Revised guidelines will improve CAMA land-use planning
Land-use planning under the Coastal Area Management Act gives local leaders an opportunity and responsibility to establish and enforce policies to guide the development of their community. Land-use planning gives local governments the chance to develop a vision, goals and policies that balance economic development with resource protection for a healthy coast.
Besides laying out a vision for local growth, land-use plans play a key role in coastal development. Neither the state nor the local government can issue a CAMA permit for a building project in an area of environmental concern if the project is inconsistent with the local land-use plan.
Making CAMA land-use planning better
CAMA land-use planning has been a prime example of a successful state-local partnership, but there is room for improvement. The N.C. Coastal Resources Commission last year adopted revisions to the land-use planning guidelines [15A NCAC 7B]. Members say the new guidelines will be better than the old rules because they are less complicated, better tailored to local governments’ needs and more in line with the goals of CAMA. The CRC has sought to improve the quality of land-use plans by establishing simple, clear elements, requiring more thorough analysis of land suitability and creating management topics to guide the development of local policies.
The revisions took effect Aug. 1, 2002.
Improving flexibility for local governments
One criticism of CAMA land-use planning was that it had one-size-fits-all guidelines that did not take into account the differences that exist among coastal communities. Some have large populations; others do not. Some are growing rapidly; others are not. Issues in oceanfront communities are different from those in towns and counties farther inland.
CAMA requires each of the 20 coastal counties to have a land-use plan, but planning is optional for municipalities in those counties. The new guidelines offer three levels of plans that will give local governments the flexibility to tailor planning to meet local needs.
Acore plan is the standard land-use plan for the 20 coastal counties. It will thoroughly address all of the CAMA plan elements.
Counties and municipalities that, because of local conditions, choose to exceed the core plan requirements in two or more areas may complete an advanced core plan. This plan also can be used to help meet the requirements of other planning programs, such as Phase II Stormwater, that address CAMA goals or issues of local concern. Examples include post-storm redevelopment or the location of a new industry.
Small non-oceanfront municipalities that are not experiencing high growth, but contain areas of environmental concern, have the option of doing a workbook plan. This is a simplified plan that addresses the CAMA land-use planning elements. The Division of Coastal Management will provide a workbook template to municipalities that prepare this type of plan.
Elements of a CAMA land-use plan
Under old guidelines, land-use plans must contain descriptions of the dominant growth-related conditions influencing land use, development, water quality and other environmental concerns in the planning area. Plans also must contain analyses of population, the economy, housing and land suitability.
The new planning guidelines strengthen those requirements and require local governments to identify a plan for the future, including goals and policies related to land use and development.
New guidelines seek protection of water quality
The revised planning guidelines stress the importance of healthy water. One of the goals of the guidelines is to maintain, protect and, where possible, enhance water quality in all coastal wetlands, rivers, streams and estuaries. That effort begins at the local level. The guidelines require local governments to identify policies to ensure that coastal water quality is improved or maintained.
Chief among these policies are those that prevent or control stormwater discharges. Stormwater runoff is a leading cause of water-quality problems along the coast. Local policies, such as impervious-surface limits, vegetated riparian-buffer creation and wetlands protection, can help lessen the negative impacts of stormwater runoff on coastal waters.
The guidelines also require local governments to develop policies and land-use categories that protect open shellfish waters and restore closed or conditionally closed shellfish waters.
Land-suitability analysis required
The new guidelines ask local governments to do more analysis of the planning area’s supply of land that is suited for development. The analysis places more emphasis on how local governments address natural system constraints in land-use planning.
Technical assistance from the state
To aid local governments in developing high-quality land-use plans, the Division of Coastal Management is creating a technical manual and a model land-suitability analysis. This could save local governments time and money in the planning process. The division also will provide training opportunities to educate local officials about CAMA land-use planning.
History behind the revisions
The changes came about after the CRC asked a team of professional planners, local government leaders and environmentalists to review the land-use planning guidelines and recommend improvements. The CRC and Coastal Management staff used the team’s recommendations in drafting the new guidelines.