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Thread: The role of rural areas

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    The role of rural areas

    Coles notes question: What is the role of rural areas?

    The context: I work for a municipality that is relatively large in size and small in population (60,000). Our rural areas truly are quite beautiful, with bucolic agricultural scenes, views from "mountain" (I use that term lightly) ridges, seashore views, and great lakes. Agriculture is a cornerstone of the economy here, with forestry and other resource-related industries also playing a role. Our past planning efforts have done a fairly good job of directing development to urbanized centres. However, over the years we've seen more and more people (mostly retirees) coming here to build their "dream home" in the beauty of the rural areas. You can certainly understand why they do it. At the same time, resource development in our rural areas is a large part of our economy. Every new house that goes up in our rural areas is a new point of potential conflict and a damper on rural industry. The issue truly came to a head when proposals for wind turbines pitted dream homes against resource development. An added problem is that our population isn't really growing, so every new rural house just spreads the population thinner and away from services.

    The question:We're currently doing a complete re-write of our Planing Strategy. I think one of the biggest questions we need to answer is how we view our rural areas. I lean towards the view that rural residential development in our context--while certainly understandable from an individual point-of-view--is damaging to the greater society (granted, this is coming from someone who has chosen to live in urban areas). At the same time, there is clearly a demand for beautiful rural living. It's further complicated by the fact that homebuyers/builders are fairly myopic in that they buy/build because of the beauty without really thinking through the fact that rural landscapes are often working landscapes. This has resulted in a large group of established rural homeowners who will defend their right to live where they have chosen. So, what's your view of the role of rural areas? What factors do we need to consider? Is there some way to accommodate both?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    What does your governing body want? And what infrastructure is needed to accommodate the growth? Do not spoil your attraction for short term gain.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by hipp5 View post
    Coles notes question: What is the role of rural areas?

    The context: I work for a municipality that is relatively large in size and small in population (60,000). Our rural areas truly are quite beautiful, with bucolic agricultural scenes, views from "mountain" (I use that term lightly) ridges, seashore views, and great lakes. Agriculture is a cornerstone of the economy here, with forestry and other resource-related industries also playing a role. Our past planning efforts have done a fairly good job of directing development to urbanized centres. However, over the years we've seen more and more people (mostly retirees) coming here to build their "dream home" in the beauty of the rural areas. You can certainly understand why they do it. At the same time, resource development in our rural areas is a large part of our economy. Every new house that goes up in our rural areas is a new point of potential conflict and a damper on rural industry. The issue truly came to a head when proposals for wind turbines pitted dream homes against resource development. An added problem is that our population isn't really growing, so every new rural house just spreads the population thinner and away from services.

    The question:We're currently doing a complete re-write of our Planing Strategy. I think one of the biggest questions we need to answer is how we view our rural areas. I lean towards the view that rural residential development in our context--while certainly understandable from an individual point-of-view--is damaging to the greater society (granted, this is coming from someone who has chosen to live in urban areas). At the same time, there is clearly a demand for beautiful rural living. It's further complicated by the fact that homebuyers/builders are fairly myopic in that they buy/build because of the beauty without really thinking through the fact that rural landscapes are often working landscapes. This has resulted in a large group of established rural homeowners who will defend their right to live where they have chosen. So, what's your view of the role of rural areas? What factors do we need to consider? Is there some way to accommodate both?
    The state of Washington here in the US looked at these questions when I was a planning director in a small, bucolic, riparian, agricultural area. You may want to look at the Puget Sound Regional Council's (PSRC) Vision 2020-2030-2035 work trying to address these issues.

    Basically the way I look at it (from an ecologist's POV), the size of the parcel is the driver. As the parcelization gets smaller, there are more personal economic expectations to develop. How are you going to thwart those rational expectations? That is the key IMHO.

    Washington sort of expects that 80 acres is the key indicator to development, 40 as you get closer in. After it divides to 40, it won't be long if the economy is diversified. Washington made efforts via law several years ago to ensure there is a rural ag economy that ensures folks can make a living in ag activities on their land and not have to resort to selling it to a developer. I was one of the (many) foot soldiers pushing that act, and left just before it got enacted. Not sure it is adequate, but it is a start.

    Anyhoo, take a look at what the PSRC did. It might save you and your team some time. Hopefully. Good luck.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    My two cents, as someone who has grown up in a rapidly developing rural county in Maryland, especially now with the contentious PlanMaryland process underway:

    Agriculture and natural resource extraction (both renewables like wind power, fisheries and, on longer timescales, forestry and nonrenewables like mining) are absolutely vital to society's survival, and thus nearly every individual's survival. Healthy ecosystems are a necessity (clean air and water and pollinators for our farms being the most obvious and direct benefits), a pleasure (active outdoor sports and beautiful/interesting views and wildlife, which have their own physical and psychological health benefits), and a responsibility on principle (who are we to destroy what we did not create and cannot fully restore?). You cannot live without food or drinkable water or breathable air, nor can society funcition without energy sources or useful materials like wood and metal. We can live, if we must, without "dream homes", which are pure luxury for anyone who is not actually making their living off the land (or nearby waters).

    So, rural industries and ecosystems should be the top priority, and rural residential (non-working lands) should take a back seat. Planning regulations, and agricultural, resource, and environmental regulations and economic policies and programs, should be geared first and foremost to balancing the needs or rural industries and ecosystems, and making sure as much as possible that the former are economically viable long-term without wrecking each other or the environment or preventable undermining their own resource base. There's room out there for some rural residential development, but they should have to work around the industries and environment, basically in the spaces left over after those higher-priority needs are met.

    Start with a draft plan that maximises restrictions on, and minimizes space for, new non-working rural residential development and then negotiate towards a middle most of the competing interests can live with. Stand firm on putting rural industries and the environment (together) first, but otherwise be calm and reasonable and somewhat flexible.

    To take an example from PlanMaryland, the state is consolidating existing planning laws, regs, and programs into a single system (which is why all the uproar, as previously unnoticed regs gain public attention) and requiring counties to provide planning maps dividing their land into 4 tiers, from Tier 1 (developed towns and urban areas were new development will be encouraged and supported) through Tier 2 (existing suburbs where some new development will be allowed but not actively encouraged or prioritized-- SF-home NIMBYland, mostly) and Tier 3 (rural areas with moderate restrictions on development, in accordance with existing comprehensive plans), to Tier 4 (parks, land in conservation or ag easements, or other protected lands with essentially no new residential development). Developers, some rural homeowners, and many farmers fearing loss of property values are hollering for submission of "least restrictive" draft maps that put only parks and easement lands in Tier 4 and as much as possible in either Tier 2 or 3, with one letter-to-the-editor calling for Tier 1 unrestricted development everywhere but protected parks. (No joke!) Environmental activists are calling just as loudly for "most-restrictive" maps to be submitted putting most rural land in Tier 4.
    In your negotiations, I say start off offering the equivalent of a "most-restrictive" map and coax the developers and "dream-homers" towards a midway solution--just don't let them pull you all the way to the "least-restrictive" end.

    Whatever you do, try to line up the farmers, loggers/sawmills/pulpmills and miners (if any) behind you. Get creative in developing alternatives to "selling out" to keep them viable. You'll need them, and if you get enought working landowners on board you can better counter opposition from developers.

    Good luck!

  5. #5
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    Coming from Kansas (recently) our county prizes agriculture above all else. If you want to build, go to the city. For the city, they want to ensure normal growth so we cooperate on not allowing to many wildcat subdivisions. The smallest lot you can get near the city is 20 acres. If you're farther out in the county will let you have a 3 acre lot, but the density is still set at 1/80. I think a lot comes down to support. I have a lot of support to save agriculture, but still have arguments over land rights and splitting lots for everybody. We found are balance to the argument was to allow exceptions, but it couldn't be on prime farm land.
    Good luck
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

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