Environmental Planning Handbook
eBook - ePub

Environmental Planning Handbook

Tom Daniels

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  1. 792 pages
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Environmental Planning Handbook

Tom Daniels

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About This Book

Environmental protection is a global issue. But most of the action is happening at the local level. How can communities keep their air clean, their water pure, and their people and property safe from climate and environmental hazards? Newly updated, The Environmental Planning Handbook gives local governments, nonprofits, and citizens the guidance they need to create an action plan they can implement now. It's essential reading for a post-Katrina, post-Sandy world.

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Part 1
The Environmental Planning Process

Chapter 1
Taking Stock of the Environment and Creating Environmental Plans

If we cannot imagine a healthy, bountiful, and sustaining environment today, it will elude us tomorrow.
—Mark Dowie1
Planning is about organizing resources and making choices to achieve goals and objectives. Rachel Carson first used the term “environment” in her book Silent Spring to refer to natural places and processes as well as the condition of human settlements. Environmental planning explains how governments, businesses, and households decide how to use natural resources, financial capital, and human resources to solve problems in natural areas, rural working landscapes, and the built environments of cities, suburbs, and towns. Governments can use laws, regulations, taxation, infrastructure spending, and financial incentives to encourage environmentally friendly business practices and household lifestyles. Businesses seek to sell goods and services and earn a profit for their owners or shareholders. Businesses are finding that they can reduce costs by cutting waste and energy consumption and also increase profits by offering environmentally responsible goods and services to consumers and other businesses. Households provide labor for government and businesses and are consumers of goods and services. Household choices of what to buy, where to live, and how to live (i.e., recycling efforts) directly affect the quality of the environment.
Planning also involves anticipating problems before they happen. Environmental planning can help communities to avoid or minimize air and water pollution, loss of wild-life, the conversion of farm and forest lands, and degradation of the built environment.
The environment in general consists of air, water, and three main land uses:
  1. Natural areas are undeveloped lands and waters that provide an array of environmental services, such as water supply, water recharge and filtration, fish and wildlife habitats, air filtration, and recreation. Natural areas also include natural hazards that pose environmental constraints, such as floodplains, wetlands, and steep slopes.
  2. Working landscapes of farms, rangeland, forests, mines, and commercial recreation areas provide food, fiber, lumber, minerals, and energy and contribute to the health of rural and metropolitan economies.
  3. Built environments of cities, suburbs, and towns involve the design and siting of buildings, transportation systems, sewer and water facilities, and public spaces and parkland.
How these three land uses interact with one another affect a community’s appearance, size, operations, richness of ecosystem services, and overall environmental quality. Deciding how, when, and where these land uses should or should not change is a fundamental challenge of environmental planning. Yet in the past few decades, the overarching challenge that has arisen is global climate change (see Chapter 4). Climate change has raised air and ocean temperatures and is expected to produce more frequent and severe storms and droughts. Climate change also increases vulnerability to invasive species, wildfires, coastal storms, and rising sea levels. Mitigating emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change have become central goals of climate change have become central goals of environmental planning.
This book emphasizes how planners, elected officials, and the public-at-large can add environmental planning to the comprehensive plan, land-use regulations, building codes, and infrastructure spending programs. Chapters 3 through 20 each contain examples of how to add environmental planning to the comprehensive plan and how to achieve environmental goals and objectives through an Environmental Action Plan of innovative zoning and subdivision regulations and capital improvements programs (CIPs). It is important to consult your state’s planning and zoning-enabling legislation to determine which land-use regulatory tools and financial incentives are allowed in your state. Finally, each chapter contains a discussion of what a planning staff or planning commission should look for in reviewing a development proposal in order to minimize environmental impacts.
Box 1.1. The Role of the Planner in Environmental Planning
Planning is central to any government policy or business decision. Elected leaders and citizens rely on public plans to guide budgets and financial investments, make land-use regulations, and adopt infrastructure spending programs. Local government decisions about public infrastructure investment influence private development decisions. Both public and private developments have major outcomes on transportation systems, development patterns, the mix of land uses, and air, water, and ecosystem quality. Planners need to bring a long-range perspective to the planning process, particularly the cumulative impacts of development projects on the environment.
Planners play a variety of roles in environmental planning: educator, communicator, negotiator, facilitator, enabler, data manager, and expert.
Planners who work for local governments serve as staff to a city or county planning commission. Public planners can help to educate the planning commission about best planning practices for development and environmental protection. Planners also provide data and analysis of development proposals and recommend how these proposals could be improved. In short, planners enable the planning commission to make more informed recommendations to the elected officials about development proposals and changes to the local comprehensive plan, zoning and subdivision regulations, and capital improvements programs. The elected officials make the legally binding decisions about whether to approve development proposals and changes to local regulations and infrastructure programs. Public planners also work directly with the elected officials, keeping them apprised of land-use and environmental matters and helping them respond to public inquiries and requests for action.
Planners must be able to communicate effectively with the public about the purpose of planning for the environment and how different planning tools work. One way local government planners have done this is by offering special evening courses for interested citizens. Another way is to use Internet websites, wikis, and social media to make communication more convenient for the public.
Planners must work with the public to build a consensus on a vision for the community—that is, a direction to work toward. Planners need to explain the importance of the environment to the community as well as the benefits of new planning programs and the costs of inaction. This is especially important when planners are promoting a new comprehensive plan, zoning ordinance, or infrastructure spending program. But communication is not just one way; ideally, planners must involve a variety of stakeholders in the community and broad citizen participation to create active discussions and explorations of a variety of possible planning actions and tools to make the desired changes. In short, planners should not assume that they have all the answers and should be willing to learn what the public wants and how planning can achieve those desired outcomes. A planner who communicates well can garner public support, which can attract the attention and support of the planning commission and elected officials.
Public planners also need to have good negotiation skills for interacting with the public, developers, landowners, the planning commission, and the elected officials. Planning is a political process as well as a legal process, and politics often involves compromise through negotiation.
Planners can facilitate public meetings about planning and can explain to landowners and developers how the comprehensive plan and land-use regulations affect their development proposals. In this way, planners can promote the certain types of development and redevelopment, well-designed developments, and developments in desired locations while protecting environmentally sensitive lands, such as steep slopes, wet-lands, and floodplains.
Planners who work for private sector clients should keep in mind that the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) code of ethics emphasizes the public interest over private gain. So a planner with a private client should try to promote decisions that are profitable for the client as well as beneficial to the public-at-large. Here, the planner as educator and enabler can help the client understand why a more environmentally friendly development design can be more profitable because it will gain a quicker approval and less public opposition than a poorly designed project. Finally, private sector planners are legitimate experts. They may testify on land-use and environmental planning cases in court.

1.1: Adding Environmental Planning to the Comprehensive Planning Process

Public environmental planning is put into practice through federal, state, and local government laws, regulations, tax policy, and spending programs that discourage, encourage, or require certain actions by companies, individuals, and governments. Federal laws set national standards to protect public health and wildlife and compel improvements in air and water quality and the clean-up of hazardous waste sites. State governments have environmental agencies that coordinate compliance with federal laws and regulations and in some cases set their own environmental standards. Private businesses, households, and nonprofit organizations also do environmental planning to guide their actions that influence environmental quality. But the focus of this book is mainly on environmental planning by cities, towns, and counties. The day-to-day decisions of America’s 39,000 local governments about the siting and types of private development and public infrastructure arguably have the greatest consequences for the national environment.
Municipal and county governments have primary responsibility for planning the use of the natural and built environments, although local comprehensive plans and regulations may be influenced by federal and state laws, requirements, and guidelines. The main purposes of local comprehensive planning process are to
  1. decide on the appropriate uses of land and the spatial pattern of development;
  2. identify lands with development constraints, such as floodplains, wetlands, steep slopes, and shallow depth to bedrock, as well as lack of central water and sewage service;
  3. regulate the location, timing, and design of development; and
  4. invest in gray infrastructure, such as sewer and water facilities, public buildings, roads, and transit, and in green infrastructure, such as parks, tree planting, green streets, and green roofs, to address current needs and to influence the siting, design, intensity, and sustainability of future development.

The Comprehensive Plan

The comprehensive plan establishes the traditional foundation for local and regional planning. The plan sets forth a vision of how a community or region should look, function, and grow over the next 10 to 20 years and sometimes longer. The plan provides direction for public and private sector decision makers through an inventory of current conditions and the identification of future needs. The plan expresses goals and objectives for housing, the economic base, public facilities and services, transportation, land use, parks and recreation, and the environment.
A crucial part of the comprehensive plan is a projection of population change. More people bring greater demands for housing, jobs, water, sewage treatment, and land for development. On the other hand, some communities may be losing population or experiencing little population change, but population shifts and new developments within such communities can still affect environmental quality. For example, sprawling development can occur even when there is little population growth and result in more vehicle miles traveled and air pollution emissions.
Particularly important is the comprehensive plan’s future land-use map, which details the location of desired land uses and lays the foundation for the zoning map. Planners, public officials, and the general public should evaluate private development proposals and public infrastructure programs according to the goals and objectives of the comprehensive plan as well as the future land-use map.
A fundamental reason to emphasize environmental planning within the comprehensive plan is that it provides a l...

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