Prioritizing Natural Resources in Community Land Use Planning Processes: City of Scandia
By Jean Coleman and Mark Ellis, CR Planning
Most communities consider natural resource protection an important part of their land use planning decisions, as shown in their visions and comprehensive planning goals. Protecting natural resources does not preclude development or other land use activities. Understanding the location and importance of natural features, resources, or systems can help a community shape the way that development occurs while minimizing risks to natural resources.
GIS information on natural resources is abundant and readily available through individual data layers or integrated natural resource inventories such as the Minnesota Land Cover Classification System (MLCCS). But how can a community use this information to prioritize natural resources in the land use planning process?
Several communities across the state have used a GIS-based mapping analysis process to help them prioritize. The City of Scandia created a Natural Resources Priority Overlay map for their recent comprehensive plan update. As shown on the composite map, natural features are present in most of the city. Some areas, however, have multiple natural features or particularly high quality features and show a higher priority level. The overlay shows a gradient of priorities for natural features ranging from a score of 4 to a score of 41. The method for computing the score is described below.
Step 1 A steering committee identified eight categories of natural features that they felt should shape the way that land is used or developed:
Rivers and streams
Significant natural areas/habitat
Existing and potential corridors
Step 2 Key measurable characteristics for each natural feature were identified based on input from public meetings, focus groups, and Comprehensive Plan Committee discussions. Example: Four characteristics of lakes were identified: water quality, potential benefit of restoration, shoreland area, and slopes and bluffs near lakes.
Step 3 A point system was used to identify high priority areas. Points were assigned to each measurable feature. Example: Lakes with higher water quality received more points than those with average or low water quality.
Step 4 A map was created for each natural feature showing high priority areas (more points) and lower priority areas (fewer points) – see Figure 1.
Step 5 All the maps were layered on top of one another. A composite point score was calculated for each location by adding up the scores for each natural resource present – see Figure 2. In this way, the steering committee determined which places have the highest priority for natural resource protection overall. Example: A location that is near a high quality lake, in a wetland and that offers high quality wildlife habitat combines all the points from each natural feature and is rated higher than an area that is near a lake but is not a wetland or a habitat area.
The City of Scandia can now use this natural resource priority information to help make important land use decisions such as:
Defining where to encourage resource protection
Defining where to encourage development
Defining where natural systems can work with development (e.g. stormwater management)
Defining how natural resources can be protected within development areas
A detailed description of the process, list of data sources, assumptions, and maps of all resource layers for the Scandia process is found in Appendix A of the adopted comprehensive plan at http://www.ci.scandia.mn.us.
For a detailed description of how to combine GIS and community values to define protection and development areas, see Environmentally Based Regional Smart Growth Planning and Design at CR Planning’s website.