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Initiative blending economic development with preservation.

Pearl River County plans to be ‘twice green’

Pearl River County has launched a “Growing Greener Initiative” with one of the nation’s most famous experts in conservation planning, Randall Arendt.

“His approach to development has been described as ‘twice green’ because it succeeds both environmentally and economically,” said David Spector, environmental program manager for Pearl River County. “Mr. Arendt has prepared a constructive critique of Pearl River County’s existing and drafted subdivision regulations and made suggestions for developing a comprehensive county-wide development plan. This review focused on increasing the quality, quantity, and configuration of open space within new residential developments, and provided guidance towards a long-range goal of protecting interconnected networks of conservation lands throughout the county. These enhanced regulations will be made available to other interested communities as a guide for incorporating conservation practices into their ordinances.”

The Pearl River County initiative is a partnership with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources’ (DMR) Coastal Resource Management Plan (CRMP). The idea is to produce a model for combining conservation practices and development in South Mississippi.

Not an either-or situation

It doesn’t have to be either economic growth or environmental preservation. Spector says growing smart can be an economic development tool in itself

“Thus, we view economic and environmental goals as one in the same in Pearl River County,” Spector said.

As an example of conservation subdivision design, Arendt has worked with E.C. “Sonny” Stuart on a master plan for his 1,200-acre Wildwood Subdivision development in the Carriere community of Pearl River County. The approach incorporates an interconnected system of green/public space that includes trails and parks, and preserves sensitive environmental resources while maintaining overall density.

“We hope to raise the development standard in the region by pushing with better regulations and pulling by Mr. Stuart’s example,” Spector said. “The final phase of the project will be production of a multi-page color brochure summarizing the principles of green development and the inherent economic, social and environmental benefits. The brochure will be written for developers and will be placed in the inside jacket of all copies of the Pearl River County’s subdivision regulations, as well as made available to the general public. The CRMP will promote and distribute this brochure in other communities throughout Mississippi.”

Stuart said his development will be good for the county and state.

“We are certainly proud to be a part of it,” Stuart said. “We’re breaking new ground. Homeowners will have the best of both worlds. At one end you have a feeling of country living, and accessibility to 330 acres of walking trails. But you also have the urban amenities that go with it such as paved streets, central water and central sewer and underground electric. This development will have the first central sewage system outside the municipalities of the county, Picayune and Poplarville. It will enable people to enjoy their property, and ensure the long-term protection of their investment.”

The average lot size for the new Wildwood conservation design is smaller than the average lot of the original design for Wildwood, but Stuart said they anticipate being able to sell these lots faster and for a reasonable price.

“Most of the lots will be adjacent to a portion of the wooded green space and/or a park, and all residents will have access to all common areas,” Stuart said. “If a home buyer has the option to purchase a 3/4-acre lot, for example, in a conventional subdivision or a half-acre lot with access to 330 acres, for roughly the same price, we anticipate and hope that the decision is easy.”

Environmental resources
key part of sense of place

Stuart said economic advantages of the conservation subdivision include the tax benefits of deeding the common area to a land trust or granting a conservation easement, the benefit of available wetlands for mitigation associated with unavoidable wetland impacts (for example, necessary road crossings), the probability of reduced infrastructure costs as a result of lot clustering and possibly increased absorption rates.

Spector said as Pearl River County and South Mississippi continue to grow, it is important to preserve the community’s sense of place, which includes environmental resources. As the county progresses down the “green brick road,” the intention is to define Pearl River County as the Gulf South’s example of a community effectively marrying economic development with preservation of natural and cultural heritage.

Tina Shumate, bureau director of the CRMP, said one thing notable about Pearl River County’s initiative is that it isn’t being driven by federal or state regulations, but is voluntary.

“People have been talking about green space in South Mississippi for many years,” Shumate said. “But in Pearl River County, they are not just doing the talk. They are walking the walk. They are going with someone nationally known, Randall Arendt, who knows about the greener space perspective. People want to live that way, and contractors will make more money that way. It brings in more money. That has been documented.”

Finding support

Shumate and Spector both gave a lot of credit for the vision to the county supervisors and to Harold Holmes, county director of planning and development.

“We’re very lucky our board of supervisors has been supportive of the Growing Greener Initiative,” Spector said. “They recognize that protection of our county’s natural and cultural resources preserves our community’s sense of place. Robert Thigpen, the board president, has been proactive about the need for more public spaces in the county. Mr. Thigpen, as do most of the other board members, sees the county changing rapidly. They want to make sure that as we grow, farms are protected, kids have places to play, adults have places to walk, families have places to fish, etc.”

Holmes said following the conservation approach actually helps developers eliminate or reduce problems with environmental permitting.

“Really, it makes the process simpler rather than more complicated because you are avoiding the problem areas such as the 100-year flood plain or wetlands,” Holmes said. “By keeping these environmentally sensitive lands as a green area, you reduce your problems both from requirements for flood plain management and mitigation for filling wetlands through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”

Holmes believes that the Wildwood Subdivision will be successful because experiences with similar developments elsewhere in the country have shown higher sales rates and better re-sale values.

“Therefore, other developers are going to want to pick up on the same theme because they are interested in making money also, and are going to want to offer the same product as the Stuart company,” Holmes said.

Word spreading

Although the Growing Greener Initiative is just getting started, Holmes said his office has already received calls from other counties and states wanting information on the program so that they could bring the same initiative to their elected officials.

The Growing Greener Initiative uses a carrot, rather than the stick, approach to achieving objectives. Arendt said it should be emphasized early on that there is an absolute commitment under the Growing Greener approach to allow all landowners to develop their properties to whatever legal density is permitted, and that none of the conservation areas would necessarily become either public or publicly accessible, so this approach avoids the so-called “takings” issue. In fact, this approach has sometimes been described as “the ultimate in private property rights” because it allows landowners to realize the full economic value of their potential density, while still retaining ownership of the majority of their land for future resource use after development, if they so desire.

The engineer for the Wildwood Subdivision is John Bond from O’Neal-Bond Engineering in Wiggins. The Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain will own the 330 acres of conservation lands within the Wildwood Subdivision. For more information on the land trust, contact Judy Steckler at (228) 435-9191. For more information or a tour of the site, call Paul Reese of Magnolia Properties at (601) 798-3493 or (601) 799-191. Reese is the Stuart Company’s marketing director/Realtor for the project that is being financed by Bank Plus.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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