Top Ten Steps


top 10Top 10 Ways to Preserve Land and Water in Your Community

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Preserve clean water, natural areas, wildlife and working farmland by making the following steps mandatory for new developments in your community:

1. Require a Conceptual Sketch Plan to Start With
Before preparing any expensive “Preliminary Plans” (which often require nearly 90 percent of the engineering to be performed), require applicants to submit a much less costly conceptual sketch plan (drawn to scale) outlining his ideas for the development. Because most codes require a hugely expensive “Preliminary Plan” to be submitted at the beginning of the process, developers are extremely reluctant to make any but the most minor changes.

It is essential to see the developer’s ideas in an inexpensive conceptual sketch format before he spends a small fortune engineering a “Preliminary Plan”. The Sketch Plan should be based on an Existing Features Map containing topo lines, natural features such as wetlands, floodplains, woodlands, farmland, pastures, and meadows, plus man-made features such as buildings, roads or lanes, utility lines, easements, etc. (Without such basic information, it is not possible for anyone to make informed decisions about how the development should be laid out.)

The Sketch Plan – which can be an overlay sheet lain on top of the Existing Features Map — shows all proposed conservation areas, streets, and houselots. It should be either preceded or followed by an on-site visit (described below in #2). It should be prepared according to the four-step design process for creating conservation subdivisions showing areas of proposed development and areas of proposed conservation.

This is to be prepared by a landscape architect or physical planner as the first layout document. The sketch plan is always best done when done by hand, not on a computer screen. They can be done in the field, or right afterwards, at a “mini-charrette” involving all parties concerned.

2. Conduct a Site Walk On the Property
Site Walks are essential because it is impossible to completely understand a site only by examining a two-dimensional paper document inside a meeting room. Everyone involved in the process — the developer, planning commission members, abutting landowners, officials, staff, etc. – should be invited.

Several copies of the Existing Features Map should be taken on the walk so that participants will be able to see the site’s critical elements, first-hand, so they can think about which ones should ideally be designed around and conserved. If possible, it is preferable to walk the site even before the Sketch Plan is prepared, so that the applicant may receive critical input before he/she prepares that conceptual layout.

For a more in-depth discussion of the above points, see the article “Flawed Processes, Flawed Results, and a Potential Solution” (pdf).

Important Note: Site walks should be advertised in the usual manner as informal Work Sessions, open to the public, at which no votes or binding decisions are taken. Site walks do not add more time, as they help the process move far more quickly, since people are no longer talking and arguing about abstract lines on paper, but real slopes, actual trees, etc., which means they really understand the site conditions. There is no substitute whatsoever for seeing the land first-hand.

3. Qualified Landscape Architect and Physical Planner Experienced in Designing Conservation Subdivisions be Involved from the Beginning of the Project
This is absolutely necessary. In the book Envisioning Better Communities by Randall Arendt (American Planning Association, 2010, page 21), Arendt writes: “Subdivision regulations typically suffer from five fundamental flaws, resulting in flawed designs.”

Flaw #4: “Layouts are typically prepared by surveyors and engineers who are trained in recording site data and in street and drainage issues. They have little or no expertise in the fields of landscape architecture or neighborhood design and therefore often fail to capitalize on the significant physical, historic, and environmental features of each property.”

4. Existing Features Site Analysis Map
The official time clock for review starts with the submission of this plan at the on-site walkabout or at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Planning Commission.

More Information on Methods in the First Four Steps (steps 1-4) are in the article
Flawed Processes, Flawed Results, and a Potential Solution” (pdf).

5. Allow Safer, Less-Wide Streets
Allow safer, less-wide streets, eliminate curb and gutters (use swales instead to absorb excess water, along with rain gardens) to lower costs, recharge groundwater, and reduce storm water run off and pollution.

Learn More
Greener Streets: Enhancing Livability and Neighborhood Values through Greener Engineering Practices (pdf)

6. Preserve a Minimum of 50%* of the BUILDABLE Land
This is in addition to the unbuildable wetlands, steep slopes and floodplains in new subdivisions.

*In urban, sewered, high density areas zoned at 2-3-4 units per acre, preserving 30-35% open space, in addition to the unbuildable wetlands, floodplains, and steep slopes, is the norm. In rural, suburban edge areas at densities of 5 and 10 acres per dwelling, where most of America’s new subdivisions are being and will be built, easily 70% (or more) of the land can be preserved.

7. Implement Conservation Subdivisions into your Ordinance
Download Conservation Subdivision Ordinance *(pdf) (61 pages)
Courtesy of Walworth County, WI

Download Ordinance Amendments  *(pdf) (2 pages)

Additional Information
Conservation Subdivision Design: A Brief Overview (pdf)
Case Study: Indian Walk (pdf) (2 pages)
Case Study: West Vincent Township (pdf) (2 pages)

*We do not warrant that this provision complies with your state’s laws. As such you are advised to consult with an attorney that is familiar with your state’s laws. Brace yourself. Just like your current land use ordinance, this one is lengthy, complex in structure, and heavy with legal wording. You can modify it to fit your state or use it as a guideline to revise your existing ordinance and land use codes.

This ordinance is written with conservation subdivisions as an option for developers. Experts strongly recommend you revise this, DESIGNATING conservation subdivision design as a “by-right permitted use”, and classifying conventional subdivision layouts as conditional uses, or special exemptions.

Note: The only reason that conservation subdivision design was not required in Walworth County is because the elected officials leaders lacked the political will to do so, and at the last moment acceded to the demands of developers that the ordinance be voluntary, so that developers could ignore it.

8. Designate Conservation Subdivisions as a “By-right Permitted Use” option
Designate conventional subdivision layouts as “Conditional Uses” or “Special Exemptions”.

9. Create Interconnected Open Space Networks
Link together the conserved land in conservation subdivisions.

10. Conduct a Workshop with Randall Arendt
Randall Arendt’s hands on conservation subdivision workshop provides practical, proven techniques for protecting community-wide open space networks through “conservation design

“There were nothing but rave reviews of your presentation.”
Hank Metcalf, Planning Board Chair, Orono, Maine, commeting after attending Randall Arendt’s workshop.

More comments from workshops organizers and participants
Reading these comments from workshop organizers and participants will help you appreciate how effective the workshops really are.

In lieu of the workshop, developers, homebuilders and other applicants can view Randall Arendt’s videotape of his Conservation Planning Slide Presentation “Creating Open Space Networks Through Conservation Subdivision Design“, and/or read “Growing Greener: Putting Conservation into Local Codes” (pdf) (18 pages).

Note: Items 1-3 will probably require some amendments to existing Subdivision Regulations. These procedural changes should not be very controversial, particularly if all parties read the article (also available in step 4 above) “Flawed Processes, Flawed Results, and a Potential Solution” (pdf) (5 pages).

Free Checklist
Download our FREE Top 10 Checklist (pdf) (1 page)

Additional Information
Conservation Subdivision Fact Sheet (pdf) (1 page)
Conservation subdivisions Web page

Successful Examples
Hamburg Township in Livingston County, Michigan implemented conservation subdivision design and has protected nearly 2,000 acres at no cost to the community, representing a land value of $40 million. Applied on a county-wide basis, Hanover County, Virginia has protected over 5,000 acres through conservation design at no cost to the community.

Parts courtesy Randall Arendt, Conservation Design for Subdivisions, Island Press, 1996
Select PDFs courtesy Randall Arendt and Natural Lands Trust


Did You Know?
Studies have shown that every dollar we invest in our national parks generates $10 for the national economy, most of which stays in the local communities, and our national parks, forests and other public lands attract visitors from all over the world, fueling local economies and supporting an estimated $646 billion national outdoor economy.