State wildlife conservation officials believe there is little detriment in taking steps to encourage “green growth” in the rural areas around Pinehurst.
The advisory Planning and Zoning Board heard a presentation last Thursday on the “Green Growth Toolbox” developed by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. It offers ways to ensure that development is designed in a way that minimizes impacts to wildlife, according to the presentation from Kacy Cook, a land conservation biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission who lives in Pinebluff.
It is intended to help local communities design land use 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 (ETJ), with its pristine longleaf pine forests and wetlands, and which is one of sources of the village’s drinking water.
The Green Growth ideas set forth are merely suggestions and are not required by law, Cook told village Planning Board Chairman Leo Santowasso.
“We’re not in the business of making law,” she said. “That is up to you all. It can be regulatory if you want it to be.”
The concept of green growth 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.
The village’s new comprehensive long-range plan calls for exploring what are called “conservation neighborhoods” where appropriate in its ETJ.
Board member Joel Shriberg asked about what the downside would be to implementing this concept.
“Because we focus on incentives, there is really no downside,” Cook said. “A downside could be if you don’t form the right incentives.”
She said the incentive needs to be enough to attract developers’ interest or it will not get used.
Shriberg said he didn’t see any downside for the community in implementing this concept.
“The council would need to be comfortable in selling this idea for the remaining space we have to develop,” he said.
Paul Roberts said that in his short time on the board, most, if not all, of the development proposals he has reviewed “is how much can we put in as small of a space as possible.” He said that might have to do with the financial feasibility.
“They want to jam as much as they can in a small space,” he said. “Some of this would be counter to that.”
Cook said that type of design is ideal for more urban areas. But she said studies have found that more open, green space actually increases land values in the rural areas because it is something residents desire.
She said in her presentation that 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 costs in public services.
Village Planning Director Darryn Burich asked Cook if she was seeing a trend toward more of these types of cluster or conservation developments with open space around the state.
Cook responded, “Yes. The trick is getting the density bonus right and making it simple.”
She cited Chatham County as one example that has implemented this concept. She said Moore County also uses it, but the county allows golf courses to be counted as open space.
Burich also asked how the open space is handled after the development is completed, and whether it is turned over to the local government for greenway trails or some other public use.
Cook said it is up to each local government to decide what to do. She said some required the developer to put in a greenway trail and connect it to the local system. In turn, the developer can get an additional density bonus.
Other options would be for the property owners’ association to maintain its or to require a deed restriction. But she said the best way to ensure it is protected in “perpetuity” would be some type of permanent conservation easement, which the developer could donate, and receive a tax break, or it could be sold to a nonprofit such as local land trust or Nature Conservancy.
Cook said “modest funding” through its Green Growth Partners is available to local governments to hire a consultant to incorporate concepts in the green growth toolbox.
Board member Cyndie Burnett noted that one of the proposals the toolbox deals with is how to have less paved parking areas. She said parking has become a problem in the village center.
Cook said the proposal recommends determining the average number of spaces that would be needed in a commercial project rather than for the peak demand. She said grassy areas could be provided for overflow parking instead that would only be used a few times of the year on peak days, like Black Friday.
“You wouldn’t have a lot of mud with the sandy soils here,” Cook said. “It saves a huge amount of money.”
Bruce Geddes, who lives in the village’s ETJ, asked if there are any incentives for someone to leave their land as it is now and not have it developed.
“The No. 1 incentive is to sell development rights in perpetuity,” Cook said. She added that it also could be accomplished by donating the rights to some type of nonprofit, which would also come with a tax benefit to the property owner.
Preserving the rural ETJ and preventing high-density development in that area was one of the top issues for residents during the recent process of development of the new comprehensive long-range plan.
Resident Bob Coates said his concern is that “when I hear density bonus, aren’t we actually increasing the population?”
Cook said it might increase population “modestly.”
“It is up to the community to determine how many more people you are going to want in the rural areas,” she said.
Village Council member Jane Hogeman, who raised concerns about the concept of conservation neighborhoods during the comprehensive planning process, questioned how wetlands would be factored in in calculating a density bonus, since that land could not be developed anyway. She said that could be used to increase the number of lots on the other part of a property if wetlands are counted as open space.
Board member Sonja Rothstein said another big concern for Pinehurst residents has been the number of trees that have been cut down to make way for new homes and development. She said it has led to more problems with runoff.
“We are now seeing what is happening,” she said.
Cook pointed out that the N.C. Forestry Service has created a new Community and Urban Forestry program that can help with this issue.
Burich said the planning staff is working on a draft tree preservation ordinance that they hope to present to the board in February or March.
Contact David Sinclair at (910) 693-2462 or email@example.com.