The need for intelligent land use practices
By MICHAEL CHOJNICKIArchitect and Delaware Planning Board member
Zoning. A six-letter word that often strikes a bitter chord, or should I say discord, in many minds. For one thing it evokes strong emotions that are polar opposites where some feel there is too much zoning and others feel there isnt enough. The first group tend to be Its my land and Ill do what I want, and the latter ones are Not in my backyard types.
Nevertheless, zoning ordinances are the major tools in implementing a towns comprehensive land use plan. Collectively, town zoning ordinances combine to establish the physical make up of the county and thus are extremely important in the future shaping of our area.
Zoning helps structure land into a hierarchy of social organizations, both private and public. Though strict, unbending interpretation of the laws can be limiting, and even detrimental, I believe that planning boardsof which I am a membermust begin to encourage more creative development solutions. The system should become more proactive, versus reactive, offering guidance and direction, especially at the conceptual stages, of large developments, working with developers to facilitate environmentally sound land divisions. This would demand a lot more time, but would inevitably result in a more sensitive use of the land.
One such approach is the conservation subdivision model. This is where, on a large parcel of land, one area is assigned for a high density of homes (more than typically permitted in that district) and the remaining portion of land is deeded as common open space. This model creates denser housing on one portion but conserves the remaining area as undeveloped, natural land. The average of the two maintains the permitted housing density.
Typically, developers have obliged the American Dream by taking a tract of land, putting in a road and chopping it into smaller parcels. This model inevitably gobbles up the land quickly, dotting houses on the countryside or around the lakes, creating sprawl. Unfortunately, our zoning laws by their nature inadvertently seem to encourage this direction.
More creative and sensitive development alternatives must be incorporated into our zoning laws. Were beginning to enter the big leagues now, and if we dont want sprawl, we need a system that broadens the education of our board members so new ideas can be introduced. I know for myself there are vast amounts of information I need to absorb to be more effective.
One major problem is that board members are volunteers. Learning zoning principles, understanding the zoning goals and continuing education take vast amounts of time and effort. Without compensation, it is extremely difficult for board members to spend the time necessary to accomplish this. They must learn on the job at monthly meetings, which is too much to expect from them to meet the future demands of our anticipated rapid population growth.
Ideally land-use education should be available to town and planning board members on a county-wide level. Training sessions and seminars should also be very hands-on versus theoretical. This would help give the tools necessary to create the environment that most of us envision. More flexible development alternatives need to be encouraged that will allow viewing future subdivisions of land as natural entities versus areas on a map to be divided up in the standard cookie-cutter fashion.