By Greg Bowen, Executive Director & Alyssa Matanin, CCC Intern
A new Prince Frederick Master Plan is underway, as is a comprehensive rezoning along with a new zoning ordinance for lands outside town centers in Calvert County. What should Calvert County’s land use strategy be?
It is complicated. A plan that is sustainable, a plan that addresses climate, must factor in environmental, social, and economic conditions. A good land use planning process begins with a thorough assessment of land use and environmental conditions.
Calvert is a peninsula county with all but approximately 15 miles of its borders adjacent to water. A comprehensive assessment of resilient lands by The Nature Conservancy has revealed that Calvert County has more resilient lands than any other county in Maryland or even our Mid-Atlantic region. Over 70% of the total landmass exhibits certain characteristics that are necessary for the survival of a wide diversity of species.
The reasons for this high percentage of resilient lands include land elevation (well above the flood plain), soils, hydrology, and slopes that produce thousands of microclimates for a wide variety of species. Our local area has this high resiliency thanks to the abundance of microclimates that exist. In our small area that comprises Parkers Creek, we are home to many microclimates including deciduous forests, meadows, marshes, wetlands, and tidal areas, all with several microclimates of their own. It does not take much change for microclimates to show variation and can be as simple as the difference between vegetative growth on the north side versus the south side of an elevated surface.
While many may not realize the importance of these microclimates, the resiliency they create in the face of climate change is a huge benefit to the health of our local biodiversity. Having many microclimates means that our local area is more prepared for change and is more able to support adaptations and adjustments, including species migration and differing weather patterns.
Another reason for Calvert’s high resiliency is the successful implementation of its land preservation program – the first in the state. Had all of the preserved properties been subdivided into developments, most of the land’s resilience, and its ecosystem services, would have been lost. We would have also lost fisheries, farms, bird-watching areas, and hunting areas by now.
Use the Nature Conservancy’s Resilient Land Mapping Tool to compare and contrast Calvert to the region as a whole. If you zoom into the Prince Frederick area, you see that it is surrounded by resilient lands. Those steep slopes with ridges, troughs, bogs, swamps, etc. provide a wide variety of climate conditions that species need. Further west, along the Patuxent River, you also see prime farmland soils that support the production of food.
The 2019 Calvert County Comprehensive Plan adopts the following approach to sustainability:
We agree. The new Plan should identify resilient lands (slightly-, more-, and most-resilient) and require that they be protected. This approach is best for several reasons. First, these lands don’t cost money, they save money, and they make money. Conservation lands impose the least cost to the county’s operating budget because they don’t require any services. Conservation lands save the county money by providing the following types of ecosystem services: stormwater attenuation, nutrient management and aquifer recharge. They make money by providing habitat for critters that hunters, fishermen, and nature lovers seek out. These ecosystem uses generate millions of dollars each year.
Conservation areas don’t cost money, they save money, and they make money!
This doesn’t mean that there should be no development. It means that we should promote redevelopment and development of areas where lands have already lost their resilience like Waldorf, shown below. The areas shown in brown are “Least resilient”.
What we have is both a blessing and a responsibility. We have a choice. We can save it or lose it forever. During the preparation of the new Prince Frederick Plan and comprehensive rezoning let’s do it right. Let’s protect our resilient lands and our productive agricultural lands, and by doing so we will be Implementing the 2019 Comprehensive Plan.