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Thread: scenic resource overlays

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    scenic resource overlays

    Question for the forum...

    I'm working part-time with the City/County planning office on a project that is both disheartening and exciting at the same time (isn't that how so much of planning is?). Here's the deal: just west of town, along a 25 mile stretch of beautiful state highway leading to the mountains, a 10,000 acre ranch has been sold. As the story usually goes, the lots are >35 acres and so the developer doesn't have to tell the county office much of anything about the development (Wyoming law) and is choosing to sell the individual lots over the internet to poor souls unfamiliar with life out West and the lack of roads, electricity, water, sewer, plowed roads, police and fire protection, and other county services out in rural subdivisions. Because the sale has just gone through and the process of selling/development hasn't really begun, the county is beside itself with the idea of this cherished entryway to the mountains filling up with people living in camp trailers, storage sheds, and large tents (this has happened in the northern part of the county and is pretty bizarre). Now, as a word of warning, the county comprehensive plan is a whopping 12 pages and the zoning regulations mere formality, but the planning board and county commissioners have decided that they want to go all the way on this and set up a Scenic Corridor Overlay zone (without a real comp plan and with a virtually nonexistent county regulatory process, overlay zones get a little tricky, but we do what we can). My job is to research potential ideas for scenic corridor overlay zones. Since the county doesn't have staff time to do an actual comprehensive plan or involve the public in extensively, I'm left to surf the internet and poll planners for ideas. Most of what I can find out there deals with beautiful, scenic mountain areas, older historic districts, or places with the decided benefit of actual trees. The unique aspect of this county, though, is that the views are LONG and a lot of the scenic overlay zones that I see out there as examples don't really apply that well to this situation.

    So, finally, here's my question: does anyone know of any cities or counties in the Midwest, Great Plains, Rocky Mountain Front, or any other pertinent region that have incorporated successful Scenic Overlays? Any quick and dirty ideas of how to approach the viewshed subject when you can see for 30-90 miles in every direction?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian nerudite's avatar
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    You explained a lot about what the land doesn't have (no trees, no mountains, etc)... other than the wide open spaces and snow fences, what are its attributes? Can you protect it somehow as an agricultural or ranchland/range protection? If you have a photo or know of some online, maybe that would help us.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    It sounds like you have a difficult challenge. The ideal situation would have been to do cluster development preserving view corridors, but it sounds like that opportunity is past. I wonder if you might find any useful information or contacts through the Scenic Byways program.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  4. #4
    Cyburbian PlannerByDay's avatar
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    The following text is from a corridor plan I worked on and is a definition for preserving undeveloped land along undeveloped roadways. The Plan was for a community which has larger stretches of roads where Ag. lands are still present.


    “Preservation Corridors” are streets which pass through areas not yet fully developed, or where potential for significant redevelopment or conversions from one land use to another exists. These parcels should be reviewed with an eye toward preventing land use, view sheds, scenic area, natural environment and thoroughfare conflicts through application of zoning and access management standards. Streets in this category have the opportunity to contribute positively to a well coordinated transportation system in a setting consistent with the desired character of the corridor. Development in these areas should be discouraged when suitable lands are available in other corridors which will have a less significant impact on the land use, view sheds, scenic area, natural environment and thoroughfare conflicts.

  5. #5

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    Sounds familiar. I think you can document and defend the value of long views using photography and or drawings (I find that drawings are more compelling, so I would do both if I could, all keyed to maps or aerials, as well as aerial photos to show the current land use pattern. In Wyoming law so far, you don't have to worry about the consistency doctrine, so you don't have to worry about amending the plan first (I still recommend doing so, but they could do it later). Are there any antelope or sage grouse? It'd be handy to have an additional reason for the regs, and wildlife is the most likely. Also, any stream corridors, even intermittent? You can certainly require a setback from those.

    GIven the 35 acre exemption you can tell your folks that they have two choices, one of which will not work very well.

    1) Given the reality of the short grass plains or sagebrush steppes, you could have a half mile buffer from the highway and development would still be all you'd notice. To blur it out effectively, the buffer would have to be 4,000+ feet. But if that is all you can do, I guess I'd do it. Given this alternative, I would also a) limit building ht to one story, b) limit total building footprint to 2,500-3,000 square feet, c) limit total number of above-ground structures to 2 or, maybe, 3. I am not going to make a recommendation about junk cars, etc, cuz' its almost impossible to enforce in a place like that.

    2) The proper way to handle this is to rezone (remember that zoning is a separate power, so the 35 acre exemption is not relevant), right now to 640 acres per unit, EXCEPT where one clusters development in a traditional ranch size, ranch style cluster. If the lots are already drawn out, that's tough, the new owner will have to replat. Then one gets one unit per 35 acres (and maybe even a bonus), losing no property rights as long as they comply. I have done some study of how this would be written, but found no takers for exactly this proposal. Based on measuring a few ranch HQ's on the ground or on aerials, I would say a cluster could be as large as 7-10 acres, and include five-seven homes, buildings should be kept low, but wouldn't have to be just one story, especially if planting trees is in any way feasible (I know it might not be). This would drastically cut the length of roads required. It would be even better if you can encourage the placement of clusters in low spots where they even a tad less visible. It would be better yet if you could do an impromptu visual preference survey of the highway and ask folks to identify the best views, then eliminate clusters in the corridors directly in front of those views. I would then, ideally, add a few architectural guidelines, based on the historic ranch architecture of your county and Wyoming: there are some useful books out about this topic.

    It will be a challenge to see if their love of the land overcomes their fear of treading on someone's rights.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    This link takes you to the developer's page for pics. They aren't particularly compelling, but they give you the idea. Keep in mind that it ain't this green most of the time:
    http://www.pronghorndevelopment.com/laramiepix.html

    Nerudite: Unique aspects of the area are, plainly and simply, the long views. Big Colorado mountains 60 miles to the south. Medium sized wyoming mountains 30 miles west. Smallish wyoming mountains 20 miles east. Hazy, distant single peak 90 miles north. Ephemeral creeks wandering throughout. The lots being sold are in an area known as the Big Hollow, a large, wind-carved basin that comprises most of the valley/plain west of town, and there are a few weird little geologic features that we are thinking of playing up. There is definitely an agricultural/ranching tradition firmly in place that we are trying to use as the basis for some protections.

    Cardinal and PlannerbyDay: thanks for the Scenic Byways tip and corridor plan text.

    Lee: We are currently VERY interested in rezoning the land and experimenting with several of the things you suggested, but are 1) waiting for the Wyoming courts to decide how legal it is (Carbon county has done exactly that and it seems that the state is holding its breath waiting for the outcome...), and 2) waiting to see if county decision makers are truly ready to take the plunge into some unknown territory.

    Thanks again everyone.

  7. #7

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    Figured I knew which road that was.

    If they really do decide to take the plunge, tell you know someone who can show them how.

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