That was our reaction after learning about the pilot project (The Science of Development, Smoky Mountain News, March 14 edition) recently completed by Haywood Waterways Association and two developers. The sheer simplicity of this novel approach to subdivision development — simple but intricate — will, we hope, inspire government regulators, engineering firms and landowners to take a hard look at current ordinances that often encourage bad practices.
Here’s, in a nutshell, what HWA did on two mountain developments in Haywood County. Hand-in-hand with landowners, it took a detailed natural resources assessment — soil types, springs, rock formations, slope measurements, etc. — of the two tracts in the project, then fed that information into a high-tech digital mapping program.
After combining the on-the-ground assessment with the GIS technology, technicians told the landowners where the best home sites were. The developers got about the same number of lots, but the land was divided into those lots based on the best places for the homesites. Roads were contoured using the same type of data, but only after the best homesites were found.
The bottom line in this effort was to do the least short- and long-term damage to the land. Abiding by these principles will mean less lot and road upkeep, less sediment into streams, more stable house sites, and more microhabitats and natural resources protected. This was a pilot project so the developers got a deal, but to have this kind of work done professionally would not be cost prohibitive to most construction projects.
Here’s the truth, though, and it’s worth remembering: in all likelihood the layout of a tract of land in this manner will lead to better parcels that will fetch a higher price on the open market, along with fewer undesirable lots that might never sell.
The catalyst for this pilot project by HWA is Gordon Small, a former national forest service employee. He’s been a kind of visionary leader in the environmental field for years, both as a former employee of HWA and as a volunteer. Another important player in this project was Haywood Community College. Its commitment to community outreach allowed the GIS specialists to donate dozens of hours to this project while on the college’s payroll.
Finally, Haywood Waterways Association continues to prove why it has become so valuable to the citizens of the region. This is the kind of knowledge that has the potential to lead to fundamental changes in the way we develop subdivisions in the mountains. Leaders can talk all they want about smart growth, but this project re-defines the term.
This is science and capitalism coming together to lessen the impact on our natural resources. What more could we ask for?