The view from the ridge
By LAURIE STUART
There are two views involved with any ridgelinethe one from the ridge and the one of the ridge. One involves the property rights of a landowner while the other involves the rights of a community to protect its essential character.
The concept of whether these two views can be simultaneously maximized is at the center of a valley-wide discussion and development of a ridgeline-zoning ordinance.
Through a combined Technical Assistance Grant (TAG) allocation by the Upper Delaware Council, community planners Tom Shepstone and Carson Helfrich have been working with the planning boards from the towns of Highland, Lumberland and Tusten in New York and Shohola Township on the PA side to develop a model ordinance that could be adopted in each of the towns. The hope is that the model could also be adopted in other riverfront townships on both sides of the river. Town board and planning board members gathered on Thursday, May 12 at the Tusten Theater to hear Shepstone go over the ordinance.
This is not a simple issue, Shepstone said as he outlined the ordinance, which would provide for an additional overlay zoning area. There are also differences between the authority of land use in New York and Pennsylvania.
New York has clearer authority to think about scenic quality provided by the SEQRA Visual Assessment Form, he said. In Pennsylvania, it is more difficult to rely on aesthetics, Shepstone explained.
It has to be linked with roads, storm water or sewage system functions. Aesthetics alone does not do it.
But while a regulation that restricts steep slope development that could cause erosion and pollute a water supply is easier to justify, ridgeline regulations are often based on a combination of objectives that include both aesthetic and non-aesthetic criteria, he said.
Regulation of ridgeline development occurs at two levelswhen existing lots are developed and when new building lots are created. The first, he said, is a matter of zoning; the second is typically addressed in subdivision regulations. Zoning can be employed in more or less the same manner in both states.
Addressing ridgeline protection in new subdivisions is a relatively easy matter. Areas of concern can be mapped and protective easements created around them. Lots can then be clustered in other areas using a conservation subdivision approach. All this can be accomplished without affecting overall density. Towns only need to clearly articulate their guidelines and ensure that new subdivisions address them.
In dealing with existing lots a number of approaches to regulating development need to be established. Maximum percentages of clearing, height limits, large tree preservation outside of the building envelopes, building separations and clear-cutting limitations are all possibilities. Shepstone stressed that a balance needs to be struck and that educating residents with regard to the value of the unbroken forest is essential for enlisting their cooperation.
Shepstone cited a recent clear-cutting in the Town of Delaware where a developer cleared acreage along the ridge. Ironically, he could have gotten a whole lot more for the property if he hadnt stripped it, he said.
Following changes suggested by the assembled officials, the model ordinance will be reviewed in each town and public hearings for adoption will be held.