One of the best things about living in Worcester County is its abundance of beautiful natural resources. There is little doubt that it is these environmental treasures that have played a significant role in why so many people have moved here in the last several years, and is a major reason why the population is expected to increase by 50 percent within the next decade.
As the population grows and more residential developments are built in designated growth areas, it is essential that these subdivisions are designed to coexist with forests, wetlands and farms. It certainly can and is being done through conservation-subdivision design (CSD), an environmentally friendly development strategy that helps preserve open space within residential housing developments. This approach strategically concentrates home construction on a development site in a way that is designed to protect sensitive and valuable open space, habitat, and other environmental resources.
Often described as golf course communities without the golf courses, CSD’s typically identify a significant natural feature of a site that will then be preserved in large contiguous blocks. The homes are often clustered together on smaller lots to allow for better use of the open space, which results in an average overall density similar to a conventional subdivision.
The use of these designs has grown in popularity in the last few decades and is now required in planning and zoning regulations in many counties and municipalities throughout the country. Unfortunately, outdated or inflexible zoning ordinances have kept some local governments from requiring conservation subdivision design. Such is the case with Worcester County’s recent proposed zoning code, which merely encourages, but does not require, that these innovative design plans be used.
Conservation subdivision design is a win-win for all. These designs strategically arrange the development on each parcel so that half of the buildable land is set aside as open space. The developed sections are in areas best suited for development, such as farmland uplands or areas with well-drained soils. The same number of homes can be built using less land, thereby balancing conservation and development needs. Besides protecting open space, CSD’s also minimize disturbance to streams and helps habitats to flourish. Water quality is protected and its quantity is managed by slowing and filtering stormwater runoff through wetlands.
For the developer, CSD offers lower development costs with the end result being a marketable residential development. Also, having homes clustered on smaller lots reduces development costs since there are fewer trees to clear, less land to grade, and less road, water, and sewer infrastructure needed to serve the development. Incorporating a natural feature into design plans makes good sense because communities can preserve natural spaces and also achieve development goals.
Balancing growth with protecting natural resources will always be a challenge in Worcester County, as it is throughout the country. Worcester County officials should encourage conservation and require open-space development design for both minor and major subdivisions. It is good planning that can ensure the area’s natural resources are maintained, thus helping to ensure the future economic and environmental health of our towns. Workshops on the proposed county regulations are scheduled for later this month and a public hearing is planned for early June. Go online to www.co.worcester.md.us for more information.