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Based on a lecture presenting ICMA’s recent report, “Putting Smart Growth to Work in Rural Communities”, the first part of this synopsis summarized the general goals, scope, challenges, and policy principles for a “smart growth” approach to rural community development. Numerous links to various resources are provided therein. The second part of this synopsis will outline more detailed strategies for rural communities based on smart growth principles.

Strategies to Accomplish Goal 1: Economic Support of Working Lands and Conservation Areas

Ensure viability of a resource economy:

  • Assess taxes based on current use, rather than at its highest market value;
  • Provide tax credits for conservation;
  • Enact right-to-farm policies;
  • Advocate renewable energy development;
  • Allow value-added farm and forest product processing; and
  • Explore ecosystem services markets (buy and sell habitat/carbon/water quality credits).

Cultivate economic development reliant on rural landscape conservation:

  • Purchase development rights;
  • Create effective conservation easement program;
  • Encourage fee simple acquisition of conservation areas for development elsewhere; and
  • Develop agritourism and ecotourism models.

Promote rural products and urban-rural links:

  • Develop direct marketing campaigns;
  • Encourage local product purchasing by governmental agencies; and
  • Promote “buy-local” campaigns.

Link preservation strategies to neighborhoods:

  • Encourage the transfer of development rights;
  • Create priority funding areas;
  • Zone for agricultural uses; and
  • Encourage rural home clustering.

Strategies to Accomplish Goal 2: Investing in Assets to Make Rural Towns Thrive

Invest funds in existing places:

  • Enact a fix-it-first policy;
  • Encourage historic preservation and main street development approach;
  • Market parks and natural resources as destinations;
  • Target investment in streets and streetscapes; and
  • Focus new development to compact, defined areas.

Encourage private sector investment:

  • Provide infill development incentives;
  • Establish rules that do not impede infill;
  • Create a “redevelopment readiness” certification for targeted infill areas; and
  • Split tax rates by building value and land value.

Build on existing investments:

  • Encourage (and allow) adaptive reuse; and
  • Rehabilitate public buildings for new uses as growth occurs.

Foster economic development in downtown areas:

  • Assess strengths and weaknesses of existing business environment in each community; and
  • Create a local business-recognition program.

Strategies to Accomplish Goal 3: Creating New Stable, Sustainable Neighborhoods and Communities

Update strategic policies to accommodate new growth through compact and contiguous development:

  • Create place-specific visions for each area;
  • Define the places worth preserving;
  • Designate growth areas;
  • Plan and invest in infrastructure grid and multi-modal transportation systems; and
  • Ensure distinctive local character.

Reform policies to encourage compact, walkable, mixed-use places:

  • Align policy with vision;
  • Focus rules on pedestrian access and circulation;
  • Plan park and open space networks;
  • Create traditional neighborhood development patterns;
  • Explore form-based code options;
  • Encourage context-sensitive design;
  • Develop green street design parameters; and
  • Encourage low-impact development.

Reward developments that use smart growth and green building approaches:

  • Create recognition programs; and
  • Require/incentivize green building techniques.

Lessons Learned

While this list is very comprehensive, our County already actively employs and promotes many of these strategies (rural zoning, conservation easements, transfer of development rights, building lot terminations). A major stumbling block, however, is typically encountered when we look at the other side of the rural preservation coin: where and how to focus growth to preserve our rural open spaces. There are many trade-offs that we must make, but unless we simply allow the tax base to erode and our infrastructure to crumble, growth must be accommodated somewhere. And it can be done sensitively and appropriately. Continuing policies that appease some, by keeping growth to the edges – further spreading our suburban footprint – with inefficient, unsustainable greenfield development, will only cause greater infrastructure and environmental burdens on later generations. These strategies need to be applied throughout our zoning, building, environmental, transportation, tax, and associated regulations.

Post Script: A great set of resources on policy integration for sustainable communities can be found at the Partnership for Sustainable Communities.