I know I’ve kind of beaten this horse dead, but this environmentalism vs. density stuff just enrages me too much to relegate it to a link list. Here are some excerpts from an article about how the EPA’s proposed new rules for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay could impede dense, environmentally-friendly development:
For decades, the federal Clean Water Act has tried to get communities to reduce the effects of stormwater runoff. Heavy rains often carry fertilizers and soil into streams and rivers — ultimately killing aquatic life in vulnerable bodies like Chesapeake Bay.
In response to tightening federal requirements, the state of Maryland is putting together a regulatory system that aims to cut the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment flowing into the degraded Bay. But opinion is sharply divided over whether the plan will have a good or bad effect on the character and location of future development. […]
In the letter, Potter warned, however, that there are “potential conflicts between the TMDL mandate and Smart Growth” — conflicts that neither the state of Maryland nor the Environmental Protection Agency has adequately addressed.
“I believe the WIP will definitely make it harder to do low-density greenfield sprawl,” says a forum organizer, Stuart Sirota, principal of the New Urbanism-oriented TND Planning Group. “But I am concerned that the [state plan] may have the unintended consequence of making it more difficult to do higher-density infill within redevelopment areas and growth areas.”
Another forum organizer, Jim Noonan, who in the 1990s helped implement Governor Parris Glendening’s original smart growth program, agrees with Sirota that the Maryland plan may hinder dense, walkable, transit-served development — the kind of development that meets smart growth objectives. Noonan, practice leader for comprehensive planning at KCI Technologies, also predicts that unless the watershed plan is altered, it may also spread more household growth across low-density outlying areas, actually adding to pollution problems.
“The authors of Maryland’s Watershed Implementation Plan definitely do intend to discourage outlying low-density development and to encourage infill,” Noonan says. But, he says, “I don’t think they achieve that.”
The plan proposed by Maryland — one of six states in the 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed — adds “another layer of regulations and bureaucracy” onto the difficulties that already confront smart growth developers, Noonan told New Urban News. The plan would hinder attempts to establish higher-density living in urban areas, he said, and may also deter attempts to build up existing rural centers.
Noonan and Potter believe that although “compact, walkable communities can reduce pollutant loads,” the state plan does not make development of dense, mixed-use, transit-served communities any easier than development of houses on large lots in auto-dependent suburbs.
The state retorts and claims that it’s already made a number of concessions in favor of dense development, but the fact that they can make the changes listed and still have the plan provoke the ire of smart growth advocates only means that the people who drafted the plan must have had even less sense to begin with.
Terry Nicol saysDecember 10, 2010 at 4:46 am
Can you provide a link to the full article or further describe what part of the WIP the authors are concerned about? Reading the executive summary of the WIP, I see that more attention is being given to WWTPs than to septics, but more money is being allocated to WWTPs as well. Thanks.
Stephen saysDecember 10, 2010 at 5:16 am
Oops, sorry about that, and thanks for noticing! I edited the post to include a link.
Daniel saysDecember 10, 2010 at 1:10 pm
The Virginia TMDL plan is having the same problems, and in VA’s case there is another interesting twist. So far the EPA has not been willing to sign off on the VA plan, saying it doesn’t do enough to control phosphorous loads. If the state does not come up with a plan that meets EPAs specifications, then the EPA has warned that they will step in and make the changes themselves. The trouble is that the EPA only has authority over certain point-source pollutants, such as wastewater treatment plants, and not the non-point source culprits like parking lots or agriculture. So if EPA drops the hammer the responsibility to clean the bay will be placed squarely on the shoulders of just a few sources, that tend to serve urban areas This will really hurt municipalities and density in general. I’m in favor of cleaning the bay, and using regulation to do so, but the perspective of the whole watershed needs to be kept in mind – not just individual sites and individual actors.
Chewie saysDecember 10, 2010 at 3:55 pm
From a watershed perspective what matters is minimizing the amount of impervious surface so that there will be less runoff. This is challenging in an urban environment, but there are things you can do, like looking at the spaces between buildings, capturing rainwater that falls on rooftops and integrating things like swales into streets when possible (which could also act as traffic calming).
Suburban places superficially seem to do a better job at this, because people have lawns, but it’s worth remembering that the amount of (impervious) road space per capita in a suburb will be much higher than the per capita road space in a city.
It is important for cities to embrace the challenge of reducing the amount of runoff they produce while still maintaining a dense, mixed-use, walkable environment.