Comments on the August 2019 Rural Area Proposed Policy Revisions
by Liz Cronauer
1. The attraction of cluster zoning as presented to the Agricultural and Forestal District Committee by Chris Price, Director of Planning, was that the open space would be used to "seal off" the edge of the developed area and create a more permanent rural area boundary. How can this be achieved if the sewer hookup and the developable part of any parcel happens to be on the western edge of the property? In that case, which it seems would randomly occur about 50% of the time, you have only introduced a sewer line into the area and fostered expansion of suburban development.
2. Traditionally, cluster design was conceived for the purpose of hiding the houses from plain view and leaving the open space in the viewshed along roads and other properties. If this is to be achieved via the "design guidelines" alluded to in the document, how will the guidelines be enforced, and will the County deny cluster options to developers that can't or won't achieve this goal? If the goal is not achieved, and the open space is not visible or accessible, then much of the benefit is negated and what you have is something looking much MORE suburban than houses on 10 acres lots.
3. The document claims that RC-A will result in 8,000 acres and RC-B will result in 15,000 acres of "contiguous, protected open space". I believe these statements are misleading because:
- First: Although the method for calculating these numbers is not revealed, it appears to assume that EVERY qualifying parcel would be developed as a cluster, which seems so unrealistic as to render the number rather useless.
- Second: How can the open spaces be described as contiguous when the parcels are not contiguous and the County has no control other than parcel size over which lots are developed with the cluster option?
- Third: Both schemes assume that the open space will be protected, but this will only happen if the unused land is held in a trust. This service is not without its own cost: for instance to periodically inspect and maintain the properties, and most existing Land Trusts are not interested in the small, unremarkable (without specific historic or environmental value), parcels that would most likely be created by these schemes. How will the County ensure the lands are properly maintained and preserved?
4. All options except the A-10 require additional sewer lines. Generally, sewer lines and sewage treatment is provided as a public service and the lines are designed according to watersheds in order to take advantage of gravity flow. Using cluster incentives to open the area up to sewer in a piecemeal fashion could create the need for costly pump stations. Who will build and maintain these facilities? If major watersheds, such as Slate Run, are to be sewered, who will pay for the main lines and will property be condemned in order to construct them?
Transfer of Development Rights
In general, planning theory behind TDR's has been to transfer the purchased development to receiving areas that ALREADY contain the necessary infrastructure to support denser development rather than to increase development densities in areas that do not contain adequate infrastructure, such as sewer and water. This plan automatically forfeits much of the potential TDR benefit by increasing the density in the rural area that currently does not contain adequate roads and sewer.
1. For TDR-A and TDR-B the minimum lot size for participation is 20 acres, and yet the revised downzoning is stated as one unit per 50 acres. How can this be achieved in the instance where the sending property is only 20 acres?
2. Staff identifies the total acreage in the receiving area to be 4,011 acres, which could be located anywhere within the 12,000 - 15,000 acre transition ribbon identified on the map. Although not clearly stated I presume that it will allow introduction of sewer in order to service either the 2,643 TDR-A lots at 1.5 ac each or the 10,390 TDR-B lots at 0.4 acres each. Yet sewer lines will now be available within the existing rural area and so will the higher density developments , effectively creating a new , irregularly shaped, un-controlled edge. This is not desirable, and is difficult to defend legally, and this downside should at least be mentioned in the description.
3. The calculations presented for this option are particularly opaque, but it is not at all clear how a sending area of 23,050 acres could produce the even larger stated 23,889 acres of protected open space. Assuming that EVERYONE in the sending area would opt for a TDR also seems so unrealistic as to render the number misleading or even useless.
4. The development in the receiving areas is said to be by-right, meaning there is no opportunity to attain proffers for police, fire and rescue services, utilities, road improvements, schools, libraries, parks, etc. Why is it beneficial to the County to make this development by-right? If it is needed as an incentive, why wouldn't we just be better off without the additional density, especially when the County does not get to pick and choose the quality of the particular open space that it being preserved, which may or may not be useful or desirable in achieving the Guiding Principles? It would be better to commission a study that determines which undeveloped lands are most desirable and what it would cost to buy them outright. Then offers should be made to purchase them using a PDR program.
5. TDR-B allows for lot sizes in the receiving areas that are as small as 0.4 acres. Doesn't this just further degrade the "transitional" nature of the ribbon and create sprawl development around the existing communities on 10 acre lots? And why, in 2019, would the County revert back to the 1981 density that hasn't been in place for almost 40 years?
Purchase of Development Rights
The purchase of development rights, PDR, by the County is a way to compensate people within the rural area for not developing their property with 10 acre lots and has merit over the other proposals because it provides landowners with capitol to upgrade operations to a more lucrative type of agribusiness than traditional farming. Of all the options presented, this is the only one that would give the County control over which land is preserved. This option has great merit.
All options presented except A-10, ( i.e. - leaving the current zoning in place) and PDR, require introduction of sewer lines and the RC-B and TDR-B options allow an increased density. Yet there is no discussion of how the proliferation of sewer will be controlled and no calculation on the cost to the County residents of providing services for the additional density. Except for A-10 and PDRs, the focus of the proposed changes seems to be on increasing opportunities for residential development.
If the goals are actually to protect valuable open spaces which include environmentally important lands and successful farm operations, then a far more straightforward and effective method would be to keep the current plan in place and:
1. Offer Purchase of Development Rights and also increase the land use tax incentives for persons engaged in agribusiness.
2. Identify lands that should not be developed, such as floodplains and steep slopes, and allow developers to develop one unit per ten acres, but turn ownership of the sensitive areas over to the County for public use. Then the County could develop trails and greenways, which was the number on Guiding Principle stated on page 1, and is not addressed by any of the options presented.