April 16, 2005


Towns' codes not friendly to watersheds

by Dan Shapley
Poughkeepsie Journal

Codes in the towns of Wappinger and Clinton encourage development that harms streams and wetlands, according to an analysis presented Friday.

Out of a possible 100, Wappinger scored 35, and Clinton, 44, on a line-by-line analysis comparing existing codes to those that would best protect watersheds.

"Your rules definitely are not environmentally friendly. Serious reform of the development rules is needed" in both towns, the analysis by the Center for Watershed Protection, of Ellicott City, Md., found.

Other local towns would score no better, experts agreed at a conference Friday. The meeting at Locust Grove in the City of Poughkeepsie was attended by about 85 people.

Each $20,000 study was commissioned by the Dutchess County Environmental Management Council and the Wappinger Creek Intermunicipal Council, with money from the state Hudson River Estuary Program.

Rural Clinton and suburban Wappinger were chosen for the analyses so other towns can use them as a models.

The towns cooperated in the analyses. The center will continue to work with them to form volunteer groups, hold hearings and enact those recommendations the communities accept.

"We're all for this," Wappinger Supervisor Joseph Ruggiero said. "I look forward to taking their recommendations and start changing our codes."

Wappinger is nearly two years into the process of updating its 1986 master plan. A master plan defines a vision for future growth. Zoning codes back it up with law.

Clinton plans to use the analysis as a starting point for revising its 1991 master plan, Supervisor Ray Oberly said. Protecting water has been a big issue in Clinton and around the region, so many of the suggestions will be useful, he said.

"It gives another organization's perspective," Oberly said. "Whether we agree or disagree is another thing."

The analyses recommend dozens of strategies to reduce pavement and other impervious surfaces and protect native forests. Those practices would increase the natural filtration of water, and reduce the polluted runoff linked to a decline in stream health.

Some recommendations could be controversial. Mandating native forest protection of 100 feet around streams and small wetlands, for instance, would limit land open to development.

Other recommendations are simpler. Landscaping in parking lots can catch and filter runoff, but not if elevated and walled off by curbs, as many codes require.

With rare exceptions, the recommendations are consistent with the Greenway Connections planning guidelines most county towns have adopted, said John Clarke, development and design coordinator for the Dutchess County Department of Planning and Development.

The analyses showed how far communities are from enacting the Greenway strategy, but also the steps they're taking toward it.

"They're encouraged with grants and incentives," Clarke said, "to make them part of their zoning."


Center for Watershed Protection: www.cwp.org

Copyright 2005, Poughkeepsie Journal. Reprinted with Permission.
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