Saturday, May 2, 2009

Zoning Must Be Consistent with Comprehensive Plan

“They paved paradise to put up a parking lot,” Joni Mitchell famously wrote in 1970. This lyric is even more relevant today because we know with certainty that land use decisions have an enormous effect on the natural environment the quality of life within a community. This is why it is imperative for residents to carefully consider Worcester County’s proposed zoning changes and then let their voices be heard before these proposed regulations are adopted.

Those who have reviewed the zoning maps on the county’s website ( and perhaps attended a public workshop have taken the first steps, but there is more work to be done before the public hearing tentatively set for early June. So what is the main question that must be answered?

As we review the maps we must question whether the proposed changes to the zoning code are consistent with Worcester County Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2006. The comprehensive plan sets the goals our community wants to achieve as our county grows. Good planning is the key to long-term economic and environmental health. The comprehensive plan is essentially the backbone for zoning regulations, but typically zoning regulations define the “best and highest” use for the land but do not consider the environmental consequences.

For example, how land is developed has a direct impact on the quality of stormwater runoff, the unfiltered water that reaches streams, lakes, bays and oceans by means of flowing across impervious surfaces such as roofs, shopping malls and parking lots. If existing forests are replaced impervious surfaces, which do not allow for the natural filtration that results from penetrating the earth, then the flowing rain picks up pollutants along the way and deposits it directly into our bays.

Our zoning regulations should preserve and enhance the quality of life in developing areas.
There must be a careful consideration so the result is zoning regulations that serve the general welfare of the community. What should we expect from zoning regulations? Better site design, habitat protection and nutrient reduction for starters. New growth areas should avoid forests and wetlands and be kept away from floodplains. A Transfer of Development Rights program should be included to help eliminate commercial strip zoning and large lot estate zoning. A provision for conservation subdivision designs should be included and land use plans should be designed and growth concentrated in a way to meet total maximum daily loads (TMDLs).

We have a choice. If we get these zoning regulations right then the negative effects on our environment will be reduced. If done wrong, however, the effects of growth on the watershed will worsen. Three years ago county officials created a comprehensive plan to guide development, land use and growth policies for the next several years. This plan was held up as a model for counties to emulate nationwide. Citizens should be sure the zoning regulations mirror what the comprehensive plan calls for. This is our paradise, and we must use every avenue we have to protect it before it’s gone.

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