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Maps Explore Urban Development and Preservation of Farmland and Natural Resources

Maps Explore Urban Development and Preservation of Farmland and Natural Resources

CARPC is preparing a guide for local governments for managing growth and development in Dane County over the next 30 years. This Regional Development Framework is needed to align local plans to regional goals as the region grows by approximately 200,000 people, 100,000 housing units, and 100,000 jobs by 2050.

The mapping phase of the Regional Development Framework is underway. CARPC is preparing a regional framework map that reflects local plans and goals, as well as regional goals and objectives recently adopted by CARPC. To best reflect local plans, CARPC staff are working with local officials and staff to identify likely and planned growth areas. To reflect regional goals, CARPC is examining growth considerations on regional maps.

Regional Development Framework Goals

1. Fostering community resilience to climate change
2. Increasing access to jobs, housing, and services for all people
3. Conserving farmland, water resources, and natural areas

To date, CARPC has created regional map layers focusing on goals 1 and 3 above. Staff prepared an online interactive map that shows the relationship between expanding urban areas and natural and agricultural preservation areas.

Map 1

The interactive map includes 10 layers that can be turned on and off to view various combinations. Map 1 above shows five of these layers:

  • Sewer Service Area Boundaries – the areas where public sewer service may be provided.
  • Farmland Preservation Eligible areas – the areas included in Farmland Preservation Plans where landowners are eligible for farmland preservation tax credits.
  • Agricultural Enterprise Areas – a State of Wisconsin designation bestowed at the request of local governments that recognizes significant value of the areas for the agricultural economy, local commitment to preservation, and provides additional farmland preservation tax credits.
  • Likely/Required Future Environmental Corridors – shown as a 2-mile buffer beyond Sewer Service Areas that meet the criteria for environmental corridor designation, such as wetlands, floodplains, existing parks, and steep wooded slopes, where development would be restricted.
  • Extra Territorial Jurisdiction – areas where cities and villages have jurisdiction over developments beyond their boundaries, which indicate the outward influence of urban areas over land use.

The combination of these map layers starts to give a picture of the interplay between urban growth and farmland and natural area preservation:

  • Most development in the region occurs within Sewer Service Area (SSA) boundaries in the shorter term, and in expansion of SSA boundaries in the longer term.
  • Almost all the areas outside of SSA boundaries, as well as outside of Extra Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) boundaries is identified as Farmland Preservation Areas. Within these areas, towns limit rural development with density policies.
  • Urban development policies prioritize growth within SSA areas. Cities and villages often prioritize infill and redevelopment, as well as efficient development of “greenfield” lands within SSAs. As development continues within SSAs and developable land becomes scarcer in the face on continued growth pressures, cities and villages seek to expand their SSA boundaries.
  • The areas between the SSA and ETJ boundaries is often where the tension between development and preservation goals plays out. Map 1 gives a sense of how expansion of SSA boundaries to accommodate development will need to avoid sensitive environmental areas and should consider long-term farmland preservation.

Other combinations of map layers shed further light on the balance between urban growth and preservation. From the standpoint of “conserving water resources and natural areas,” the “Consider/Recommended Future Environmental Corridors” shows natural resources around SSAs that do not meet the legal requirements for protection from development, but nevertheless provide important benefits to the health of the region’s natural environment. For example, this layer includes potentially restorable wetlands, high quality woodlands, and 0.2% annual chance flood areas (a.k.a. 500-year flood zone) at increased risk of flooding due to climate change.

Map 2

With respect to farmland preservation, the “WI Purchase of Ag Conservation Easement Ranking” layer gives a picture of farmland as prioritized for preservation through purchase of conservation easements (PACE). Conservation easements can permanently protect land from development. As shown in Map 3, this layer depicts how farmland scored based on the criteria in State Statutes that address factors such as soil quality, cost-effectiveness, and development pressures. The darker the color the higher the score and prioritization for PACE. (Note: while still on the books, the PACE program was defunded.)

Map 3

Other map layers show the natural and recreational corridors for the Ice Age Trail, Capital Springs, and regional bicycle paths.

How might the information included in these map layers inform a Regional Development Framework?

First, they show the importance of focusing development within SSAs by prioritizing infill, redevelopment, and compact development. A greater share of this type of growth will reduce pressures for outward expansion. A regional growth concept used in other regions around the country to encourage such growth is to focus development in “centers.” Centers are areas of more intense development with a mix of uses arranged to be walkable, and located along transportation corridors, especially those served regional transit. Many communities in the greater Madison region identify similar areas within their comprehensive plans.

Second, the areas close to and beyond the ETJ boundaries could be prioritized for long-term farmland preservation. These areas include highly productive farmland where development pressures have not driven up the cost of land as much as those areas close to cities and villages.

Third, planning for the areas between the SSA and ETJ boundaries could be coordinated to address the interplay of urban development and preservation. The areas closest to the SSA, where land values are high and urban expansion is envisioned, could be identified as “transition areas.” The areas closer to the ETJ boundaries could be identified as “stewardship areas.” Within stewardship areas, development could be designed to enhance and capture the value of natural and agricultural resources for long-term preservation.

For example, a development might orient homes along recommended future environmental corridors and employ easements to protect and provide recreational access to the natural resources. Another example would be developments with homes and businesses oriented around a small farm that provides food to residents and complements the production agriculture nearby. Additional maps that address other regional goals and objectives will follow. CARPC presents these maps and their implications for regional development for the purpose of increasing understanding and sparking conversations.

CARPC staff and commissioners are available to present and discuss these maps and other information about the Regional Development Framework. Such conversations will provide valuable input to the preparation of the Framework. For more information, contact Steve Steinhoff at SteveS@CapitalAreaRPC.org.