Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Leland and NC Wildlife Commission unveil eco-blueprint for future growth

An environmental framework guide was approved by the Leland town council at their last meeting. (Port City Daily File)

LELAND — A partnership between the Town of Leland and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission aims to strengthen the town’s environmental conservation framework.

READ MORE: Leland receives $1M in grant money for flood mitigation on critical route 

The Green Network Master Plan Framework Guide details a strategy for conserving Leland’s terrestrial and aquatic natural habitats and connecting them through functional corridors. It has been in the works since 2022 and is included in the Leland 2045 Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2021 as part of the town’s objectives to protect natural and cultural resources and to create connected neighborhoods. 

Receiving unanimous approval from the council at its June 20 meeting, the guide will influence development processes, adopted to support local government planning projects. This includes incorporating wildlife and natural resource conservation into land use and development planning, initiatives, and ordinances.

During the meeting, one council member raised questions about its implementation.

“I see a lot of this bleeding over into parks, trails, and development, and so I guess [my question] is more of the implementation: When do we — how do we — bring these elements into those plans?” council member Veronica Carter asked at the meeting.

Community development Planner Julian Griffee told Port City Daily Friday, as of right now, the plan is not a requirement. 

“It doesn’t per se, have teeth, it’s not something we can enforce,” he said. “However, similar to Leland 2045, it provides insight on regulations or policies we might want to adopt or incorporate into our code of ordinances, that we can actually enforce.”

The guide directs the creation of greenways, blueways, and trails to establish a Green Network. This will connect new and existing neighborhoods throughout the town, integrating them with surrounding natural environments and recreational resources. 

Additionally, the guide offers recommendations from the NCWRC on managing growth and implementing best practices to preserve environmental integrity. 

The NCWRC recommends strategies to protect natural habitats in Leland’s planning areas that could potentially be harmed by development. The recommendations include standards for environmentally friendly development and design; rules for protecting habitats and wildlife; plans to improve transportation systems; and strategies for creating and maintaining parks and open space. 

Included in their recommendations, particularly concerning the development process, are:

  • Requiring developers to designate natural areas for permanent conservation.
  • Requiring developers to create management plans for these conserved natural areas.
  • Ensuring developments incorporate Best Management Practices (BMPs) to mitigate stormwater runoff and preserve water quality. This includes strategies like limiting grading and land alteration, maintaining natural contour and drainage patterns where possible, and encouraging the use of Low Impact Development (LID) techniques such as permeable paving and green roofs.
  • Implementing setbacks to act as buffers, reducing the impact of developments on nearby environmentally sensitive natural areas.
  • Exclude invasive and exotic species from the list of approved landscaping options.

“Certainly, NCWRC has provided their recommendations, but they can be curtailed and massaged into what we prefer, or how we see fit, within our code of ordinances,”  Griffee said during his presentation to council on Thursday. 

Currently the planning department requires developmental plans to align with the goals stated in the Leland 2045 Comprehensive Plan. 

The Leland 2045 comprehensive plan outlines goals and policies for Leland’s anticipated land and population growth. It emphasizes protecting natural resources, creating diverse neighborhoods that accommodate growth, and creating infrastructure that supports connected community life. 

Grifee mentioned the guide will help create a blueway — a waterway route intended for recreational use, particularly by non-motorized watercraft such as canoes and kayaks, and often serves to protect the environment.

“If you know there is another kayak launch or boat ramp in X amount of miles, then you could just plop it from one end and take it out on the other,” he said. 

Right now, there are designated canoe or kayak launches at Cypress Cove Park and Brunswick Nature Park. 

Maps included in the report show the addition of two water access points, one in Leland’s planning boundaries and the other near Old Fayetteville Road. 

The NCWRC also provided maps depicting the Leland planning area, highlighting endangered and threatened species, as well as parcels under conservation easements from local, state, federal, and private owners. 

The map relies on guidance from the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program to identify areas of significant environmental value. According to the NCHP, seven areas in Leland are classified as very high or exceptionally high in terms of natural importance. Specifically, the Brunswick River and Cape Fear River marshes, Town Creek marshes and swamp, and Town Creek Aquatic Habitat are considered exceptionally high. 

Goose Pond Limesinks, Rabontown Limesinks, Pleasant Oaks and Goose Landing Plantations, and the Lower Cape Fear River Aquatic Habitat are classified as very high.

The presence of endangered species, rare terrestrial or aquatic communities, unique ecological types, and significant biological or ecological phenomena were considered. The assessment also takes into account the natural diversity of the surrounding area. 

Council did not give any direction on how it would move forward with the plan and whether they would propose any ordinance changes as a result.

“The next step would be to take a look at: ‘How do we incorporate some of these themes into our regulations to accommodate the growth that balances environmental preservation with the development of the need to accommodate the growing population?” Planning Director Benjamin Andrea said. 

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