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Greenbelt Advisory Board, April 14

Drafts recommendations for changes to Green Belt Plan
Takes steps to consider plan for small landowners
Warwick Jones

The Greenbelt Advisory Board (GAB) yesterday finalized its deliberations over recommendations for changes to the County’s Greenbelt Program. The proposed changes will now be posted on the County’s web site for public comment. At its next meeting, on April 27, the GAB will review public comments and approve final recommendations. The latter will then go to the Finance Committee for consideration.

Yesterday’s meeting was taken up largely by two of the remaining issues – Outreach to Small Landowners, and amendments to the scoring system for assessing rural projects. Both issues were discussed at the previous meeting but no decisions were taken.

In relation to the Outreach to Small Landowners, Chair Maybank noted that she had met with the County’s Agricultural Committee and there has been little expression of interest of small landholders protecting their property. Staff also noted that the County did not have the resources to administer a Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program. As a discussion subject, the Chair and staff suggested that if there were a specific program for small landowners, the entity to hold the easements or property could be the Mount Pleasant Land Conservancy. They also suggested that it be allowed access to $1.2 million of greenbelt funds up until December 31, 2012.

One member (the author) opposed the concept of an “outreach to small landholders”. This was not a purpose of the green belt program. It was also a social issue and not a matter that the GAB should be considering. Considering the higher value on a per acre basis of small properties, the program would be relatively expensive and do little in meeting greenbelt goals. And who was going to assess the properties? The Greenbelt Bank could assess rural properties using the existing scoring system. But the process for assessing urban properties was almost cursory with the urban entities ultimately choosing the projects. As staff noted, urban projects were not scored by the staff as to how they met greenbelt criteria.

Although a number of board members also expressed reservations about the program, all bar the author, voted to recommend that County staff further investigate the proposal. Importantly, was the MPLC open to holding easements and property outside Mount Pleasant?

The issue of scoring rural projects had the promise of being contentious. Some is us would have liked a higher value placed on “leverage”. Presently it is a maximum of 15 points out of a total 100. Others would have liked to see “public access” score increased to 10 from 5 points. But as staff noted, to increase the contributions for these categories would require the subtraction from others. In some cases the changes would have little impact on the scoring of projects but in some, the changes would have been larger and downwards for some of the more desirable properties.

Members of conservation groups were invited to give their opinion on the process. Some speakers spoke very favorably about the success of the green belt program. The first recommendation of two of the speakers was to increase the importance of leverage with one suggesting a minimum mandatory level. One also suggested that the County move quickly on obtaining more funds as the recession had made the acquisition of easements over quality properties much easier. He also decried the Council’s decision to override the decision of the Greenbelt Bank over funding for a park in Hollywood. The Bank was desirous that the Town seek funds to help in the purchase. But the Council granted the Town the full amount requested. The Bank Board was filled with very qualified people and the Council’s decision was “bad”, the spokesman said.

Despite the comments of the conservation groups, the GAB chose to recommend that no changes be made to the present scoring system. It is clear from comments made at yesterday meeting and elsewhere, that the Greenbelt program has been very successful. So the GAB members probably thought “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

The problem of urban allocations to Beach Towns has been troubling the GAB for some time. .Their allocations were too small to allow the purchase of meaningful greenspace. So what could they do with the funds? And yesterday, staff came up with a simple solution. Let them spend the money on improvements that are allowed under the greenbelt program. Presently the Greenbelt Plan allows spending only on properties or easements that are acquired by greenbelt funds. But, the proposal will allow the Beach Towns to fund such developments as unpaved roads, sidewalks, paths etc on other properties or easements.

The proposal was unanimously approved e.

The GAB also agreed to recommendations that the

  1. Greenway Corridor Goal be amended from 1200 to 240 acres, to reflect the reduction in the proposed width of pathways from 50 to 10ft

  2. The County’s greenspace inventory be updated

  3. That a marketing plan/ strategy be initiated

At earlier meetings, the GAB had already recommended that no change should be made to funding for Urban Unincorporated areas.

The author is a member of GAB

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