Green Growth Toolbox logo

Encouraging green growth and conservation were among some of the top priorities identified by Pinehurst residents as part of the comprehensive long-range planning process last year.

To that end, the Planning and Zoning Board started off the new year Thursday with a presentation on the “Green Growth Toolbox” developed by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. The board did not take any action and agreed to discuss the concept further at later work session.

The toolbox “can help North Carolina’s counties, towns and cities grow in ways that conserve important habitats while continuing to build new homes, businesses and shopping centers,” according to the presentation from Kasey Cook, a land conservation biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission who also happens to live in Pinebluff.

She commended the village for starting off 2020 “by trying to co-exist with our unique wildlife.”

This resource is intended to help local communities design land-use planning methods to conserve their “most valuable natural assets, including streams, forests, fields, wetlands, fish and wildlife.”

For the village, a prime example is the rural area just outside its borders, called an extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction, with its pristine longleaf pine forests and wetlands, and which is one of sources of the village’s drinking water.

Council member Jane Hogeman, who was in the audience to hear the presentation, has referred to that area as a “green perimeter” that is part of the village’s special character.

Cook explained that the toolbox is a technical assistance tool that includes a handbook, GIS dataset and website. Training workshops and follow-up technical guidance are also available.

This project is a cooperative, non-regulatory effort led by the Wildlife Diversity program of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Cook said it is intended to be a “practical resource.”

“If we want this work, it needs to work in the real world,” she said. “Spread-out development is the top threat to wildlife in North Carolina. It is more costly to all of us.”

Cook said home values appreciate 2.5 to 3 percent less a year with that type of development pattern. She explained that in urban areas, development can be more dense and also more vertical.

“You want to grow up and not out,” she said of those areas.

But as development occurs farther out in more rural areas, it should be less dense and encourage conservation by having more open space within them.

“We want to keep rural areas rural,” she said. “Green growth minimizes impacts to wildlife.”

They can actually provide connections for wildlife to move in these rural areas, she pointed out.

Casey said that open green space is a big selling point for many people and could actually result in increased property values.

“People value that green open space,” she said.

According to information included with the presentation, green growth involves conserving wildlife, habitat and other “valuable natural resources as communities continue to grow and develop.”

More than one-third of the 1,000 wildlife species in North Carolina are declining, largely due to habitat fragmentation and loss, according to the presentation. To “keep common species common” and off endangered species lists, the commission developed the toolbox.

Southern Moore County is home to the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. The bird nests in the cavities of old-growth longleaf pines.

The concept encourages what is called cluster development, which requires developments to set aside up to 50 percent of the land for a project as open space and concentrating homes on the other half. It also allows a developer to increase the density by home for every additional 5 percent of green space created by reducing the minimum lot size, which is referred to as a “density bonus.

Cook said it is up to individual communities to determine what the bonus should be and the threshold to trigger it. She added that more than 125 local governments in the state are using the green toolbox, and that 53 communities have incorporated them into their various plans and ordinances.

Casey said Chatham County has adopted the various tools, one of which is a full environmental review for any project that has more than 50 lots. She said it has actually resulted in a quicker approval process, going from two months to 21 days.

Casey noted that under Moore County’s development ordinance, major subdivisions —anything with more than five lots — are not automatically permitted in rural areas. They are allowed by conditional use, meaning additional conditions can be imposed. And they must have either public water or sewer.

Casey said Aberdeen conducts what is called a “green assessment” as part of the approval process for any new development.

One of the recommendations in the village’s new comprehensive plan calls for studying the possibility of allowing what are called “conservation neighborhoods in the rural ETJ. The concept calls for high-density, mixed-used centers with less dense, larger lot sizes spreading out from the center, with up to 40 percent open space.

Cook said spread-out development patterns are more costly for the developer and the taxpayer. For the developer, it could be as much as $10,000 more per lot, and 38 percent higher up-front infrastructure costs, according to her presentation.

For local governments, it could result in 10 percent more in public services.

Cook presented statistics to show the benefits of green growth:

* The University of Colorado studied 205 residential developments in five Colorado counties and found that on average, homes in conservation developments sold for 25 percent more. Conserving two-thirds of the land doubled the premium on the sale price.

* Homes in conservation subdivisions can sell up to five months faster than homes in conventional developments.

* Ten conservation subdivision case studies in South Carolina showed average cost savings of 36 percent over conventional development.

* Homes within walking distance of natural parkland can sell for 20 to 33 percent more. Larger parks increase premiums on the sale price.

Cook said the Green Growth toolbox can ensure that development is designed in a way that minimizes impacts to wildlife. Technical assistance includes help with:

* Integrating the conservation data for green growth GIS dataset with a community’s GIS database;

* Creating habitat conservation maps for local planning;

* Writing a local conservation plan;

* Incorporating habitat conservation into land-use plans, incentives and ordinances, development review and site design standards; and

* Developing habitat management plans for parks and open space.

She pointed out that Moore County has some of the last strongholds of longleaf pine forest, which is a fire-adapted ecosystem. The Sandhills Conservation Partnership uses the toolbox to coordinate land use planning between the Army and Fort Bragg and the county, according to her presentation.

The toolbox “aims to bridge the information gap between biologists and land-use planners and decision makers,” the presentation said.

“Access to wildlife habitat data and conservation measures that can be used in planning, policy making, and development design and review have been missing,” it said. “Using habitat maps and information ahead of plan and ordinance updates, and major development design, not only will prevent our wildlife from becoming endangered but also can help developers get ahead of the environmental permitting process, making permitting and approval faster, and will lead to higher quality developments.”

Contact David Sinclair at (910) 693-2462 or

(5) comments

Sally Larson

It sounds like this toolbox is a win-win for builders, homeowners, the ecology and communities. So good to read about such a positive and thoughtful plan.

John Webster

Sally, what is greener, no houses or a conservation village? Pinehurst's ETJ is zoned one house per 5 acres, so 20 houses max in 100 acres. If a 100 acre conservation village can be built with 20 houses then all is good. The problem comes when you realize that builders want to use this concept to build far more than 20 houses/apartments. It becomes an excuse for high density concentrations which will require roads, fire stations, etc. The ETJ should be Pinehurst's horse country, our green belt and the continued source of our water.

Sally Larson

Thanks, John, I went back and read it again, I missed that part. I would hate to see this area turn into something it's never been. That Walker Station is a perfect example, it's so ugly without the natural trees and environment. It must have been a builder's dream to bulldoze it all down but it just isn't what this area should turn into, so working on a balanced plan and catching those loopholes is a good start.

Kent Misegades

Look at the old pictures of the area, for instance in the Village of Pinehurst, An Historic Walking Tour. There were far fewer trees a century ago than today. Trees, especially the Longleaf pine, grow like weeds in the Sandhills and are hardly endangered here. We have twice the area of timberland in our state compared to a century ago, due mainly to capitalism - timber owners want to maximize their profits and are the best stewards imaginable of land. Humans are at the top of the ecosystem pyramid and should have priority in the use of land. Squeeze them into shoe-box housing as you have in Europe and Asia with its restrictive property ownership laws, and you get a lot of unhappy people who stop having babies.

Sally Larson

Kent, um, if you have read the developmental history of Pinehurst you'd learn the first product harvested from the Sandhills was the pine trees in the mid-1700s for lumber leaving very few trees left. That's the sparseness you see in those old pictures.

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