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Everyone likes the idea of Conservation by Design

Published May 13. 2013 05:06PM

A meeting co-sponsored by Audubon PA, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Appalachian Trail Conference and the Natural Lands Trust talked about the improvements to subdivisions if they are planned with conservation in mind.

The program was held at Lower Towamensing Township on May 7. Elected officials, planners, code officers and environmental advisory council members were invited, as well as people who actually work in the planning of subdivisions.

The speakers were Randall Arendt, senior conservation advisor at Natural Lands Trust, and Ann Hutchinson, director of municipal conservation services.

During the question period people began with "I like your ideas," and then said why it would be more difficult in Carbon, Schuylkill, Monroe and Pike counties than it is in Chester County from which most of the case studies were taken. The main difference is the rocky, sloping terrain and much poor soil.

Arendt mentioned some people from Monroe County who have worked along the lines he was to explore: Christine Meinhart, Carson Helfrich and consultant Craig Kologie.

Arendt said his version of Growing Greener is the Readers' Digest version. He has spent 20 years helping municipalities plan development so they do not just have houses, lots and streets. With two-acre zoning there is nothing rural left and developers can get the same number of houses that density regulations permit by building them closer and having a portion of the acreage in open space.

Consequently, there is less to care for and more to enjoy, he said. There are fewer roads for a developer to build and open space does not need excavation. That means there is a lot less work to do to fully develop a property. The minimum lot size is dependent on the zoned density.

Arendt knew of only one such development where there was no homeowners' association. An association is responsible for roads and other internal items.

Don Bonett said that just adds another layer of government to the federal, state and local governments.

Arendt said floodplains and wetlands are considered and there may not be much land to build upon. That secondary land can all go for conservation.

"We can't preserve everything. We are just rearranging density," he said. "You can only understand the property by walking it. Every time a study is made from maps and then the land is walked, other things are found."

The place to locate the houses is the one where a person can sit on his deck and have a view of the land, not just roads. Most people with an option will prefer the home with open space.

Conservation by Design returns water to the ground. A septic system can serve a small group of homes. Water gardens add beauty as well as drainage.

"Why do we need 24 or 28 foot roads? If we reduced a 30-foot road to 20 feet it would save one-third of the expense," Arendt said.

A planning commission chairman said the day after Arendt gave a presentation a developer came in and said he didn't like his sketch plan. He redid it making it a cleaner and nicer drawing including conservation.

Towamensing's Roy Christman asked who is responsible for the open space. Arendt said the homeowner's association which has the power to set liens against the property of people who don't pay.

Gated and fenced retention basins can be replaced by shallow basins. The DEP needs to be told that because it requires the deep,fenced retention basins.

Since the DEP no longer wants community septic systems, a developer said lots have to be at least one acre to contain an individual system.

Arendt said the lots can be 100-feet by 400-feet instead of 200-by-200 feet and the back of a lot will be open space. Put the homes on mediocre soil and the septic on good soil where they work better.

Connie Bieling asked about litter along trails in open space. Hutchinson said the people who use trails have a different mindset and litter is seldom a problem because the next person to come along will pick it up.

Paul Montemuro, supervisors' chair of Penn Forest, said the township has 22 developments and the one without an association has roads that are in bad condition. Thirty years ago they had one-half acre lots and now they need two acres. One development has more roads than the entire township.

Carl Faust said some land should no longer be considered developable. We do want to look at something new and make it work, he said.

Arendt said there are more options with Conservation Design.

Hutchinson said they have taken the program to Harrisburg and they agree with it.

Arendt said it is Best Management Practices to talk things out before drawing up a plan.

As far as the expectation that it is more expensive to build for conservation, Arendt said it is 10 to 15 percent cheaper than conventional plans.

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