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Study: Region could do more to protect resources

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

The region's governments and planners could do better to protect natural resources, according to a recent study of local ordinances designed to control development.

Potomac Conservancy, the James River Association and Friends of the Rappahannock conducted an analysis of local government codes and ordinances in more than 40 localities to determine the level at which they incorporated low-impact development principles, according to a Conservancy press release.

The organization, which has an office in Winchester, released the study, "Promoting Low Impact Development in Virginia: A Review and Assessment of Nontidal County Codes and Ordinances," on Tuesday.

The groups looked at county and municipal ordinances to assess the use of sustainable development practices and, through the study, help achieve needed regulations to protect water quality from the impacts of land development, according to the conservancy. Nearly all practices were in place in at least one locality in the study area.

"That's really what it does -- to see how these counties stack up," Anne Sundermann, senior director of communications and outreach for the Conservancy, said Tuesday.

The study showed that each locality did well but also had room for improvement when it comes to encouraging low-density development practices, according to the Conservancy.

Winchester, along with the counties of Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren, among others, lie in the non-tidal area of the Potomac watershed. Shenandoah and Warren both scored 30 percent in the study but are classified as rural vulnerable and rural highly vulnerable, respectively. Winchester qualified as urban highly vulnerable and scored 30 percent. Clarke County, suburban vulnerable, scored 51 percent.

However, percentages appear low for localities such as Page County, with 7 percent, because growth remains low, according to Sundermann. She explained that the classifications indicate the degree of threat of development to natural resources.

"With additional population growth in the Shenandoah Valley, local governments must examine how they guide future development while safeguarding the high-quality streams and green spaces in the community," said Conservancy President Hedrick Belin in a statement to the Daily. "Our recent assessment provides localities with options that are tailored to the particular situation.

"On the basis of this report, there are opportunities for Warren and Frederick counties to enact stronger erosion control protections and take steps to protect streamside forests, whereas Shenandoah County may benefit from ordinances to protect and expand conservation corridors," Belin added in the statement. "In suburban areas like Clarke County, we lay out some recommendations for parking lots and construction sites that will reduce the amount of pollution flowing off the land in rain storms."

The study rated localities on the degree to which they encouraged low-impact development and considered water quality in the rules that dictate the nature and character of development. For example, the study classified Loudoun County as highly vulnerable suburban because of its high population growth development pressures. The study recommended localities in this class look at solutions such as redevelopment incentives and stormwater source control

The project partners rated the 41 localities on low-impact development principles, grouped into the following categories: minimization of land disturbance; preserving vegetation; minimizing impervious cover; and general water quality protection. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason University and the Center for Watershed Protection assisted in the review and assessment.

Visit www.potomac.org to view the executive summary, the full report and the results of the study.

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