While the economic slowdown has all but halted most development, we are provided time to reflect on how we create new residential developments and explore ways to provide residential housing needs while also protecting the environment. Over the past 20 years, just in North Carolina, we have lost approximately 16% of our farmland and 10% of our forestland, while urban areas have grown by 88%. As the southern Appalachian region of North Carolina continues to be ranked as a top location to live, work, and play, development pressures on its natural resources are only expected to increase. As more and more people move to this region in pursuit of our wonderful environment that provides such a high quality of life, the protection of these natural resources becomes imperative for environmental, economic, and social vitality.
Conservation Based Development identifies the most significant natural features of a property and sets them aside as community common areas, green spaces, or nature preserves which are not to be developed. The first step in the process is to identify the natural and cultural resources of the site, such as wetlands, floodplains, woodlands, and farmland. Additional natural features that should be set aside and not developed include: water resources (river, streams, seeps), rare plants and rare plant communities, ecologically sensitive habitats, and ridge tops.
Once these layers of information are gathered and mapped in combination with soils, geology, and slope data, they are evaluated by overlaying the maps (like layers of a cake) to distinguish “conservation areas” from “buildable areas”. The next steps are to then locate the house sites within the buildable areas by laying out the roads and trails, and then defining the lot or parcel lines to create each home site area.
As a general rule, the “conservation areas” should be a minimum of 100 acres or 50% of an entire piece of land. Ideally, the areas left untouched and set aside as permanently-protected land will be in the range of 70-80%. This will allow for a development to truly protect natural habitat while also serving the functional needs of its community.
A development that is based on conservation and sustainble principles, such as the model of Conservation Based Developments, offers the ability to create new residential developments while protecting the environment on which they are built. By focusing the development of homes and buildings on the least sensitive areas of the land and conserving ecologically sensitive ones, a better balance can be struck on how we build on the land.