas for fisheries), in addition to giving us areas of natural beauty to enjoy and places in which to recreate.

Maintaining our common natural heritage requires a special emphasis on the protection of diverse plant and animal communities, some of which are rare or endangered. The Keystone State's rarest and most significant ecological features are tracked in a database known as the Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory (PNDI), a partnership between the state Bureau of Forestry, The Nature Conservancy, and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. As of May 1997, the state species lists classified 290 plant species and 155 animal species as endangered and 87 plant species and 84 animal species as threatened. In addition, the PNDI has identified 103 different kinds of natural communities across the state. Many other states have conducted similar inventories, and some others (such as Michigan) have produced sets of maps showing presettlement vegetation patterns that are invaluable to those interested in ecological restoration on properties that have been cleared, drained, or otherwise significantly altered since European settlers arrived.

Wetland habitats include freshwater marshes, bottomland hardwood forests, and nonalluvial wetland forests. Once regarded as wastelands, wetlands are now regarded as ecologically and economically productive ecosystems. Wetlands cover about 2 percent of Pennsylvania, yet more than 80 percent of the state's endangered and threatened species depend on wetlands during their life cycle. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that wetland area in Pennsylvania decreased by more than one-half from the 1780s to the 1980s. The percentage loss of wetlands is even higher in other states, especially in those with longer coastlines or with larger expanses of farmland, much of which occupies land drained generations ago to increase its suitability for cultivation (such as in many of the Great Plains states). Records maintained between 1956 and 1979 indicate that, in Pennsylvania, conversion to ponds, lakes, and reservoirs constituted the leading cause of wetland losses (46 percent), followed by farmland conversion (17 percent) and urbanization (14 percent). Peat mining in the Pocono Mountains region, where peat is removed and the wetland area is commonly converted to a pond or a lake, also contributes to wetland loss. Similar historic trends were experienced in other peat-rich areas in Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

Pennsylvania's historic and cultural heritage is inextricably linked to the natural environment. While many residents recognize the national significance of the Gettysburg Battlefield and Independence Hall, few realize the vastness of resources in their own back yards. A wealth of history may be found in the working landscape of vernacular homes and industrial buildings in riverbank communities around the state. And many of our small downtowns provide local models for new "neo-traditional" development. Nearly the same can be said for every other state in the union.

While the quantity and significance of historic resources varies from one community to another, the importance of public and/or private initiatives in protecting our common heritage of historic sites and cultural landscapes is clear. Only when a community identifies its resources in a Comprehensive Plan can new growth respect the integrity of the community's history and culture.

Growing Greener Applicability in a Wide Variety of Density Situations

As further described on pages 31–34, the Growing Greener techniques may be applied across a broad spectrum of base density situations—from rural districts where density is expressed in acres per dwelling to more urban districts where density is noted as dwellings per acre. The principal difference between these situations lies in the percentage of minimum required open space, typically varying from 50–70 percent in the former to 25–40 percent in the latter.

In other words, the basic techniques described and illustrated in this book can be applied effectively and successfully whether the goal is to conserve broad expanses of important resource lands in the countryside or to provide formal squares and informal neighborhood parks and greenways in and around established towns. In both applications, the Growing Greener approach helps build better communities, where the quality of life is enhanced appreciably. The environmental, social, recreational, and economic benefits of conservation planning and subdivision design are detailed in Chapter 6.

Reasons for Updating Plans and Codes to Include a Conservation Focus

Readers might wonder why they should bother updating their Comprehensive Plans and their zoning and subdivision ordinances to expand the options available to landowners and increase the opportunities for conserving land through the development process. Here are several reasons:

• Simply put, existing conventional approaches to subdivision development ultimately produce nothing more than house lots and streets. This process eventually "checkerboards" rural and suburbanizing areas into a seamless blanket of "wall-to-wall subdivisions" with no open space, except for perhaps a few remnant areas that are too wet, steep, or floodprone to build on. Few people, whether they are landowners, developers, realtors, planners, engineers, surveyors, landscape architects, or local officials, can take a great deal of professional pride in helping to create just another conventional subdivision, converting every acre of natural land within a site to lawns, driveways, and streets.

• Alternative methods of designing for the same overall density while also preserving 50 percent or more of the site are not difficult to master, and they create more attractive and pleasing living environments that sell more easily and appreciate, faster than conventional "house lot and street" developments. This is particularly true for three large and growing sectors of the housing market—young households, single-parent families, and "empty-nesters."

• The significant land protection achievable through "conservation subdivision design" should help smooth the local review and approval process by responding to many environmental concerns even before they are raised by county and local officials or by members of the public interested in preserving wildlife habitat and protecting water quality in neighborhood streams, ponds, and aquifers.

• Conservation subdivisions are simply better places in which to live. When well designed, the majority of lots in these subdivisions abut or face onto a variety of open spaces, from formal "greens" or "commons" to wildflower meadows, farm fields, mature woodlands, tidal or freshwater wetlands, and/or active recreational facilities. At present, only golf course developments offer comparable amounts of open space. But those green areas are managed for only one kind of activity and typically convert all previously natural areas (except wetlands and steep slopes) into intensively managed lawns that are off limits to everyone but golfers and are uninviting to most forms of wildlife (except the more tolerant animals, such as geese).

One measure of the demand for open space among home buyers is the fact that nearly 40 percent of people living in golf course developments do not even play the game. According to published reports, these people are buying "the park-like views of open space, views that can command a premium in a home's initial sale price and its resale value."

This book will show how virtually any community can adapt and improve on the basic technique used for decades by the designers of golf course communities. Briefly stated, that technique is to outline the open space first and to let its size and location become the central organizing elements driving the rest of the design. The next three steps are to locate the houses around the open space, to trace in street alignments and trail corridors, and finally to set the lot lines.

It is almost as simple as it sounds. Naturally, a number of resource base maps are required (typically pertaining to soils, slopes, wetlands, floodplains, existing vegetation, wildlife habitats, and historic resources), and several elemental principles relating to physical layout and neighborhood design should be observed. These are illustrated and described in later chapters.

Of course, this book does not reduce the need to engage a team of professionals, including a landscape architect or physical planner, in addition to a surveyor and an engineer. It can, however, make everyone's role clearer by articulating a "greener vision" for residential developments of nearly every size, shape, and variety.

Frequently Asked Questions About Conservation Subdivision Design

For a quick overview of the questions most often asked about this approach by local residents and officials, and for helpful answers to those queries, readers are referred to Appendix 1. The information contained in that appendix has been gleaned from the text of this book and assembled in a format that is easy to photocopy (with the publisher's permission) for distribution at public meetings where this approach is being discussed.


How Your Community Can Choose Its Own Future

There is no particular future that is preordained for any community. To a greater extent than many people believe, the future is a matter of choice. A wide range of alternative futures exists and, realistically, "staying the same" is usually not one of them.

In regions experiencing population growth, change is inevitable. The real choice facing communities in such areas is whether to try to actively shape those internal and external forces bringing change or to passively accept unplanned, haphazard development patterns and try to cope with the results in the best way possible.

For those communities that have adopted some type of land-use plan and regulation to control growth, additional choices face local residents and officials. Those choices run the gamut from relying on conventional zoning and subdivision codes to turning to newer conservation-based tools that can effectively protect the community's most valued resources and its most special places, while still accommodating full-density growth.


Excerpted from Growing Greener by Randall G. Arendt. Copyright © 1999 Natural Lands Trust. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword: The Growing Greener Program
Preface: Designing Land Development from a Bird's Perspective (among Others)
Introduction: How This Book Can Help You
Chapter 1. Context
Chapter 2. How Your Community Can Choose Its Own Future
Chapter 3. Comprehensive Plan Update
Chapter 4. Conservation Zoning Techniques
Chapter 5. Conservation Subdivisions: Application Documents, Design Process, and Conservation Land Design Standards
Chapter 6. Benefits of Conservation Planning and Design
Chapter 7. Examples of Subdivisions with Substantial Conservation Areas
-Design Exercise 1: Community-Wide Map of Potential Conservation Lands
-Design Exercise 2: Laying Out a Conservation Subdivision
Appendix 1: Frequently Asked Questions about Conservation Subdivision Design
Appendix 2: Model Comprehensive Plan Language
Appendix 3: Model Ordinance Language for Conservation Subdivisions
Suggested Further Reading
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