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Growing Greener: Conservation by Design

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Last modified Sep 07, 2011



Experts

Ann Hutchinson
Natural Lands Trust
(610) 353-5640 x230
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Ann directs the state-wide Growing Greener/ Conservation by Design conservation planning program. She is also is a certified planner and landscape architect

Monica Drewniany
Natural Lands Trust
(610) 353-5640 x233
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Monica Drewniany is the Community Planning Program Manager with Natural Lands Trust (NLT). During her career she has worked primarily at the county and regional levels, advisory to municipalities. For 14 years she worked with the Montgomery County Planning Commission where she was Assistant Director and head of the Design Planning Section.

David Babbitt
David C. Babbitt & Associates
610-651-5717
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He is listed as an expert because he has completed the Growing Greener: Conservation By Design training, and has completed at least one ordinance.

Frank Chlebniknow
Rettew Associates
717-697-3551
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He is listed as an expert because he has completed the Growing Greener: Conservation By Design training, and has completed at least one ordinance.

Tim Cormany
717-264-6759
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He is listed as an expert because he has completed the Growing Greener: Conservation By Design training, and has completed at least one ordinance.

Carson Helfrich
Community Planning and Management Association
570-857-0282
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He is listed as an expert because he has completed the Growing Greener: Conservation By Design training, and has completed at least one ordinance.

Craig Kologie
Castle Valley Consultants, Inc.
215-348-8257
He is listed as an expert because he has completed the Growing Greener: Conservation By Design training, and has completed at least one ordinance.

Glenn Neuhs
Spotts, Stevens & McCoy
610-621-2000
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He is listed as an expert because he has completed the Growing Greener: Conservation By Design training, and has completed at least one ordinance.

Sara Pandl
Pandl & Associates
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Sara is listed as an expert because she has completed the Growing Greener: Conservation By Design training, and has completed at least one ordinance.

Jim Pashek
Pashek Associates
412-321-6362
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Jim Pashek, who completed training in writing Growing Greener: Conservation by Design ordinances, is the founder and principal of Pashek Associates. Pashek's services include site design, park and recreation planning, meeting facilitation, GIS mapping, comprehensive and strategic planning, and the development of land use management tools.

Featured Library Items

Growing Greener Case Studies
Features a dozen Southeastern PA case studies where a successful collaboration emerged between municipal officials, developers and land conservation efforts.

Greener Prospects
Randall Arendt is a nationally recognized expert on the topic of Conservation by Design and was one the first proponents of this concept. This website has numerous free publications, videos, books, and case studies on multiple topics relating to land-use planning.

Intentional Grounding
Article describing how conservation subdivisions are allowing sellers, buyers, and even "not in my back yard" proponents find set-aside plans they support.

American Planning Association Web Page
This trade association website offers many resources on conservation development and other related topics pertaining to land-use planning.

Antrim Township website
Ordinances enacted by this small, PA township are an effort to encourage smart growth and provide for resource protection

Conservation Subdivision Design Handbook
Comprehensive examination of the Design concept, complete with up-to date references, examples, model ordinances, case studies and more.

Land Choices Web Page
A national non-profit helping landowners preserve their land through conservation subdivisions and other techniques. The website showcases examples of conservation subdivisions from across the United States.

Growing Greener, Melding Conservation and Development
A case study on Conservation by Design. The studies provide the perspective of both the land owner and the developer in creating open-space friendly developments.

Growing Greener Model Ordinance (Version 2.0)
This model ordinance, consisting of model language for both zoning and subdivision and land development ordinances, provides regulations that can be added to typical, existing ordinances to implement the principles and standards of conservation subdivision design.

Introduction to Growing Greener: Conservation by Design
This booklet summarizes how municipalities can use the development process to their advantage to protect interconnected networks of open space: natural areas, greenways, trails and recreational lands. Communities can take control of their destinies so that their conservation goals are achieved in...

Growing Greener: Putting Conservation Into Local Plans And Ordinances
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, th...

Acknowledgements

Ann Hutchinson was the original author of this document.

Disclaimer

Nothing contained in this or any other document available at ConservationTools.org is intended to be relied upon as legal advice. The authors disclaim any attorney-client relationship with anyone to whom this document is furnished. Nothing contained in this document is intended to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to any person any transaction or matter addressed in this document.

Copyright

Copyright © is held by the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association

Text may be excerpted and reproduced with acknowledgement of ConservationTools.org and the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association.

Growing Greener: Conservation By Design helps municipalities and developers build new housing and businesses while protecting important natural and cultural resources. With straightforward changes to municipal ordinances, new subdivisions can leave half (or more) of buildable land as open space while being fair to those seeking to develop their land.

Summary

Growing Greener: Conservation by Design incorporates conservation considerations into the development process and municipal ordinances, patterning development around networks of open space. Conservation by Design arranges new development on sites to be developed so that half or more of the buildable land in subdivisions is permanently set aside as open space. The same number of housing units can be built—just on smaller lots—so landowners and developers are not financially penalized. Conservation by Design differs from traditional cluster developments in that it places conservation planning at the beginning of the development process rather than at the end and establishes higher standards for both the quantity and quality of open space.

Track Record

As of January 2011, 42 Pennsylvania municipalities have adopted rigorous versions of the Conservation by Design model ordinances (and many more have adopted some aspects of the program). Municipalities that have adopted rigorous versions of the ordinances are preserving an average of 62% of the land, each time a residential property is developed. In many of the resulting conservation subdivisions, the developers have donated land to the municipality, at no public cost, greatly increasing local capacity to provide greenways and parks to residents.

Typical End Users

Municipalities can incorporate Conservation by Design land use regulations into their zoning, subdivision and land development ordinances. Developers can incorporate Conservation by Design concepts into their development process. Residents of the municipality can advocate for their elected officials to implement Conservation by Design. Certain land trusts and consultants can provide land conservation and land use planning expertise to the municipalities.

Conservation Impact

Superior long-term impact. As parcels are developed in the municipality, 50% or more of each parcel is conserved and the associated land and water resources permanently protected. Provides a vastly superior alternative to typical cluster zoning in both the quantity and quality of open space protected. Very low cost option for open space protection in municipalities. Creates more options for development. Encourages mixed-use development and sustainable, walkable communities, which may significantly decrease dependence on automobile-oriented travel.

What You'll Need

Initially need expertise to create new ordinances and then ongoing expertise to consistently review development plans submitted. Consultants and several land trusts can provide such expertise. Land use planning expertise to include natural resource analysis and specific technical land use planning techniques.

Obstacles and Challenges

Substantial upfront effort required to educate and persuade planning commission and governing body to enact improvements to municipal ordinances. Best to identify and work with credible “champion” in municipality to assist in navigating process. For those who seek to stop all new development, this tool will not achieve that end. The same number of housing units will still be built in the community and approximately half of the land will still be developed.


Introduction

Each time a property is to be developed, Conservation by Design provides the opportunity for adding land to a community-wide network of open space. By making several small but significant changes to three municipal documents – the comprehensive plan, zoning ordinance, and subdivision and land development ordinance – Conservation by Design ensures that conservation becomes institutionalized in the development process.

Conservation by Design rearranges the development on each parcel as it is being planned so that half (or more) of the buildable land is set aside as open space. Without controversial “down zoning,” the same number of homes can be built in a less land-consumptive manner, allowing the balance of the property to be permanently protected and added to an interconnected network of community green spaces. This “density-neutral” approach provides fair and equitable treatment to landowners and developers.

Conservation by Design manages growth while protecting natural and cultural resources for little or no public cost. Other than purchasing land or easements, no conservation method has been more effective at permanently protecting open space in Pennsylvania.
 
Conservation by Design differs from traditional cluster developments in that it establishes higher standards for both the quantity and quality of open space. Most importantly, through a four-step design process written into the Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance, it places conservation planning at the beginning of the development process rather than at the end.

Conservation by Design works within the parameters of existing state enabling legislation.

Conservation by Design begins with the municipality deciding to examine its current land use practices and conservation goals.  Implementing the Conservation by Design approach involves four key elements:

  • Community assessment
  • Conservation planning
  • Conservation subdivision and land development ordinance
  • Conservation zoning ordinance

Conservation by Design Basic Actions

Community assessment

Community assessment helps municipal leaders to clearly see the long-term effects of continuing forward with their current ordinance provisions – generally an outcome which yields a pattern of widespread “sprawl”.  This step examines the adequacy of current plans, zoning and ordinances to shape future growth in a way that fosters healthy and safe communities, higher quality of life, open space protection, scenic view protection, and other goals of the municipality’s comprehensive plan. 

Conservation planning

To ensure that a community has a good understanding of their natural and cultural resources, it is important to include a map of potential conservation lands as a component of the municipal comprehensive plan. This map serves as a reference point for documenting priority resources and is used to guide the location of open space in new subdivisions.

Conservation subdivision and land development ordinance

Under Conservation by Design, the usual sequence of steps in the subdivision process is reversed, with boundaries of protected space defined prior to road layouts.  The “greenlining” process identifies conservation areas for protection, both those restricted by current regulation and those unprotected features to be excluded from the development area.  By defining the conservation areas first, this process virtually guarantees superior land use outcomes as compared to conventional practices. Other critical components of the subdivision and land development ordinance include a site visit, context map, greenway design standards and existing resources & site analysis plan.

Conservation zoning ordinance

Conservation by Design amends the current zoning ordinance, creating a menu of options that support the conservation goals of the municipality’s comprehensive plan.  For example, the new zoning will encourage open space protection by providing maximum density only when open space has been protected. The zoning code includes disincentives so as to discourage land consumptive development patterns.  In this way, the new zoning provides an economic incentive to “set aside” larger open spaces.  Most communities using Conservation by Design offer at least three options for residential development.

Implementation

Adoption and Administration of Land Use Regulations
Any municipality can access the Conservation by Design model land use regulations, at no cost. Adoption of regulations is, by its nature, a time-consuming process best accomplished with public education and input. The Conservation by Design model ordinance, published nationally by Island Press, typically requires nine to eighteen months for adoption.
While municipalities should hire an experienced land use planner to adapt the regulations into local codes, ongoing administration of the regulations is on par with other land use regulations. However, it is wise to train planning commission members in the land use planning options available under Conservation by Design.

Technical Assistance Available

Conservation by Design is backed by educational outreach and technical assistance to municipal officials via a collaborative program of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Governor’s Center for Local Government Services, Natural Lands Trust, and an advisory committee of officials from state and local agencies, non-profits and the private sector.

Natural Lands Trust, a regional land conservancy in Media, PA, administers the Growing Greener: Conservation by Design program. Municipalities may receive an assessment of their existing land use regulations, evaluating how the Conservation by Design standards could apply in their community. Grant money is also available through Natural Lands Trust to match municipalities with private sector planners who have taken a course in Conservation by Design ordinances. Natural Lands Trust also offers assistance identifying conservation lands and reviewing conservation subdivisions to ensure that the open space in conservation subdivisions contributes to a greater community conservation network.

Financial Assistance Available

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources as well as several counties, including Chester, Monroe, Cumberland and Berks, have made grant money available to municipalities that wish to adopt Conservation by Design land use regulations.

Impact

Once a municipality has enacted the Conservation by Design land use regulations, the impact is quickly realized. New open space will be protected with every new land development project in the municipality.

What Happens to Open Space Protected under Conservation by Design?

What happens with the open space protected under Conservation by Design depends on the qualities of the particular parcel and the goals of the municipality and developer. The open space could be farmed. A homeowners association could use it for passive recreation by residents. The land could be added to a municipal greenway or trail system. A combination of these or other uses could occur.

Conservation by Design: Golf Course Developments Without Golf Courses

Laying out a Conservation by Design subdivision is similar to designing a golf course development — the golf course is never an afterthought. With Conservation by Design, you craft development with the woods, farm, or other key land features in mind from the beginning.

A national survey found that 37% of homeowners who live in golf course developments don't play golf. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that in two Montgomery County golf developments, nearly four out of five residents have little or no interest in golf.

“Many live in golf course developments just to get the open space. We should build more golf course developments — just leave out the golf courses,” says Randall Arendt, author and Senior Conservation Advisor at Natural Lands Trust.

A Collaborative Program

Growing Greener: Conservation by Design is a collaborative program of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR); the Governor’s Center for Local Government Services and Natural Lands Trust. Guidance is provided by an advisory committee comprised of officials from state and local agencies including the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension, and other non-profits and the private sector.

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