Thursday, March 24, 2005

Zoning Out

On Monday evening, the County Council passed the mammoth zoning and subdivision code rewrites, but not before they heard one last fusillade of testimony from the engaged public. The revision, which is the first in 30 years, was sorely needed, and should help make the arcane documents a bit more accessible.

Changes to the codes include a number of provisions which should go a long way towards helping protect the environment. Foremost among those is the change in the way "net density" is calculated. Currently, developers are granted a number of lots based on the full acreage they possess. Under the new rules, land which couldn't be developed anyway, such environmentally sensitive land, would be subtracted out before any density calculation occurs.

In addition, the new code will require that developers set aside 30 percent of new subdivisions as open space, and that protected forest land in subdivisions will have to be consolidated into a contiguous swath, rather than fragmented. There is a strong body of research which supports the importance of undivided woodlands for birds and many forest-dwelling mammals.

Still on the plate, and not included in the passed codes, are rules restricting the development of steep slopes. The newly formed County Communities Coalition has promised, along with others, to make its passage a priority in the coming months.

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