Friday, December 23, 2011

Fragmentation, Forests, and Planning

From the perspective of someone "from away", the Town of Bowdoinham, Maine is what I would call a fair representation of Maine outside and away from the big towns of Maine, the tourist regions of the coast, lakes and mountains, as well as the three metropolitan regions of Bangor, Portland, and Lewiston/Auburn. Surprisingly there is a lot more of the Bowdoinham, Maine than the big city, touristy places of Maine. 

As places like Bowdoinham seek to define themselves through the comprehensive planning process, the role of their forests and natural areas will be a major consideration. The towns people have placed a high priority on the preservation of these resources, but as growth pressure mounts and the sale of the family forest or farms becomes more lucrative, these lands become threatened by fragmentation. Each of the areas in the map below in cross hatches represents lands that have been split in some way or another since 2004. Parcels in green or brown are enrolled in state land preservation programs. Those with both cross hatches and program enrollment represent land use patterns that are threatened in some way or another, whether they are agricultural or forestry oriented.

Lands Enrolled in the Maine Tree Growth (green parcels) & Open Space (brown parcels) Program, contrasted with parcels that have split since 2004 (cross hatches).
As a planner, I feel my role is to inform the people for whom the planning process is being conducted,  of what lies ahead for the place that they call home. Although Bowdoinham is growing slowly, it does experience some growth pressure, albeit at a snail's pace. As they seek to match their shared values as a town, with the land ownership rights and economic realities of individual land owners, they should bear in mind that there are often other decisions that can be made in lieu of the splitting and further parcelization of rural properties. 

For now, we have made the observation that Bowdoinham has experienced some parcelization and that some of  those splits occur on lands that were at one time enrolled in programs designed to prevent the fragmentation of these lands. Whether they decide to work with an active land trust, or develop policies geared to restricting land use rights in Bowdoinham is up to them. Some combination of the two might be the best, working to preserve lands through transfer of development rights, restrictions of how much or how often land is split and developed, and growing the awareness of land-owners of what their land means to rural Maine way of life and how best to preserve it.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bowdoinham - Land Use Planning

Bowdoinham - Composite Land Use Map

Bowdoinham is a small Maine town 30 miles or so between the state's largest metropolitan region of Portland, and the state's capital city of Augusta. Bowdoinham is largely a rural place taking up approximately 34 square miles and has about 2,770 as of the 2010 census. As Bowdoinham embarks on their comprehensive planning process, they began by envisioning who it is they are and want to be. For the residents of Bowdoinham who are actively involved in the planning process, they clearly stated that they hope Bowdoinham maintains its charming rural character.

Students of Mark Lapping's, Introduction to Community Planning Class have been "contracted" to work with the town of Bowdoinham, ME, to conduct Land Use Planning, GIS Mapping, Forestry & Agricultural Resources Analysis, in an effort to help them develop an updated Comprehensive Plan.

My role was primarily technical in nature, conducting GIS mapping and analysis for the land use planning and the forestry resources group. Along with another student,  I set about to conduct a build out analysis of the town. Bowdoinham has no actual zoning, but does have a town-wide land use ordinance in place. This ordinance specifies large lot sizes (about an acre) for development throughout the town, which they classify town-wide as a residential/agricultural district.

The first scenario that was conducted looked at the preservation of Bowdoinham's rural character, natural resources, existing forest and agricultural lands. The goal was to show the town of Bowdoinham what their town could look like, preserving what the citizen's feel Bowdoinham should be, in light of the town's current land use ordinance, with restrictions on development in these areas.

In a GIS, the appropriate land use data layers were merged including: soil suitability, current agriculture lands, unsuitable soils for development, protected lands, and other layers conducive to protecting the rural integrity of Bowdoinham. A symmetrical difference function was performed with this merged layer against the town's parcel layers, giving us a pretty clear picture of what lands could be developed, if the town chooses to maintain their rural character and develop policies aimed at preservation. 

Bowdoinham - Build-out Scenario, Preserving Rural Character

A no-holds-barred scenario which only discounted areas that were unsuitable to building structures and lands with special easements on development (transportation right of way, Shore-land Zoning, etc.). The differences are astounding.

Bowdoinham - Build-out Scenario, No Holds Barred

Bowdoinham, which currently has about 1,200 residential structures could be looking at ten times that amount of structures under the current land use ordinance and with no vision for how it wants to protect open space and rural character. By protecting open space, forests, habitat, and agricultural lands, Bowdoinham could be looking at the potential for growth in habitable structures of only four times, the amount that it currently has now.

A third scenario was proposed that takes advantage of Bowdoinham's Downtown Water Service District. What if this area was the focus for growth in Bowdoinham, and the rest of the town was preserved as much as possible, through zoning or land use districting measures that help Bowdoinham accomplish it's goal or rural preservation? How would this scenario look? Bowdoinham could be only looking at an additional 1,000 structures developed all within a somewhat dense (dense is a relative term here) downtown core area. Limits to this type of development would be the water service districts capacity as well as the minimum area needed for parcels on a septic system, and not a city-wide sewer system, something I don't think Bowdoinham could nor should afford, regardless of where the funds came from.

Bowdoinham's Water Service District with Land Ripe for Development in the Downtown Core Under the No-Holds Barred Scenario.

These are some of the map products I created in the process.

Bowdoinham Composite Map

Bowdionham Build-Out Scenario 1

Bowdoinham Build-Out Scenario 2

Bowdoinham Build-Out Scenario 3 - Downtown Focused Growth