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Brooke Massa Brooke Massa wrote on November 7, 2016 at 8:53 pm:
The current Open Space & Natural Resources Protection section has some elements outlined in the process, but it lacks detail. Consider identifying and describing the sensitive natural areas, priority habitats, and wildlife that occur in Mebane. Just as the NC Wildlife Action Plan lists and describes priority habitats, it also lists priority species. I have included that list at the back of this letter. The current draft of the plan does include information on a few of the rare species that occur in Mebane, including three rare mussels. I would encourage the town to provide information on why these species are important, such as their ability clean water; this will help justify their importance. The current draft also includes information on species that occurred historically in the NC Piedmont, consider eliminating this information as it is not clear how this is helpful for guiding land use decision-making into the future. Descriptions of the Natural Heritage Natural Areas that occur within Mebane’s boundaries could also be included in this section. The purpose of identifying and describing the natural resources that occur in Mebane is to help the public and decision-makers be informed of the resources that could be impacted. The inclusion of photos of these areas and species will also enhance understanding of these resources.

In addition to lacking information on priority species and habitats (besides the habitat information that I contributed), the current Open Space & Natural Resources Protection section does not include an explicit conservation vision for Mebane. For example, a conservation vision could include a statement to the effect that Mebane aims to ‘enhance, connect, and permanently protect Mebane’s priority natural resources to sustain fish and wildlife and natural areas for the benefit of the community.’ The current recreation and open space vision is not explicitly related to conservation. There may be reasons why this vision is more appropriate for Mebane, and it may do just as well as in protecting and connecting sensitive natural areas. However, there may be value in being more explicit about the desire of the community to keep priority natural areas protected and connected.

The section does set clear goals and strategies. The following recommendations are provided to enhance conservation outcomes of the goals and strategies:

Goal 5.2: Provide abundant open space and recreational opportunities (p. 62)

The strategy to ‘provide minimum open space requirements… ranging from 10 to 20%’ may be sufficient in meeting the goal of providing recreation opportunities, however, may not, over the long-term, balance natural resources protection and growth. Many communities are aiming for 40% natural area set-asides in new developments. Consider providing a density bonus for new developments that provide at least 40% connected natural area open space, especially if there are priority natural resources identified on the site. Connectivity of natural areas within and beyond the development is key for the long-term protection of natural resources and wildlife. Conservation subdivision standards with incentives are becoming an increasingly popular choice for developers that wish to provide natural area assets in their developments. Chatham County and Randolph County have good conservation subdivision standards that Mebane might consider implementing, see: http://www.chathamnc.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=11548 and http://www.co.randolph.nc.us/pz/downloads/UnifiedDevelopmentOrdinance.pdf (p. II-7).

Goal 5.3: Provide greenways, parks, and open space connectivity between different land uses and across major transportation corridors (p. 62)

Greenways provide an opportunity for providing alternative transportation paths, passive recreation opportunities, and for connecting natural areas to sustain wildlife populations. The current strategies listed in the draft plan do not address the importance of using greenways to provide connectivity between natural areas. In order to protect connectivity for wildlife, greenways should aim to be maintained in natural vegetation and at least 150’ wide.

Goal 5.5: Provide better information to landowners and citizens on the natural resource value of the land (p. 63)

The requirement of an inventory of flora and fauna on site plans for all development greater than 2 acres is a laudable goal. Some communities require that this be a part of the site plan process only for major subdivisions located in their conservation districts. To simplify the process, consider providing conservation data on Mebane’s online GIS mapper. PTRC has developed some good conservation datasets that can help developers and community members become more aware of conservation priorities.

The last key part of a successful conservation plan is to identify ways to implement and monitor the conservation strategies. Although, there is a section related to implementation clearly being developed (p. 65), the plan currently lacks ways to implement the conservation strategies. Some communities, such as Pinehurst, develop conservation advisory boards to be responsible for implementation; some, such as Raleigh, assign different strategies to different departments, such as Parks and Recreation and Planning. It is helpful to assign responsibility of implementation to some group, or to identify partners that can help the community implement its plan. Please consider that NCWRC can also be listed as a partner in relation to Mebane’s ‘Open Space and Natural Resource Protection.’ It is also helpful to provide some timeline of implementation. The City of Raleigh Comprehensive Plan provides a good example of a thorough implementation section: http://www.raleighnc.gov/content/extra/Books/PlanDev/2030CompPlan/#469

Deliverable 1 also requires that Mebane ‘provides language in the form of policy recommendations and strategies to protect and connect the habitats of sensitive species in priority habitats in the Haw River watershed and in other priority conservation areas of Mebane’s jurisdiction.’ The policies outlined as ‘goals’ do not address the protection and connection of priority upland habitats, although they do a good job at protecting stream and river habitats. The abovementioned recommendations could help Mebane fulfil this deliverable. Section 3 of the Green Growth Toolbox handbook (http://www.ncwildlife.org/Portals/0/Conserving/documents/GGT/Manual/Green%20Growth%20Toolbox_Section%203.pdf) also provides detailed information on how to protect and connect priority habitats. This document is geared towards helping communities develop policies and practices to address specific habitat goals. Incorporation of these recommendations into the Open Space & Natural Resources Protection section will help Mebane develop a ‘detailed’ plan that reduces impacts to sensitive natural areas, priority habitats, and wildlife.

Deliverable 3 of the contract states that, “Natural resource and habitat conservation policies will be incorporated into other sections of the City of Mebane Comprehensive Land Use Plan and Comprehensive Transportation Plan, as appropriate.” This deliverable will help Mebane address natural resource protection goals in a comprehensive manner. I have identified the following sections as opportunities where deliverable 3 could be better addressed:

• The Vision statement provided for the ‘Open Space and Recreation’ section (p. 5)
o Consider removing the word ‘fingers’ from seventh bullet. The word ‘fingers’ connotes that the natural corridors will end. The purpose of protecting natural corridors is to provide passage for wildlife between large natural areas, such as found in a rural landscape. Corridors should not end in the same way fingers come to an end.
o Consider removing the last bullet: ‘City creeks should be a stronger component of future land development.’ For the protection of water quality and habitat for aquatic species, city creeks should be protected from land development. The intent of this bullet is not clear.

• Growth Strategy Area Definitions (p. 54)
o Conservation Areas & Corridors: It is great that this element was explicitly addressed in the Growth Strategy. Consider changing ‘cluster’ to ‘conservation’ residential development. Some communities have noted that using the word ‘cluster’ worries adjacent landowners as they interpret it to mean traffic congestion and high density development, when in reality the amount of people living in the development is not significantly different in a cluster design than it would be in a conventionally designed development. The use of the word ‘conservation’ may better communicate the intent of these types of developments.

• Land Development Plan Recommendations
o Growth Management (p. 58)
 Although in the preceding chapter there was a growth strategy area directly related to natural resource conservation, this section does not create any recommendations directly related to the protection of natural resources. Consider adding a goal to: Enhance, connect, and permanently protect Mebane’s priority natural resources to sustain fish and wildlife and natural areas for the benefit of the community.

If there are opportunities to include transportation goals into the plan, this is also a very important place to address natural resources and wildlife habitat protection goals. Roads are very important sources of habitat fragmentation, as they bisect intact ecosystems, and drive development along their corridors. Since the draft is not complete, there is a lot of opportunity to consider the incorporation of natural resource protection policies and strategies into these sections.

Lastly, the cover page of the plan could show pictures of a natural area, signifying that the protection of natural resources is an important component of the plan, on par with the different types of developed land uses shown on the cover.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on the Comprehensive Land Development Plan for the City of Mebane. The NCWRC supports the City of Mebane in its efforts to plan for sustainable growth patterns that protect our natural areas for our declining wildlife species. We’re happy to be of assistance to Mebane in meeting its natural resource protection goals.

The Advisory Committee participating in a Growth Strategy Workshop (April 19, 2016):