Sustainable Land Use Planning
Land development can adversely impact water resources but there are many ways to protect natural resources while encouraging economic growth. The American Planning Association (APA) released a policy guide on smart growth which is a set of principles that promote “efficient and sustainable land development,” (APA). Benefits from smart growth that relate to water resources include reduced cost of water sanitation, conservation-sensitive design, reduced cost of flood disaster cleanup and mitigation, protection of groundwater and surface water quality, among others.
Pennsylvania has developed their own land use and development principles based on the smart growth principles. Known as The Keystone Principles & Criteria for Growth, Investment, & Resource Conservation, these principles were adopted by the PA Economic Development Cabinet in 2005. The document includes ten principles for economic growth, of which the following aid in protecting water resources: redevelop first, concentrate development, restore and enhance the environment, enhance recreational and heritage resources, and plan regionally – implement locally.
Implementing Sustainable Land Use Planning
The following are important municipal tools for land use planning that can protect natural resources:
Creating a comprehensive plan is essential to developing a strategy for sustainable land use (re)development by outlining future growth and priorities for a community. Counties are required to adopt a comprehensive plan; municipalities are only required to adopt a comprehensive plan if they have joint zoning with another municipality or are enacting a transportation impact fee ordinance (PA Land Trust Association).
Comprehensive plans are typically composed of “an analysis of a municipality’s population, economy, land use, housing, transportation, and community facilities; proposal of recommendations for the municipality’s future development, growth, and well-being; and work sessions with municipal officials, community groups, and citizens to determine the community goals and objectives,” (DCED, 2014).
For more information on comprehensive local land use planning see Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code or Governor’s Center for Local Government Services “The Comprehensive Plan in Pennsylvania” guide or their “Local Land Use Controls in Pennsylvania” guide. To learn more about methods to consider including in comprehensive plans, explore on the following practices.
Low impact development (LID) is a variety of practices that mimic natural processes to address stormwater runoff specifically. These practices are referred to as non-structural BMPs in the Pennsylvania Stormwater Best Management Practice (BMP) Manual, or as green infrastructure by EPA. LID practices can include but are not limited to rain gardens, green roofs, rain barrels, bioretention, and permeable pavement. According to EPA, “LID is an approach to land development (or redevelopment) that works with nature to manage stormwater as close to its source as possible. LID employs principles such as preserving and recreating natural landscape features, minimizing effective imperviousness to create functional and appealing site drainage that treats stormwater as a resource rather than a waste product.” LID practices can be used as along with other frameworks for sustainable land use planning. Find more information about LID on our Green Infrastructure page.
Smart growth is a framework for development that includes principles to protect the natural environment and human health, foster economic growth, and support strong communities. The ten principles of smart growth include:
- Mix land uses
- Take advantage of compact design
- Create a range of housing opportunities and choices
- Create walkable neighborhoods
- Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place
- Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas
- Direct development towards existing communities
- Provide a variety of transportation choices
- Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective
- Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions
Further information on smart growth can be found on EPA’s website, Pike County Conservation District’s brochure (see pg. 82-89 on Smart Growth), Smart Growth Network’s brochure, and Smart Growth America’s website.
Hazard mitigation is defined by FEMA and PEMA as “any cost-effective action taken to eliminate or reduce the long-term risk to life and property from natural and technological hazards.” Planning is done through a public engagement process by states and counties, resulting in a hazard mitigation plan (HMP) that identifies hazards and how to mitigated and respond to them. HMPs are updated on a 5-year cycle. Find your county and the state hazard mitigation plans on our Planning Documents page.
It is recommended that hazard mitigation be incorporated into comprehensive plans to increase community resiliency. Integrating hazard mitigation into the overarching community plan “provides the opportunity to continuously manage development in a way that does not lead to increased hazard vulnerability,” (FEMA, 2013). Another advantage of including hazards in the comprehensive plan includes educating a large number of community members on hazards due to the public engagement requirements of plan development. More information about hazard mitigation and comprehensive plans can be found in FEMA’s guidebook or Planning for Hazards website. Find county comprehensive plans on our Planning Documents page.
EcoDistricts are a newer model for resilient planning at the neighborhood level. Ecodistrict planning is composed of a “protocol” with three imperatives (equity, resilience, and climate protection), six priorities (place, prosperity, health and wellbeing, connectivity, living infrastructure, and resource restoration), and three implementation phases (formation, roadmap, and performance). This process results in a plan specific to the community with goals and actions for implementation. Examples of certified EcoDistricts in the SPC region are Borough of Etna and Borough of Millvale. Find more information about EcoDistricts from New Sun Rising and evolveEA.
Local ordinances are used to enforce and enact the comprehensive plan in a municipality. They can also be used for more specific land use planning issues such as zoning, subdivision and land development, floodplain development, etc.
The Pennsylvania Act 167 of 1978, known as the Storm Water Management Act, “requires counties to prepare and adopt watershed based stormwater management plans” and for “municipalities to adopt and implement ordinances to regulate development consistent with these plans,” (DEP, 2007). Municipalities in counties that have adopted a model stormwater ordinance are therefore required to adopt the model stormwater ordinance – see if your county has an Act 167 plan and model stormwater ordinance on our Planning Documents page or by searching in our Water-Related Plans and Reports map on our Integrated Water Resource Planning (IWRP) page. Municipalities do not need to have an Act 167 plan to enact a stormwater management ordinance.
Floodplain management ordinances are required of communities that are part of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), in order for residents to have access to NFIP flood insurance. Consult your local municipality to see if there is a floodplain management ordinance enacted. Municipalities do not need to be part of the NFIP to enact a floodplain management ordinance.
Municipalities or counties can pass ordinances that protect natural resources. Example topics for these ordinances include a steep slope ordinance, natural resource protection ordinance, conservation zoning, agricultural zoning, tree ordinance, <linkS> along with the stormwater and floodplain ordinances mentioned above. There are several municipalities and counties in Pennsylvania that encourage sustainable land use practices with their environmentally-focused ordinances such as Fox Chapel Borough’s Natural Resources Protection Ordinance and Indiana County’s Special Recreation and Conservation Zoning Ordinance. Find more information and examples on DVRPC’s Sample Natural Resource Protection and Open Space Preservation Ordinances page.
Codes are the method used to enforce local ordinances and ensure land use practices have minimal harm on the natural environment while protecting public safety. For more information on codes, visit our Local Regulations page.
Much of land use planning is at a municipal, county, or regional scale but there are many things individual property owners can do to play their part including but not limited to: build away from streams, wetlands, or other natural resources; protect open spaces; create an easement (legal agreement that limits use of land) around streams or other important natural features; and plant forested buffers on both sides of streams. Find more details below: