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Natural & Environmental Resources Goal 5

Development activity will occur in a manner that respects the natural landscape.

5.1 Incorporate Environmental Review into the Development Review Process

STRATEGY: Require existing conditions surveys for development proposals to identify critical natural features and work with developers to protect these critical areas.

JUSTIFICATION: The use of existing conditions surveys as part of the development review process will help the town to identify critical natural areas or features on a proposed development site. Coupled with the town’s open space preservation requirements, the identification of these areas can be used to help prioritize the location of preserved open space and assist in ensuring that environmental quality regulations related to buffering, stormwater management and the preservation of trees are followed properly.

5.2 Provide Incentives for Tree Preservation

STRATEGY: Develop an incentive program to encourage the preservation of mature trees and stands of trees on properties proposed for development.

JUSTIFICATION: While there is a disincentive in the town’s development ordinances related to the removal of mature trees, since a 3 to 1 replacement ratio is required when such trees are removed, there is no other type of incentive for preserving them. Mature trees are a very valuable asset that support the environmental and aesthetic quality of the town, and also supports the tree canopy goals of the Jefferson County Urban Tree Canopy Plan. By providing development related incentives, such as reducing parking requirements, allowing smaller setbacks or similar relaxations of development rules to accommodate the preservation of existing mature trees can help reduce conflicts in the development review process while also providing a tangible incentive and alternative to the removal and replacement of mature trees.

5.3 Incentivize the Preservation of Oversized Stream and Wetland Buffers

STRATEGY: Implement buffer regulations along perennial streams and around wetland features to minimize the impact of development on these natural features.

JUSTIFICATION: The minimum standards that currently are in place for the provision of buffers along streams and other water bodies provides a minimum level of environmental protection. Incentivizing the preservation and protection of undisturbed buffers along streams can help to mitigate the negative effects of stormwater runoff by providing larger amounts of vegetative filtering capacity and allowing for greater dispersion of runoff across the landscape prior to the runoff entering a stream. The relaxation of rules that require the creation of more impervious surfaces, such as minimum parking requirements, can provide an incentive to a developer to preserve more of their property as a buffer. Similarly, allowing a greater amount of density, through smaller lot sizes and clustering lots away from streams, can allow for a similar return on investment while also achieving more favorable water quality outcomes.

5.4 Require Native Vegetation in Landscape Plans

STRATEGY: Require the use of native species of trees and shrubberies where development ordinances require the installation of such landscaping materials.

JUSTIFICATION: The use of native vegetation for required landscaping improvements or tree replacement can help to support the ecological landscape of the community by providing food sources and habitat for native species of wildlife. The negative consequences of installing non-native plant species include such issues as increased maintenance, intolerance to local soil and water conditions, shortened lifespans, vulnerability to insects or disease. Native plant species are ecologically adapted to local conditions.

5.5 Prohibit Mass Grading and Clear Cutting

STRATEGY: Prohibit mass grading and clear cutting in conjunction with residential development, and encourage Jefferson County to adopt similar regulations.

JUSTIFICATION: The use of mass grading and clear cutting is an unfortunate and environmentally costly method of development. Typically associated with the development of large tracts of housing or commercial sites, this context incentive development method tends to negatively alter the landscape by making significant changes in topography and removing soil stabilizers such as grass, shrubs and trees, thereby negatively impacting downstream water quality through the introduction of additional runoff and large amounts of sediment (regardless of the installation of silt fences or catch basins on the site). Implementing requirements to conduct smaller, site specific, grading operations and prohibiting the clearing of all vegetation on a development site, while marginally more expensive, will help to achieve better outcomes, in terms of both the preservation of the natural character of a site as well a maintaining better water quality during and following development.

5.6 Implement Steep Slope Development

STRATEGY: Implement a steep-slope development ordinance to manage development in areas that have significant topographic issues.

JUSTIFICATION: While not a significant issue throughout the landscape around Shepherdstown, the bluffs along the Potomac River do present opportunities for the development of property on sites that may not be suitable due to the steep slopes that are found in these areas. Development on excessively steep slopes can lead to public safety issues due to the greater propensity for landslide activity and greater susceptibility to undermining or earthquake damage. Limiting the density of development in these areas, or prohibiting it in those cases of extreme topography, will help to guarantee public safety by reducing the risk of casualty damage to property.