Land Use and Community Character Goal 2
Growth and development will be balanced with the need to preserve open space and critical environmental and natural resources.
2.1 Establish Conservation Subdivision Regulations
STRATEGY: Amend the town’s development ordinance to provide regulations for “conservation subdivisions” in the rural fringe of the community to promote the preservation of working farms, forests and other significant natural resources, while fostering development that is integrated with the context of the landscape in which it is situated.
JUSTIFICATION: In contrast to conventional residential subdivision design techniques, conservation subdivision design techniques integrate residential development into the existing natural landscape in which they are situated rather than attempting to alter it. This type of subdivision design technique is particularly suited to allowing for the preservation of significant natural
2.2 Develop and Implement a Land Conservation Plan
STRATEGY: Work cooperatively with the Land Trust for the Eastern Panhandle, the Conservation Fund and the Jefferson County Farmland Protection Board to develop and implement a local land conservation plan that identifies priority areas around Shepherdstown for permanent protection from development. As part of the implementation of such a plan the Town should work with Jefferson County to enact development policies that direct growth away from priority conservation areas and simultaneously use its local zoning regulations to encourage the preservation of working farms and other valuable lands that are integral to the cultural and environmental landscape.
JUSTIFICATION: By proactively identifying land that is most suited for conservation in its current state, the town and its partners will be able to jointly, through development policies and conservation incentives, protect critical natural resources and working lands from development. Without a clear plan, both the town and the county may inadvertently make infrastructure improvements or plan for future growth in areas that a conservation partner is planning to protect through a conservation easement or purchase. A cooperative approach to land conservation will allow all parties involved to make more effective plans and take actions that support common conservation goals while avoiding conflicting priorities.
2.3 Implement a Transfer of Development Rights Program
STRATEGY: Implement a Transfer of Development Rights program to allow property owners to sever the development rights from their property and sell those rights to developers looking to build more intensive projects in growth areas in the community while permanently protecting critical lands from development. Such a program could apply to working farms, forests, watershed areas and other desirable conservation lands.
JUSTIFICATION: A transfer of development rights (TDR) program allows property owners in areas that are targeted for conservation to realize a return on their past investment while also protecting their land from future development. In order for such a program to be effective, the local governments with zoning jurisdiction over an area have to establish sending areas, where development rights are transferred from, and receiving areas, where development rights are transferred to. Typically, sending areas are coterminous with areas that are identified for land conservation, such as within a sensitive watershed, along a scenic rural road, or in an important agricultural landscape. Receiving areas are typically established in areas that have been designated for future growth, such as along primary highway corridors, urban centers or in areas where utility service is being expanded. Essentially, this type of program establishes a market based approach that simultaneously provides incentives for the conservation of land and directs growth toward areas where it is desired. Given the limited scope of the town’s zoning jurisdiction at this time, such a program would likely need to be a joint effort between the town and Jefferson County, but could be housed solely with the town if necessary. In such a scenario, the town could identify receiving areas outside of its corporate limits and provide for a fast tracked annexation and development approval process where the program is used to conserve lands that the town has identified for such purpose.
2.4 Revise P.U.D. Open Space Requirements
STRATEGY: Revise the Planned Unit Development Ordinance to align the open space requirements (currently 10%) for PUDs with the higher open space requirement for major subdivisions and site plans (currently 25%) to eliminate the disparity between the two requirements.
JUSTIFICATION: As currently designed, the town’s development ordinances provide a negative incentive for the use of conventional development techniques since the PUD regulations allow for a lower open space set-aside. By aligning the open space requirements, the town will achieve a better outcome by guaranteeing that at a minimum 20% of any development site will be preserved as open space, regardless of the development approval process that is utilized.
2.5 Develop Context Sensitive Open Space Requirements
STRATEGY: Develop context sensitive design and location requirements for required open space to ensure that the type of open space designated on development plans is appropriate for its location within the Town’s development framework. Specifically, develop regulations that differentiate between open space requirements for the Town’s core urbanized area, suburban areas and the rural fringe areas of the community.
JUSTIFICATION: Open space regulations, in terms of the type of open space that is required to be set aside, should be dependent on the context of the development within which the open space is being preserved. For instance, within urbanized areas, a more structured public square or green is more appropriate than an open field or wooded area, while in a rural area, preserving a farm field or forested area would be more appropriate. Since the current regulations make no distinction between the context of the development and the type of open space, there is the potential for inappropriate open space set-asides to be used to meet the standards of the town’s open space requirements.
2.6 Encourage the Use of Low Impact Development Techniques
STRATEGY: Work cooperatively with Jefferson County to encourage the use of Low Impact Development techniques for new development in rural areas surrounding Shepherdstown, with a specific emphasis on minimizing stormwater runoff from new development.
JUSTIFICATION: The use of low impact development (LID) techniques in site design and construction helps to minimize the impact of new development on the natural environment, both during and after development. Often focused on stormwater runoff, these techniques include the siting and design of development in a manner by which vegetated rather than structured conveyances can be used to transport and diffuse stormwater, thereby helping to slow and filter the runoff prior to its discharge into receiving waters,
2.7 Strengthen Tree Preservation Standards
STRATEGY: Strengthens the current tree preservation regulations to require the preservation of existing mature trees in conjunction with development activity, including a prohibition on the clear cutting of wooded properties for the purpose of development.
JUSTIFICATION: Large mature trees contribute significantly to the character of the town and should be preserved wherever possible. While the current standards of the town’s development ordinances provide for the protection of trees with a diameter of greater than 4 inches during construction and require the mitigation of the loss of any trees greater than 3.5 inches in diameter that are removed during development activity, there is no explicit authority in the ordinance to prevent the removal of “monument” trees. Adding another qualification to the tree preservation and protection requirements that prohibits the removal of tress over a certain size (12 inches in diameter at breast height (DBH) is a typical threshold) except upon the explicit authorization of the Tree Commission (or other appropriate body) would strengthen these requirements significantly. Increasing the number of trees that must be replanted if one of these larger trees is removed (currently 3 for 1) would also incentivize the preservation of large mature trees on a site.