An Eastern Shore conservancy is taking the lead in trying to get area counties to work together on land use planning — including the adoption of an ambitious goal to protect half of their rural land from development by 2010.
If successful, the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy’s proposal would create one of the largest multicounty planning agreements in the region.
The group hopes to convince the six counties to sign a vision document, “Eastern Shore 2010: A Regional Vision,” later this summer.
The document lays a broad framework for the counties to work together on six key areas: preserving land; encouraging resource-based economic development; curbing sprawl; improving new building designs; ensuring diverse and affordable housing; and improving regional transportation choices.
“Eastern Shore 2010 is formed on the tenet that, because the Eastern Shore is uniquely dependent on its rural landscape, we must set the highest expectations in caring for that landscape,” said Rob Etgen, ESLC executive director.
“The signature of a county to the agreement is recognition that the county’s leadership is looking beyond the traditional means of managing growth in this region, reaching higher and stretching farther to protect and enhance the Eastern Shore. It is also recognition that we are stronger together than apart.”
To implement the agreement, the conservancy foresees the establishment of regional task forces, each consisting of national and local experts, to draft implementation strategies for each goal. The conservancy hopes the agreement, along with the strategies, would help attract funding needed to protect the Eastern Shore.
The conservancy’s call for a regional planning vision follows the release of a poll conducted for the group which showed that 85 percent of Eastern Shore residents rate their quality of life high, but 9 out of 10 express concern about sprawl, which was identified as the top issue facing the region.
Three quarters of the 1,500 people polled also expressed concern that land use decisions in neighboring counties could threaten their quality of life, and 92 percent said that county leaders should work together on the sprawl issue.
One specific goal the conservancy is promoting is the protection of half of all the remaining rural land in the counties.
So far, the state, counties and conservation groups have protected nearly 247,000 acres on the Eastern Shore, or nearly 20 percent of the land outside designated growth areas, according to Amy Owsley, the conservancy’s director of community planning.
The conservancy has pledged to preserve another 5,000 acres a year through 2010, an objective that would boost the preservation level to 23 percent.
Owsley said the proposed planning effort should mesh with two other recently announced Eastern Shore initiatives.
At the request of Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, a Delmarva Conservation Corridor was created in the Farm Bill that would steer federal conservation funds to protect a contiguous, but yet-to-be-determined, strip of agricultural lands and wildlife habitat from Delaware into Virginia.
In addition, The Nature Conservancy recently developed its own Eastern Shore ecoregion plan aimed at providing protection for critical natural components of the landscape.
Owsley said Eastern Shore 2010 could help combine all those components into a common vision. “We want to all be shooting for the same target,” she said.