Urban and Community Forestry Grant #2015U08
awarded by the South Carolina Forestry Commission
The Town of Summerville is located in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina with jurisdictional boundaries lying in portions of three counties: Dorchester, Charleston, and Berkeley. Due to its 20-mile proximity to the City of Charleston and the establishment of major corporate enterprises such as Boeing and Volvo in neighboring jurisdictions, Summerville has seen a substantial influx in the amount of residential and commercial development occurring in the community during the past several years.
The American Community survey estimates Summerville’s current population at 46,074 residents, a 7.1% increase from the 2010 population of 43,002 residents recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau. These factors have heightened the Town’s awareness for the need to increase its protective measures for ensuring the sustainment of its natural resources.
The scope of the project is to establish a Green Infrastructure (GI) Plan that would allow the Town to identify its most valuable natural assets and help facilitate future development in a manner that will reduce its impact on those identified areas.
The GI Plan will also assist the Town with identifying the potential for restoration of ecosystem services, where possible, and support and inform existing and projected regulatory plans (i.e. Comprehensive Plan, Vision Plan).
The Town’s Comprehensive Plan sets several goals that address the need to recognize, preserve, and protect the Town’s natural and cultural resources and ecosystem services. These goals will be used as a platform to guide the development of the GI Plan.
The majority of Town lies in a suburban environment and lacks large tracts of undeveloped, forested land that can qualify as core habitat. Because of this, the completion of an urban tree canopy (UTC) assessment to further inform the GI model and produce prioritized maps is essential to this project. A UTC will also allow the Town to identify areas which are in need of reforestation and preservation of the existing canopy.
In 2014, the Town’s Planning Department completed a Vision Plan. One focus of the Vision Plan was on sustainable development and identifying areas of Town that are in need of parks and trails. The creation of a UTC and overall GI Plan will expand upon the information obtained during the Vision Plan process.
The Planning and Economic Development Department is also currently in the process of completely overhauling its Zoning and Development Ordinances into one Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). The UDO is expected to be completed in 2017.
During the UDO drafting and review process, the goals identified in the GI Plan and illustrated in prioritized maps can be utilized to develop regulations that will facilitate implementation.
The GI Plan will also provide the Town with valuable information and maps during the development of the 2019 Comprehensive Plan because the Plan model can be updated, as needed, with additional data. Town staff, Council, and Boards and Commissions are also expected to use the GI plan on a regular basis to guide decision making during future land development and restoration projects.
The Town has hired the Green Infrastructure Center (GIC) as a consultant on this project to assist with data acquisition and analysis.
The Town’s Planning Commission will serve as the Advisory Committee for the duration of the planned project.
The consultant will review the acquired data and finalize project methodology for creating the UTC assessment and GI model for the Summerville Planning Area identified in the Town’s current Comprehensive Plan.
The Advisory Committee will meet throughout the process to establish goals, review maps and the draft GI Plan, and finalize the GI Plan and accompanying maps. Advisory Committee meetings and two open house meetings will be planned to provide a forum for the public to speak and provide comments on the GI Plan. These comments will be received and incorporated into the final version of the GI Plan before it is approved.
The successful creation of a GI Plan will have a multi-faceted impact on the Summerville community. The Plan will support the new UDO in a regulatory aspect, will assist with the fulfillment of several Comprehensive Plan goals including completion of the Natural Resource strategies, and provide a forward looking platform for the Town’s next updated Comprehensive Plan.
As community growth continues, the incorporation and meshing of the GI Plan into the UDO, Vision Plan and Comprehensive Plan will allow the Town to continue its planning conservation efforts and standards through tree protection ordinances, land use regulations and preservation of natural resources.
The creation of a GI Plan will also provide new opportunities for the Planning Department to educate and inform the public and developers about the need to protect the Town’s natural resources.
The Plan can also be used to highlight ways in which small changes at the site or parcel scale (planting trees, installing rain gardens, etc.) can make a difference in the protection and restoration of existing natural assets and ecosystem services.
Through the comprehensive and community involvement process outlined above, the Town will have a completed UTC assessment of the Summerville Planning Area and a base green infrastructure map at the conclusion of the grant funded project. These elements will identify the Town’s highest value natural, cultural and historical assets.
Prioritized and theme maps will also be produced based on the goals identified in the Town’s current Comprehensive Plan and the GI Planning process. Accompanying these maps will be a GI Plan that details the need and importance for this type of planning; the overall planning process; and action and implementation steps for utilizing the GI Plan during future long-range planning initiatives, including creation of development regulations and day-to-day activities and decision making.