Beyond the SALDO: Smart Growth and the Developing Watershed

By Rebecca Buerkett and Jason Smith

The long-term protection of watersheds in rapidly developing areas depends primarily on the abilities of municipalities, watershed organizations, and various other stakeholder groups to guide the location, amount, and type of new growth in the watershed.

 

This task is made exceedingly difficult when market pressures create a demand for new development and housing. Environmentally-conscious growth management, often termed “smart growth,” involves continual collaboration with key groups on a number of strategies including ordinance development, municipal planning, land acquisition, and outreach. 

The zoning ordinance, subdivision and land development ordinance (SALDO), and comprehensive plan are the major documents that define and implement municipal land planning under the Pennsylvania Municipal Planning Code, and the same holds true in many other states. Municipal planning documents should be fluid documents, meaning they should be periodically updated and revised to reflect changing needs within the municipality. Supplementary municipal ordinances, such as steep slopes, native landscaping, noxious weeds, riparian buffer protection, or tree ordinances may be useful in providing additional protections to address issues specific to a given watershed. For a good discussion of environmental planning, municipal ordinances, and the benefits of Environmental Advisory Councils (EACs), please consult Section 2.3 in the Pennsylvania Lake Management Handbook. The Handbook can be accessed at http://www.palakes.org/publications/PALMS%20Lake%20
Handbook.pdf.

 

Another innovative way for municipalities to protect sensitive environmental areas is greenways planning. A greenways plan is a comprehensive plan for preserving the connectivity of the open spaces around the natural features in a watershed. In Pennsylvania, counties and municipalities can develop and adopt an Official Map, which is an effective tool for notifying all landowners of existing and proposed public lands and rights of way (e.g. surveyed locations of existing and proposed public streets, watercourses and public grounds, including widenings, extensions, diminution, openings or closings).  An Official Map can be developed for an entire municipality or a specific area, and is usually incorporated as part of the adopted zoning ordinance.

F. X. Browne, Inc., through our work with the Bushkill Stream Conservancy, helped Bushkill Township adopt a resolution to place riparian woodland greenways on their Official Map. This action provided the municipality with the first option to purchase greenways lands should they become available for development or subdivision. If the Township cannot secure the funds to purchase the land, the Township is allowed to direct development in the greenways regions such that open space areas are preserved. For more on this project, visit the Bushkill Stream Conservancy’s website at http://bushkill.org/.

Environmental planning such as greenways planning is often initiated on a municipal level, but it is important to coordinate the planning efforts of neighboring municipalities for optimum effectiveness in protecting watersheds that span municipal boundaries. Regional scale planning is certainly more complex since the resources and needs of different municipalities can vary widely, but it can be done. For more information on municipal or regional planning, greenways planning, or to request a municipal ordinance review, please contact F. X. Browne, Inc. at info@fxbrowne.com.