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Grading Plans With Regard To:

Affordable Housing
Air Quality & Transportation
Farmland Preservation
Flooding
Historic & Cultural Resources
Keeping Taxes Low
Park & Recreation Area Congestion
Police, Fire & EMS Services
School Overcrowding
Stormwater BMP Maintenance
Stream, Lake, River & Tidal Waters Quality
Traffic Congestion
Tree & Forest Preservation
Walkable-Bikable Communities
Water Supply Adequacy
Table Summarizing Grading Criteria-Question

What Is Quality of Life Growth Management

School Example
Example Stream, Lake, River & Tidal Waters Quality

Developing a Quality of Life Growth Management Plan

Grading A Growth Management Plan

Focus on Factors Most Important To You
Definitions
Points & Letter Grades
Grading Forms

Add the Grade for Your Plan to a National Database & Map

Help Drafting a New Plan for Your Area

A Growth Management Workshop In Your Area

Would You Like CEDS To Grade A Plan For You

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Comprehensive Plans, Master Plans & Quality of Life Growth Management

Getting the Benefits of Growth Without the Growing Pains

How will growth affect your quality of life? 

Bellevue comp planChances are your town, city or county has a plan setting forth a vision of how your area will grow.  The document may be called a growth management plan, master plan, comprehensive plan, general development plan, small area plan, sector plan, land use plan, or go by some other label. 

A really good plan will provide specifics like whether:

Sadly, though, very few growth plans provide such a clear portrait of how a locality will change with more shopping centers, housing projects, highways, and other development.

The premise for this webpage and the grading system presented here is that tax-payers, voters and other residents deserve to know how the growth depicted in a plan will affect their quality of life.  More importantly, a plan can cause growth to follow more than one scenario.  Residents deserve the opportunity to choose the growth scenario which best preserves and enhances their quality of life. 

By providing this opportunity public participation in the growth management process increases.  It also creates the public support elected officials need to make hard choices, like shifting the cost of paying for new schools or roads from taxpayers to the real estate interests who profit from growth and who are among the top election campaign contributors.  CEDS calls this approach to land use planning Quality of Life Growth Management.

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What Is Quality of Life Growth Management

A good plan will show how anticipated growth is likely to affect quality of life for both current and future residents as well as those who work or visit the planning area.  CEDS refers to a document meeting this criteria as a Quality of Life Growth Management Plan.  In this webpage we'll explain how you can grade the effectiveness of your local plan in preserving and enhancing quality of life based upon the factors listed to the left. 

To demonstrate that quality of life will be preserved and even enhanced with anticipated growth, the plan must:

  1. Present quantifiable criteria for assessing the impact of growth on each quality of life factor likely to be affected by future development,

  2. Based on these criteria, show how past growth has affected each quality of life factor,

  3. Use the criteria to show how the effect will likely change with anticipated growth,

  4. Propose actions to prevent an undue decline in quality of life,

  5. Also propose actions to enhance existing quality of life, and

  6. Provide the factual basis for why the actions are likely to produce the benefits claimed in the plan, along with any uncertainty.

For a summary of the grading criteria and questions go to Quality of Life Summary Table.

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Quality of Life Growth Management Example

The following illustrates how the preceding six components of a Quality of Life Growth Management Plan would play out with regard to schools.  The quantifiable value for assessing school impact is Percent Utilization, which is computed by dividing enrollment by school capacity.  Current percent utilization as well as that at the end of the planning period is presented in the plan for each individual public school.  Planning periods are usually 10 or more years with updates every five or six years.

In this hypothetical scenario the planning area is served by four public schools.  First the plan would show current utilization at the four schools.  Enrollment is based upon an actual count of students made after the start of the school year.  School capacity is based upon established formulas such as 20 students per classroom times the number of classrooms in the school (not including portables).  Note that enrollment exceeds capacity at three of the four schools shown in the following table (utilization >100%).

School 2016 Enrollment 2016 Capacity Utilization
Smith Elementary 632 535 118%
Lincoln Elementary 744 600 124%
Washington Middle 967 900 107%
Jefferson High 1032 1501 69%

Next, the plan shows how enrollment would change with the anticipated growth presented elsewhere in the plan.  Many developing areas see an annual population increase of about 1%.  The 2026 enrollment below is based upon this average increase.  Of course enrollment reflects birth rates which tends to peaks and valleys.  The following table shows that at the end of the ten-year period (2026) overcrowding at the three schools will become far worse.

School 2026 Enrollment 2026 Capacity Utilization
Smith Elementary 699 535 131%
Lincoln Elementary 803 600 134%
Washington Middle 1055 900 117%
Jefferson High 1140 1501 76%

The actions recommended in the plan for resolving this quality of life issue is to: 1) build a new elementary school and 2) expand the middle school.  The following table shows this resolves overcrowding by reducing utilization to below 100%.  The only question remaining is whether elected officials will allocate the funds in time to implement both actions.

School 2026 Enrollment 2026 Capacity Utilization
Smith Elementary 501 535 94%
Lincoln Elementary 484 600 81%
New Elementary 515 600 89%
Washington Middle Addition of 200 seats 1055 1100 96%
Jefferson High 1140 1501 76%

A more detailed example of the information a plan should contain is provided for another Quality of Life factor at: Streams, Lakes, Rivers & Tidal Waters Growth Management Grading Illustration.

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Process for Developing a Good Quality of Life Growth Management Plan

stevens pointThe best way to keep your community a great place to live is to incorporate quality of life growth management into every aspect of the local use and development review process. A sound quality of life growth management (QLGM) plan serves as the cornerstone in preserving and enhancing quality of life through growth management.

The QLGM plan is developed through a process that maximizes participation by all community members and consists of the following steps:

  1. Through mechanisms such as public opinion surveys, neighborhood meetings, and focus groups identify the growth-affected quality of life factors the community views as important.

  2. Through these same mechanisms, develop a set of objective criteria for evaluating how a specific growth scenario will affect those quality of life factors the community values.  Examples of criteria are presented below in the portion of this webpage headed Grading A Growth Management Plan and in the Summary Table.

  3. Again using mechanisms which maximize public involvement, identify realistic growth scenarios for the community.

  4. Through an open process, rate how each growth scenario will affect the quality of life factors using the community's quality of life impact criteria.

  5. After circulating the results of the ratings, employ a variety of mechanisms for maximizing community participation in selecting the:

    •  most desirable growth scenario,

    • a combination of scenarios, or

    • drafting new scenarios if all those previously identified fail to provide the benefits desired by the community.

  6. Once the community reaches consensus on the most desirable growth scenario, a QLGM plan is drafted. The plan sets forth:

    • the process used to select the community's desired growth scenario;

    • the benefits this scenario will provide;

    • the changes to laws, government programs, and other mechanisms required to achieve the community's desired pattern of growth; and

    • infrastructure improvements, like new schools, needed to achieve the benefits of growth with fewer pains.

  7. The draft QLGM plan is then circulated throughout the community for review.

  8. The final draft of the QLGM is formally adopted by the local elected body.

  9. As stated above, to ensure that future growth patterns match the desired scenario set forth in the QLGM plan, local laws regulating how development occurs must be amended accordingly. These laws would include zoning and subdivision ordinances, stormwater management regulations, etc. It may also be necessary to change how tax dollars are spent which would involve amendments to the local budget, the capital improvement program, etc.

  10. This QLGM planning process should be repeated every six- to ten-years or whenever conditions warrant reconsideration of the community's desired growth scenario, such as when a major rezoning proposal is made, a Planned Unit Development is under consideration, or an annexation request is received.

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Grading a Growth Management Plan

gradeIn this section we'll provide guidance for grading a plan with regard to specific quality of life factors.  The easiest way to do this is to download the plan onto your computer.  Most plans are in a format (pdf, Word, etc.) you can search for keywords. 

As stated earlier, a good plan will present criteria for assessing the effect of past and anticipated growth with regard to each quality of life factor.  In the school example given above the criteria was % Utilization (enrollment ÷ capacity).  When this information is present it will usually be in the form of a table listing each school within the planning area.  It could also be a map or in some other format.  With most quality of life factors the grading process consists of the following steps.

  1. See if the table of contents includes a list of tables and figures. 

  2. If the lists are present then see if there's a table or figure for each quality of life factor.  The question then is whether the criteria data is present in the list or table at the level of detail recommended below for each factor.  In the case of schools this would be:

    • current enrollment-capacity for each public school plus;

    • enrollment-capacity for each public school with anticipated growth; and

    • enrollment-capacity for each public school resulting from actions to resolve overcrowding.

  3. If neither a list or table is present, then check the table of contents to see if a chapter or section addresses the quality of life factor.  If it is then read through the chapter to see data is present.

  4. When all else fails try searching the plan for keywords for each quality of life factor.  Continuing with the school example, search for the name of each school serving your neighborhood.  If your local schools are not present in the text then chances are the plan lacks data on all other individual schools.  Keyword suggestions are provided below for each specific quality of life factor.  Of course to do the search the plan must be in a searchable format.  If not then you have a lot of reading to do.

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Focus on Factors Most Important To You

No doubt you'll find some Quality of Life Factors more important than others.  It's up to you which ones you use in grading a growth management or land use plan.  Some factors may simply be irrelevant to your situation.  For example, a highly developed planning area may have no cropfields, pastures or other agricultural areas which leaves little purpose in grading Farmland Preservation.  But if one farm remains and is a vital element of community character then this factor becomes highly relevant.

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Definitions

Following are definitions for a couple of the phrases frequently used below.

Anticipated Growth:  The phrase anticipated growth refers to the growth projected by the end of the planning period.  Usually the focus is on how population will change by a target year set a decade or more into the future.  Population change can be used to predict how the number of houses will increase along with traffic volume, impervious area and aquatic resource impacts, need for beefing up police staffing and that for other public safety functions, and on the list could go.

Planning Area:  This is the geographical area covered by the plan.  If the planning area is diverse then data regarding the quality of life factors should be provided for each distinct subarea.  For example, a greater need for park and recreation areas will exist in more densely populated portions of the locality.

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Points & Letter Grades

Five questions are presented for most of the specific quality of life factors.  A firm, unequivocal YES to a question equals one point.  There will be situations where a question can be partially answered yes.  In this case a point value of less than one is an option.  For example, the fourth question for each factor is usually two-part:

  1. Are actions recommended for resolving a negative effect, and

  2. Does the plan contain text providing the factual basis for why the action is likely to achieve the degree of resolution claimed along with a description of uncertainties?

A half-point would be justified for a Yes to either of this two-part question.

A Yes to all five questions yields a total score of 5 points and a letter grade of A.  Lesser totals equal letter grades of:report card

If you assess more than one specific quality of life factor then the average score can be equated to a letter grade using this same scale.  For example, an average of 3.4 would be rounded to 3 for a C or you can call it a C+ if you wish.  An average of 3.6 would be rounded up to a 4 or B.  You could also call it a B-.

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Grading Forms

Following are links to forms for your use in grading a plan:

Now onto the specific Quality of Life factors.

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School Overcrowding

school overcrowdingA number of states use a formula to determine how many  students a school building can accommodate or its design capacity.  For example, in Maryland a Kindergarten classroom has a design capacity of 22 students while that for a Grade 1 to 5 classroom is 23.  A Maryland elementary school with 20 classrooms (3 K, 17 1-5) has a design capacity of about 457 students. 

In other states, such as North Carolina, the focus is on class size.  North Carolina policy presently calls for no more than 17 second or third grade students per teacher. 

The Education Commission of the 50 States provides a state-by-state comparison of teacher-student ratios and other school variables.  For the purpose of grading a plan we'll refer to either the enrollment-capacity ratio or the teacher-student ratio as Percent Utilization.  Exceeding 100% utilization is termed Overcrowding.

The plan should show the present and future Percent Utilization of each public school within the planning area.  While exceeding the ratios by a few percentage points does not necessarily mean that education quality will decline, a continued rise in overcrowding can only make it more likely. 

Preferred options for resolving overcrowding include:

In more severe situations less popular options must be considered, such as:

For further information visit the CEDS webpage: Preventing School Overcrowding & Other Development Impacts.

Keywords:  enrollment, capacity, utilization, students, pupils, overcrowding.

Suggested Criteria: 

  1. Student enrollment as a percent of school capacity; or
  2. Teacher-student ratios compared with established standards or regional-statewide norms.

Questions: 

  1. Does the plan set forth criteria for assessing the impact of past and anticipated growth on schools?
  2. Does the plan show current percent utilization for each public school within the planning area?
  3. Does the plan show percent utilization for each public school with anticipated growth?
  4. If any school will have a utilization greater than 100% does the plan recommend actions for:
    1. resolving overcrowding; and
    2. provide the factual basis for the effectiveness of each action along with a description of any uncertainties regarding effectiveness?
  5. Does the plan show percent utilization for each public school with anticipated growth plus the effect of the actions?

If all public schools are at or below 100% utilization presently and with anticipated growth then the score for this quality of life factor is 5 or A.  Of course the data proving this must be presented in the plan.

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Traffic Congestion

frustrated driverThe degree of traffic congestion is rated using a system known as Level of Service (LOS).  Like school grades, A is best while F is gridlock.   At an LOS of E you'll spend two to four times longer in congested traffic compared to a D level of service.  In suburban-urban areas an LOS of E-F is usually considered unacceptable.  Development should be prohibited if it will add traffic to roads with an LOS of E or F.  Growth should also be restricted if it would cause LOS to decline from D to E.  However, some ultra-urban areas allow LOS to reach E before imposing development restrictions.  In rural areas C may be the most severe congestion considered acceptable. 

At a minimum, a plan should give the current LOS for all signalized intersections (those with a traffic light).  The plan should also show how LOS will change with anticipated growth. 

Recommendations must be included for resolving existing and future congestion.  These recommendations might include:

For further information visit: Traffic, Development & Neighborhood Quality of Life

Keywords:  Level of service, LOS, congestion, traffic.

Suggested Criteria:  Congestion as measured with current Level of Service criteria at all intersections with a traffic light.

Questions: 

  1. Does the plan set forth the congestion level of service deemed acceptable? 
  2. Does the plan show current congestion for each signalized intersection within the planning area?
  3. Does the plan show congestion for each signalized intersection with anticipated growth?
  4. If any signalized intersection will have an unacceptable Level of Service, does the plan recommend actions for:
    1. resolving congestion and
    2. provide the factual basis for the effectiveness of each action along with a description of any uncertainties regarding effectiveness?
  5. Does the plan show the Level of Service with anticipated growth plus the effect of the actions?

If all signalized intersections operate at an acceptable Level of Service presently and with anticipated growth then the score for this quality of life factor is 5 or A.  Of course the data proving this must be presented in the plan.

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Streams, Lakes, Rivers & Tidal Waters Quality

child in streamThe plan should list all of the waters significant enough to have a name (e.g. Smith River, Ferry Branch, Vista Lake, etc.) within the planning area.  The plan should present the quality of each expressed as

Excellent waters are fit for all human uses and can support sensitive fish and other aquatic creatures. 

Good waters can support a high number of game fish but not highly-sensitive organisms. 

Fair waters support few game fish and are not suitable for swimming. 

Poor quality waters support only the most pollution-tolerant organisms and one should avoid body contact. 

Quality can be based upon fish or other biological samplingWatershed land use can be related to quality, such as:

Forest dominated watersheds are usually of Excellent quality.

A mix of forest and farms with good cropfield soil-water conservation practices produces Good quality waters.

A mix of farms, forest and suburban development yields Fair quality waters.

Intense suburban-urban development usually results in Poor water quality.

The percent of a watershed covered by buildings, streets, parking lots and other impervious surfaces also relates to aquatic resource quality as:

Excellent less than 5% impervious area;

Good less than 10% impervious area;

Fair less than 15% impervious area; and

Poor greater than 15% impervious area.

In addition to current quality the plan should show how the health of named streams, rivers, lakes, reservoirs and tidal waters will change with anticipated growth.  The change can be determined by estimating how watershed impervious area will increase with future growth.  Further development-caused aquatic resource damage can be prevented if the runoff from all new impervious surfaces drains to highly-effective Best Management Practices (BMPs).  Without these BMPs each acre of impervious area added to an Excellent quality watershed degrades 660 feet of downstream waters. 

Waters harmed by past development can be restored if existing impervious areas are redeveloped with highly-effective BMPs.  In fact, 165 feet of downstream waters may be restored for every acre of existing impervious area retrofitted so the runoff is treated with highly-effective BMPs.

The plan should describe the steps taken to ensure that all future development will fully utilize these highly-effective BMPs or explain why not.  The plan must also set forth actions that will be taken to restore Fair or Poor quality waters to a Good condition.  However, restoring waters to an Excellent condition may not be attainable.  Indeed, restoration to a Good condition is difficult. 

These actions may include: retrofitting existing impervious surfaces with highly-effective BMPs, upgrading wastewater treatment plants, and fixing sewers prone to overflows.  Only after these three steps are taken should in-stream restoration or planting trees be considered.  It’s not that these two measures are unimportant.  They just are not enough to prevent degradation or restore degraded waters. 

A detailed example of what a plan should contain regarding this Quality of Life factor can be viewed by clicking: Streams, Lakes, Rivers & Tidal Waters Quality of Life Growth Management text.

For further information visit: Protecting Wetlands, Streams, Lakes, Tidal Waters & Wells from the Impacts of Land Development. 

Keywords:  impervious area, BMP, stormwater management, restoration, retrofit, excellent, good, fair, poor, stream, lake, river, estuary, tidal, marine and wetland.

Suggested Criteria:  Current and future quality based on the percent impervious area for the watershed of each named water body or waterway.

Questions: 

  1. Does the plan set forth criteria for assessing the impact of past and anticipated growth?
  2. Does the plan show current quality of all named waters within the planning area?
  3. Does the plan show the quality of all named waters with anticipated growth?
  4. If any named waters are or will be of Poor or Fair quality does the plan recommend actions for:
    1. restoring the waters to a Good condition, and
    2. provide the factual basis for the effectiveness of each action along with a description of any uncertainties regarding effectiveness?
  5. Does the plan show the quality of named waters with anticipated growth plus the effect of the actions?

If all named waters are of Good to Excellent quality both presently and with anticipated growth then the score for this quality of life factor is 5 or A.  Of course the data proving this must be presented in the plan.

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parkParks, Recreation & Open Space Congestion

A number of towns, cities, counties and states seek to provide 10 acres of park and recreation area per 1,000 residents.  This general rule of thumb seems to be falling by the wayside however.  A better approach is to survey those living in the planning area to learn how they view the adequacy of ball fields, hiking-biking trails, pools, and other park-recreation areas.  Based upon these current use rates, projections can be made regarding the need for expansions with anticipated growth.  The plan must then contain text showing how any deficits will be resolved.  For a large city or county the supply-demand analysis should be done for each area where population density and other characteristics may create unique park-recreation needs.  For further information visit the: National Recreation and Park Association webpage.

Keywords:  park, recreation, open space, demand, supply, ballfield, trail, pool.

Suggested Criteria: 

  1. Supply of park and recreation areas compared to the demand determined from public opinion survey data.
  2. Compare the ratio of parks and recreation areas per 1,000 residents in your area with regional or statewide data as set forth in reports such as City Park Facts and the NRPA Field Reports.
  3. Is there a minimum of 10 acres of park and recreation area for every 1,000 residents.

Questions: 

  1. Does the plan set forth criteria for assessing the impact of past and anticipated growth on the supply and demand for park and recreation areas?
  2. Does the plan show how park-recreation areas within the planning area currently rank with regard to the criteria?
  3. Does the plan show how park-recreation areas within the planning area will rank with anticipated growth?
  4. If supply of park-recreation area does meet the criteria then does the plan recommend actions for:
    1. resolving the deficit, and
    2. provide the factual basis for the effectiveness of each action along with a description of any uncertainties regarding effectiveness?
  5. Does the plan show how park-recreation areas will rank with anticipated growth plus the effect of the actions?

If park-recreation areas meet the criteria presently and with anticipated growth then the score for this quality of life factor is 5 or A.  Of course the data proving this must be presented in the plan.

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Affordable Housingaffordable housing

Ensuring an adequate stock of affordable housing is crucial for allowing young singles, seniors, and new families to live in your area as well as police, teachers and our other underpaid public servants.  Affordable housing is broadly defined as that requiring no more than 30% of monthly income for those earning 65% of the median for an area. 

The plan should set forth the current demand-supply of affordable housing and project how this would change in the future.  The City of Bellevue Housing Needs Assessment is an excellent example of such an analysis.  Some of the options for increasing the supply of affordable housing are:

For further information see: Evaluating Affordable Housing Development Strategies.

Keywords:  affordable, moderately priced, inclusionary, poverty, housing.

Suggested Criteria:  Supply of affordable housing compared to the demand.

Questions: 

  1. Does the plan set forth criteria for assessing the impact of past and anticipated growth on affordable housing?
  2. Does the plan show the current supply-demand for affordable housing within the planning area?
  3. Does the plan show the supply-demand for affordable housing with anticipated growth?
  4. If demand for affordable housing exceeds the supply does the plan recommend actions for:
    1. resolving the deficit, and
    2. provide the factual basis for the effectiveness of each action along with a description of any uncertainties regarding effectiveness?
  5. Does the plan show the supply-demand for affordable housing with anticipated growth plus the effect of the actions?

If the supply meets the demand for affordable housing  presently and with anticipated growth then the score for this quality of life factor is 5 or A.  Of course the data proving this must be presented in the plan.

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historic preservationHistoric, Archaeological & Cultural Preservation

Buildings and sites of local or national significance are a vital part of what makes a community great.  The plan should: list all archaeological, cultural and historic resources, identify those potentially threatened by future growth, recommend actions for safeguarding each then explain why the measures have a high probability of achieving long term preservation.  Preservation frequently involves more than just safeguarding a building.  To allow for full appreciation of the significance of a resource it may be necessary to preserve the area adjoining the building.  Preservation actions may include easements and other deed restrictions, protective zoning regulations, establishment of preservation districts, purchase of the resource by an entity committed to preservation, and other actions.  For further information see: Historic Preservation Basics - Section 106 Compliance and HUD, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation website.

Keywords:  historic, cultural, archaeological, heritage, landmark, national register.

Suggested Criteria:  Preservation of significant archaeological, cultural and historic resources.

Questions: 

  1. Does the plan set forth criteria for assessing what constitutes preservation of an archaeological, cultural and historic resource?
  2. Does the plan show existing archaeological, cultural and historic resources within the planning area?
  3. Does the plan show archaeological, cultural and historic resources which may be threatened by anticipated growth?
  4. If any archaeological, cultural and historic resource is threatened does the plan:
    1. recommend actions for preserving the resource, and
    2. provide the factual basis for the effectiveness of each action along with a description of any uncertainties regarding effectiveness?
  5. Does the plan show the existing archaeological, cultural and historic resources preserved with anticipated growth plus the effect of the actions?

If there are no archaeological, cultural or historic resources within the planning area or they are all secure then the score for this quality of life factor is 5 or A.  Of course the data proving this must be presented in the plan.

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Keeping Taxes Low

PROPERTY-TAXESA significant portion of our taxes is used to cover growth costs such as: school capacity expansions, new roads, increased water-sewer capacity, as well as ensuring that police, fire and emergency service capabilities keep pace.  While one often hears that growth expands the tax base and lowers taxes, research belies this claim. 

North Carolina researchers found that as an area went from 125 to 250 people/square mile taxes declined but then increased as population rose past 250.  In Oregon the relationship was one of increasing taxes with growth.  These two studies are a bit dated.  The following graph is based on current data and shows that tax rates increase as municipal population rises.

tax rates vs. population

Local governments have a number of options for shifting the cost of infrastructure expansions to those who profit from growth.  For example, 29 states have passed legislation allowing local governments to charge developers impact fees  The impact fee is usually set at a level equal to the cost of the physical construction needed to accommodate growth.  In the case of schools this would be the cost of building a new school but not ongoing expenses like teacher salaries, books and other educational needs. 

The plan should show how much of current taxes are going to bonds and other encumbrances for past growth. Estimates of the cost to provide the infrastructure expansions needed for future growth should be included as well.  The plan must then recommend measures, like impact fees, to shift the cost of these expansions from tax-payers to those who profit directly from development. 

For further information visit ImpactFees.com and see the book Better Not Bigger.  For a more detailed description of how to compare growth costs to revenue received from new development see: Community Impact Model.

Keywords:  infrastructure, construction, tax, impact fee, exaction, surcharge, expansion, extension, sewer, road construction, new school.

Suggested Criteria:  Cost of infrastructure expansion and effect on tax-payer burden.

Questions: 

  1. Does the plan present criteria for assessing the impact of past and anticipated growth on tax rates?
  2. Does the plan show the tax burden for covering the cost for past growth within the planning area?
  3. Does the plan show the cost to tax-payers for infrastructure expansions needed for anticipated growth?
  4. Does the plan recommend actions for:
    1. placing the burden for infrastructure expansions on the development companies and others who profit directly from growth, and
    2. provide the factual basis for the effectiveness of each action along with a description of any uncertainties regarding effectiveness?
  5. Does the plan show the cost to tax-payers for infrastructure expansions needed for anticipated growth plus the effect of the actions?

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Air Quality & Transportation

By 2020, just one form of air pollution will cause 230,000 deaths in the U.S.  Our cars, SUV’s and pickups account for 17% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and up to 90% of all air pollution.  An increase in traffic volume is the most significant air pollution source affected by growth. Yet car pollutionactions such as increasing car-pools and mass transit ridership can counter the effects of growth on air quality.  Compared to driving along, joining a car pool can cut emissions by 25% and taking the bus achieves an 85% reduction. 

The plan should utilize a criteria that directly relates to traffic-caused air pollution.  Percent of commuters driving alone is one of the factors readily available from the U.S. Census Bureau.  Current figures for the factor(s) should be provided in the plan along with those for anticipated growth. 

State Implementation Plans (SIP) provide data on compliance with air quality standards.  The SIP for your area may show current and future emissions levels along with actions needed to resolve public health threats.

A growth management-land use  plan must contain recommended actions such as:

The change in emissions resulting from each measure must be quantified along with the factual basis for the reduction likely to be achieved with each.  For further information see: USEPA Transportation, Air Pollution, and Climate Change and Can We Please Stop Pretending Cars Are Greener Than Transit?

Keywords:  air pollution, greenhouse gas, climate change, air quality, global warming, emissions, mobile source, car pool, driving alone, commuter, particulate matter, mass transit, bus.

Suggested Criteria: 

  1. Percent of commuters driving alone.
  2. Greenhouse gas emissions or for other air pollutants.

Questions: 

  1. Does the plan set forth criteria for assessing the impact of past and anticipated growth?
  2. Does the plan show the percent of commuters driving alone or emission reductions within the planning area?
  3. Does the plan show how the percent of commuters driving alone or emission reductions will change with anticipated growth?
  4. Does the plan recommend actions for:
    1. reducing the percent of commuters driving alone or emission reductions, and
    2. provide the factual basis for the effectiveness of each action along with a description of any uncertainties regarding effectiveness?
  5. Does the plan show the percent of commuters driving alone or emission reductions with anticipated growth plus the effect of the actions?

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Walkable & Bikable Communities

Childhood obesity is reaching staggering proportions in the U.S.  It’s also increasing among other age groups.  Part of the problem is a paucity of safe ways for kids to walk or bike to school.  Another part is a lack of paths all of us can use to walk-bike to parks, shopping or other nearby locations. 

The Federal Highway Administration report Pedestrian and Bicycle Data Collection in United States Communities provides a number of methods to quantify walking-biking participation and the suitability of paths, trails, bike lanes, etc.  Data regarding trail, paths and other walking-biking facilities may be found in the parks-recreation portion oBikingWalkingf a growth plan or in other reports. 

Growth management and land use plans should use these methods to quantify current walkability throughout the planning area and to project how it may change with anticipated growth.  Recommendations should be included for improving walkability and cycling opportunities in areas where a decline is projected or where these activities are presently low.  For further information see: WalkScore and the Pedestrian & Bicycle Information Center.

Keywords:  pedestrian, bicycle, cycling, bike lane, trail, path, walking, obesity, health.

Suggested Criteria: 

  1. Mileage of roadways where it is safe to walk or bike.
  2. Percent of students walking to school.
  3. Mileage of trails for walking-bicycling.
  4. Walking-biking Level of Service.

Questions: 

  1. Does the plan set forth criteria for assessing the impact of past and anticipated growth?
  2. Does the plan show current how the planning area presently ranks with regard to the criteria?
  3. Does the plan show how the planning area will rank with anticipated growth?
  4. Does the plan:
    1. recommend actions for making improvements, and
    2. provide the factual basis for the effectiveness of each action along with a description of any uncertainties regarding effectiveness?
  5. Does the plan show how the planning area will rank with anticipated growth plus the effect of the actions?

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Police, Fire & EMS Services

As an area grows police, fire and emergency medical services (EMS) must expand too. 

Police:  In the past, staffing ratios have served as a very broad brush means of assessing the adequacy of police services.  However, research shows that staffing ratios are a poor basis for determining how many police should be assigned to a specific precinct.  Staffing ratios make more sense when one locality is compared to other planning areas of a similar size and where other relevant factors are comparable.  For example, the 2016  Milwaukee public safety plan correlated deficits in citywide police staffing ratios to crime increases.  The plan also presented a comparison of the Milwaukee staffing ratio with similar U.S. cities to justify recommended increases.

In 2013, the national average was 2.1 sworn police officers per 1,000 residents with a range of 1.6- to 2.4-officers/1,000 residents for five population ranges between 1,000 to 100,000 residents.

firedeptFire Protection Services:  Response time is one of the criteria used for assessing fire protection services adequacy.  The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) calls for a 4.9 minute fire response time in urban areas.  In ISO Mitigation it was reported that "more than 1,000 fire stations in the United States lack basic response capabilities for structure fires".   Fire insurance rates tend to be higher in areas with poorer response times.

Emergency Medical Services: The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1710 recommends a response time of four minutes for 90% of Basic Life Support calls and eight minutes for Advanced Life Support. 

The plan should use these or other generally accepted criteria to rate the adequacy of police, fire and EMS services throughout the planning area.  The plan should also show how staffing ratios, response times and other indicators may change with anticipated growth. 

Additionally, the plan should add a context for service quality, such as the impact on fire insurance rates, changes in crime rates or public perceptions of safety, patient outcomes, etc.  Finally, the plan must present recommended actions for maintaining or even improving service quality such as building new stations, adding more personnel and equipment, or curtailing growth in areas where service quality is unacceptably low and resources are not available for improving service.  For further information see: A Performance-Based Approach to Police Staffing and Allocation, Fire Prevention Saves Dollars and Community, and NFPA Standard 1710

Keywords:  police, fire, EMS, emergency medical services, response time, insurance, crime, patient outcome.

Suggested Criteria: 

  1. Number of police officers per 1,000 residents.
  2. Fire and EMS response times.
  3. Fire insurance rates based on ISO criteria.
  4. EMS patient outcomes.

Questions: 

  1. Does the plan set forth criteria for assessing the impact of past and anticipated growth?
  2. Does the plan show how current police, fire and EMS services rank within the planning area with regard to the criteria?
  3. Does the plan show how police, fire and EMS services will rank with anticipated growth in the planning area?
  4. If police, fire or EMS will fail to meet the criteria does the plan recommend actions for:
    1. resolving the inadequacy, and
    2. provide the factual basis for the effectiveness of each action along with a description of any uncertainties regarding effectiveness?
  5. Does the plan show how police, fire and EMS services will rank with anticipated growth plus the effect of the actions?

If police, fire and EMS meet the criteria presently and with anticipated growth then the score for this quality of life factor is 5 or A.  Of course the data proving this must be presented in the plan.

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Tree & Forest Preservation

treesFew landscape features enhance our quality of life more than an abundance of trees in our neighborhoods and along our streets.  Trees play a vital role in cleansing our air and waters.  They also makes our homes more valuable.  And without forests many of our wildlife species would disappear.

A number of states and local governments have adopted tree and forest protection laws.  Localities have included tree-forest goals in their growth plans like the 50% urban tree canopy target set by Annapolis, MD.  Several webpages provide guidance regarding urban tree canopies: Watershed Forestry Resource Guide and NOAA Climate Resiliency and Urban Tree Canopy Assessment.  For further information: Arbor Day Foundation, TreePeople, and Tree Protection Laws By State.

Keywords:  tree, forest, canopy, urban tree canopy.

Suggested Criteria: 

  1. Percent of planning area with a tree canopy or with forest.
  2. Percent urban tree canopy goal, such as the Annapolis, MD 50% target.

Questions: 

  1. Does the plan set forth criteria for assessing the impact of past and anticipated growth on tree and forest cover?
  2. Does the plan show the current percent tree or forest cover within the planning area?
  3. Does the plan show percent tree or forest cover in the planning area with anticipated growth?
  4. If tree or forest cover will decline with anticipated growth or fail to meet a goal then does the plan recommend actions for:
    1. resolving the shortfall, and
    2. provide the factual basis for the effectiveness of each action along with a description of any uncertainties regarding effectiveness?
  5. Does the plan show percent tree or forest cover with anticipated growth plus the effect of the actions?

If tree-forest cover meet the criteria presently and with anticipated growth then the score for this quality of life factor is 5 or A.  Of course the data proving this must be presented in the plan.

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Stormwater BMP Maintenance

Protection of streams, rivers, lakes and tidal waters from stormwater impacts was addressed in the section above on Aquatic Resources.  Here the focus is on the maintenance of existing ponds and other stormwater management facilities. 

Converting a forest-covered watershed to one covered with homes on quarter-acre lots can increase the frequency and severity of downstream flooding by a hundred fold.  The flooding can cause stream channels to erode to a width two- to eight-times greater than prior to development.  Pollution loads can dramatically increase and eliminate all but the hardiest forms of aquatic life. 

Ponds and other runoff control Best Management Practices (BMPs) are crucial to preventing flooding, channel erosion, water pollution and loss of aquatic life.  Beginning in the 1980s many localities started requiring that new development include BMPs.  However, studies in Maryland, Virginia, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and elsewhere have revealed that many existing BMPs are not being maintained.  As a result development impacts are greater than anticipated.  If the public is to gain an accurate picture of the tradeoffs between growth, flood damage, and the health of waterways then the plan must present an accurate assessment of BMP condition.

stormwater bmp

Volunteers assessing stormwater BMP condition

In most localities BMP owners are required to perform the maintenance needed to keep a facility in good condition.  Regular inspections by government agency personnel are key to ensuring that BMP owners perform the required maintenance.  Frequency of inspections needed to achieve a high degree of compliance ranges from once a year to once every three years.  Records of BMP condition should reveal the percent in need of maintenance.  For further information: Greater Baltimore Stormwater BMP Survey and the James River BMP Study.

Keywords:  stormwater, BMP, Best Management Practice, runoff, flood, pond, basin, inspection, maintenance.

Suggested Criteria:  Percent of BMPs in Good condition.  An example of what constitutes good condition can be found in the CEDS report Stormwater Best Management Practices Greater Baltimore Survey 2016.

Questions: 

  1. Does the plan contain data on the number of existing stormwater BMPs?
  2. Does the plan show the percent of existing BMPs in good condition?
  3. Does the plan provide data on the number of BMPs which will exist with anticipated growth?
  4. If less than 100% of BMPs are currently in Good condition then does the plan present:
    1.  actions for achieving this goal, and
    2. the factual basis for the effectiveness of each action along with a description of any uncertainties regarding effectiveness?
  5. Does the show how these actions will be expanded to continue keeping 100% of BMPs in Good condition as anticipated growth increases the number of facilities?

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Flooding

From 2000 to 2014 the cost of flood damage totaled $129 billion throughout the U.S. and caused more than a thousand fatalities.  About 9.6 million of the 125 million households in the U.S. are located in areas subject to flooding.  A good growth plan will show how further development will managed  in ways that do not place more people in jeopardy while reducing risks to those who already live in these hazardous areas.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) oversees the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  Program guidance stipulates that the first floor of a home should be at least one-foot above the elevation floodwaters would reach once every 100-years (aka Base Flood Elevation). 

flood zonesFEMA uses a voluntary Community Rating System to grade how effectively local jurisdictions are managing flood protection.  Each of the nearly 1400 communities participating in the NFIP is assigned to one of ten Classes, with Class 1 being the best.  The better the class, the greater the flood insurance discount.  For example, Class 1 communities get a 45% discount while Class 10 pays full flood insurance rates. 

The monthly rating updates are available online at FEMA's Community Rating System webpage.  The more a community actively discourages new floodplain development and works to protect current floodplain structures from damage the better rating it receives.  If your locality has a number of homes vulnerable to flooding and it isn't participating in the voluntary Community Rating System, then it should reconsider participation.

Flood prone areas are shown on FEMA flood maps.  Ideally, no new homes should be built in flood prone areas. 

Damage to existing homes in flood prone areas can be reduced using a variety of flood-proofing methods, like raising the house so the first floor is above the 100-year flood elevation.  In addition, flood control structures such as dams and levees can reduce the likelihood of future flooding.  For further information see Flooding & Watershed Development and FEMA Managing Floodplain Development.

Keywords:  floodplain, flood prone, flood insurance, coastal flooding, riverine flooding, storm surge, community rating.

Suggested Criteria: 

  1. FEMA National Flood Insurance Program Community Rating.
  2. Percent of homes subject to first floor flooding.
  3. Percent of homes benefitting from flood proofing.

Questions: 

  1. Does the plan set forth criteria for assessing the impact of flooding due to past and anticipated growth?
  2. Does the plan show the current NFIP rating or other criteria for the planning area?
  3. Does the plan show the projected NFIP rating and/or how other criteria will change with anticipated growth?
  4. Does the plan recommend actions for:
    1. reducing the number of residents at risk due to flood damage, and
    2. provide the factual basis for the effectiveness of each action along with a description of any uncertainties regarding effectiveness?
  5. Does the plan show how the criteria will improve with anticipated growth plus the effect of the actions?

If flooding is not an issue within the planning area then the score for this quality of life factor is 5 or A.  Of course the data proving this must be presented in the plan.

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Farmland Preservation

About 45% of the U.S. is pasture, rangeland or cropland.  Between 1982 and 2012, 24 million acres or 2.5% of U.S. farmland was developed.  Preserving these and other agricultural areas is vital to our economy, maintaining food production, keeping our air and water clean, maintaining wildlife habitat, and for safeguarding rural character.  As of 2015 only 0.3% of our farmland was preserved with easements or other development restrictions, making 99.7% vulnerable to development pressures.  Particularly at-risk farms are those located in rapidly developing areas. 

The best way to protect agricultural land is to support owners in keeping their farms profitable.  Yet no other option is more effective in preserving farms in rapidly growing areas than restricting development through low-density zoning and other land use regulations.  But it is unfair to take a farm owner's equity by down-zoning without just compensation.  This is where programs like Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) and conservation easements come in.  In a number of cases a farm owner can get more income through PDRs than from selling their land to development interests.  Plus the farm stays in production.  For further information see Status of State Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) Programs and visit the Farmland Information Center.

Keywords:  farm, agriculture, cropland, pasture, purchase of development rights, transfer of development rights, conservation easement.

Suggested Criteria: 

  1. Percent of farmland preserved.
  2. Percent of planning area in agricultural use.

Questions: 

  1. Does the plan set forth criteria for assessing the loss of farmland due to past and anticipated growth?
  2. Does the plan show the current percent farmland preserved and total farmland acres for the planning area?
  3. Does the plan show how the percent farmland preserved and total farmland acres will change with anticipated growth?
  4. Does the plan recommend actions for:
    1. reducing the loss of farmland, and
    2. provide the factual basis for the effectiveness of each action along with a description of any uncertainties regarding effectiveness?
  5. Does the plan show how the percent farmland preserved and total farmland acres will improve with anticipated growth plus the effect of the actions?

If there is no farmland within the planning area then this factor should not be included. 

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Water Supply Adequacy

The water consumed by you and your neighbors either comes from a lake, reservoir, river, or from a groundwater aquifer via wells.  Each of us uses 80 - 100 gallons of water per day.  And each new home means another 400 gallons per day of clean water must be provided. 

hydrologic cycleA growth management plan must document the quantity of water that can be safely withdrawn from all practical  sources under drought conditions.  The available supply must then be compared with current demand as well as that with anticipated growth.  If demand comes too close to safe supply limits then the plan must recommend actions to offset the shortage.

The best way to prevent excessive withdrawal is to establish the safe yield or sustainable yield for each aquifer via a water balance analysis.  Either approach begins by calculating the amount of precipitation replenishing (recharging) the source during drought periods.  Since precipitation supplies the freshwater flowing into wetlands, streams and other waterways the amount required to keep these aquatic resources healthy must be subtracted.  Next all other uses must be accounted for: irrigation, industrial processing, cooling, hydroelectric, etc.  After taking into account these and other needs, one arrives at the amount of water that can be safely-sustainably withdrawn with a margin for safety.  Growth must then be limited to that which will not exceed this amount.

Climate change may have a substantial effect on future water supplies.  A Potomac River study indicated that the combined effect of precipitation declines and increased temperature may cause a 35% reduction in the amount of water entering the nation's river by the year 2040.  The following water supply stress map from the 2014 National Climate Assessment shows the potential effects of climate change across the nation. 

water level stress score

For further information see: Defining and Enhancing the Safe Yield of a Multi-Use, Multi-Reservoir Water Supply and From safe yield to sustainable development of water resources.

Keywords:  water supply, drinking water, withdrawal, safe yield, sustainable yield, water balance, aquifer, reservoir, intake.

Suggested Criteria:  Safe or sustainable yield based on drought-period water balance or equally comprehensive, science-based analysis.

Questions: 

  1. Does the plan set forth criteria for assessing water supply adequacy?
  2. Does the plan show the current drought-period water supply and demand for the planning area?
  3. Does the plan show how water supply and demand will change with anticipated growth?
  4. Does the plan recommend actions for:
    1. resolving water supply deficiencies, and
    2. provide the factual basis for the effectiveness of each action along with a description of any uncertainties regarding effectiveness?
  5. Does the plan show how the shortfall will be resolved with anticipated growth plus the effect of the actions?

If the data shows a deficiency will not exist then the grade for this factor is 5 or A.

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Add Your Results to A National Database & Map

If you grade your local growth management plan then use the online form to add your findings to the CEDS Growth Management & Land Use Planning Database & Map.  If you use the Excel spreadsheet for your analysis then email the file to: Help@ceds.org.  We’ll post your results on a map of the U.S.  Let us know if you’d like us to include your name and email address on the map.  With enough additions the map could highlight states with very good plans as well as those in need of increased public support.   

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Help Drafting a New Plan for Your Area

If your current plan is about to expire and it rates poorly based on the preceding Quality of Life Growth Management system, then the time may be perfect to replace it with a much better plan.  CEDS can assist you in carrying out all the steps outlined above under the heading of Developing a Quality of Life Growth Management Plan.  For a fee we can draft text you can recommend.  Usually its best to begin with the Quality of Life Growth Management Workshop described in the next section.

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A Quality of Life Growth Management Workshop In Your Area

CEDS can conduct a workshop in your area on how to rate past growth management and how well your current plan will preserve and enhance quality of life.  We can also assist you in formulating a strategy to provide your local planning and elected officials with the public support needed to improve growth management.  Our fee and expenses can usually be covered by charging each workshop participant $50 to $100.  To explore the possibility of a workshop for your area contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org. 

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Would You Like CEDS To Grade A Plan

If you wish CEDS can review and grade your local growth management plan using the procedures outlined above.  Our fee for this service usually ranges from $750 to $1,250 depending upon plan complexity.  To discuss this option contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org. 

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Contact CEDS for Further Assistance

For help grading your local growth management plan contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.  We never charge for answering questions from folks seeking to improve growth management.  However, if research is required to answer your question then we’ll explain how you can do this on your own.  We can also let you know what it would cost to have CEDS do the research for you.

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