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Greenprint for Pittsford's Future

Published: 4/26/2004 by Town Supervisor Bill Carpenter

Recently there has been some discussion of the "Greenprint for Pittsford's Future" and I thought I would take this opportunity to look back on its history and provide an update on the status of the plan. To this day, the Greenprint remains an important planning tool for Pittsford and continues to serve as a model for communities across the United States.

Upon taking office as Supervisor in 1994, I began a process to update the Town's Comprehensive Plan. We knew we were at an important crossroads in our town history and would have one last chance to save some of the important open space resources remaining. At that time, there were approximately 3,600 acres of undeveloped land, some of which were remaining farmlands.

In 1995 we adopted the amended Comprehensive Plan. One of the significant recommendations called for the protection of 2,000 acres of resource protection. Based on the 50/50 zoning that was in place at that time, we knew we would realize around 1,800 acres of open space and developed a goal that was a little bit more aggressive.

Our first step was to develop an implementation plan for the resource protection goal. To do this we appointed a seventeen-member committee that represented all interests involved including landowners, residents, farmers, environmentalists, and developers.

The Resource Protection Committee recommended that the important open space resources fell into three categories including agricultural, ecological and recreation/greenway/historic/cultural resources. Since we could find no rating systems developed for use on the local level, this committee then created a rating system for each of the three open space categories.

The next step was to inventory all remaining undeveloped parcels that were ten acres or more in size in order to complete the rating systems that had been developed. This was accomplished using planners, forest biologists and landscape architects. Once the ratings were completed, we reviewed the information with property owners to assure that the information was fair and accurate. At the end of this process, all parcels had a high, medium or low rating for the agricultural, ecological or recreation/greenway/ historic/cultural resources present.

To organize and better understand this information, we decided that we would map all of the highest rated resources. At the time we were concerned that we would have more than the 2,000 acre goal that had been established. Instead, we were pleased to discover that there were around 1,800 acres of the highest rated resources. We were pleased since we did not have to tinker with the resources to keep them in line with the goal and we also knew that we could obtain the balance of open space resources through the 50/50 zoning.

In looking at the plan, we decided that this was not a blueprint, instead it was a greenprint for our future and thus we coined the name. At the time we had talked about copywriting this name but decided against it. Today if you search the Internet on the word greenprint you will find over 2,000 communities using that term from the state level down to local communities.

The aspect of the Greenprint that makes me most proud is that the implementation is based on policy and based on the win-win relationships that were forged throughout the entire planning process. No change of zoning took place. No new laws were adopted.

Agricultural resources made up 1,200 acres of the Greenprint. The only viable tool to protect the seven farms was to purchase the development rights to those properties to remove the pressures of overgrowth. To accomplish this, a bonding resolution was adopted authorizing the town to borrow up to 9.9 million dollars to purchase the development rights to the farm properties.

About this same time, Governor Pataki began a program to save farmland in New York State. Due to the quality of the Greenprint, the town was able to secure over $2 ½ million in grants, thereby reducing the amount of borrowing to $7.2 million resulting in real savings to Pittsford taxpayers. In 2003, the town completed the acquisition of the last of the properties it was authorized to do so under the bond authorization.

Ecological and recreation/greenway/historic/cultural resources made up the remaining 600 acres of the Greenprint. The primary technique to save these resources was the 50/50 zoning which required that 50% of developments be left as open space. If more than fifty percent of the parcel was slated to be protected, the burden was on the town to purchase the property or the development rights to the property; otherwise the underlying 50/50 zoning would still prevail.

The Adridge property, which is now the subject of a development application, is a parcel that was slated to be 100% protected. The town tried twice to secure a grant to protect this parcel and was turned down twice. The primary basis for denial by New York State was that the parcel was 60% woods and wetlands and thus did not have enough active agriculture for the State to commit funds to.

In January, 2003, the Town Board formally declined to purchase the development rights to the Aldridge property at a cost over $400,000. The basis for this decision was twofold. This parcel is ranked 13th overall, based primarily on the ecological resources present. The Town Board felt that these resources could be protected in most part using the 50/50 zoning. The Town Board also believed that it had made a large capital commitment to protect open space and further believed that $400,000 would be better utilized to purchase lands that could be used as active parks and/or athletic fields.

In the long run the Greenprint will result in the preservation of almost 2,400 acres of land, which is nearly 67% of that which remained when we completed the Comprehensive Plan update. It has also resulted in the disappearance of the remaining developable lands faster than we had imagined but I guess in hind sight that was probably inevitable.

As a community we should be proud of what we have accomplished through the Greenprint. There are resources that have been protected and will be available for generations to come.