Smart Growth Communities


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FOR COASTAL AND WATERFRONTI
COMMUNITIES

SMART GROWTH

SMART GROWTH
FOR COASTAL
II
AND WATERFRONT
COMMUNITIES

SMART GROW TH FOR COASTAL AND WATERFRONT COMMUNITIES

SMART GROWTH FOR COASTAL
AND WATERFRONT COMMUNITIES

Acknowledgments
The authors of this report would like to thank the numerous people who provided invaluable input on the text and assistance with collecting photographs. Through the incorporation of the smart growth elements defined in “Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities,” we hope to positively impact the future of our coastal and waterfront communities.
http://coastalsmartgrowth.noaa.gov

Table of Contents
2 Introduction

6 Element 1 Mix land uses, including water-dependent uses

10

Element

2

Take advantage of compact community design that enhances, preserves, and provides access to waterfront resources

14

Element

3

Provide a range of housing opportunities and choices to meet the needs of both seasonal and permanent residents

18

Element

4

Create walkable communities with physical and visual access to and along the waterfront for public use

22

Element

5

Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place that capitalizes on the waterfront’s heritage

26

Element

6

Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and the critical

environmental areas that characterize and support coastal and waterfront communities

V

SMART GROWTH

30

Element

7

Strengthen and direct development toward existing communities and encourage waterfront revitalization

34

Element

8

Provide a variety of land- and water-based transportation options

38

Element

9

Make development decisions predictable, fair, and costeffective through consistent policies and coordinated permitting processes

42

Element

10

Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions, ensuring that public interests in and rights of access to the waterfront and coastal waters are upheld

46 Glossary

50 Endnotes

54 Photo Credits

INTRO
Smart Growth for Coastal and
Waterfront Communities

SMART GROW TH FOR COASTAL AND WATERFRONT COMMUNITIES

2

...many coastal and waterfront communities

have found that

conventional development

patterns threaten the

assets they treasure most.

The natural beauty of the water draws people and development to its shores.

Coastal and waterfront communities have a distinctive Smart growth is defined by 10 principles. These

sense of place created by their history, as well as by their principles provide a framework for making growth and

characteristic sights, sounds, and smells. On the coast,

development decisions that yield better economic,

the bellow of tugboats and the salty taste of ocean air; environmental, community, and public health results.

along lakes and rivers, the sound of the water and the

Developed in 1996 by the Smart Growth Network,

feel of brisk waterborne winds—all come together to

a coalition of national and regional organizations

shape our sense of these special places.

that believe where and how we grow matters, the

principles are based on the characteristics and

The water, beaches, cliffs, rocky shores, and other natural experiences of thriving, diverse, and successful

features attract people and spur development. But many communities. These principles help guide growth and

coastal and waterfront communities have found that

development in communities that have a clear vision

conventional development patterns threaten the assets for their future and understand the values they want

they treasure most. Smart growth approaches—guided to sustain.

3 by a set of principles that help communities grow
in ways that expand economic opportunity, protect public health and the environment, and enhance places

The coastal and waterfront elements presented in this document augment the existing smart growth principles

SMART GROWTH

that people care about—can help these communities

to reflect the specific challenges and opportunities

accommodate development while protecting their

characterizing the waterfront, be it on a coast, a river, or a

traditional sense of place. Some of these approaches

lake. These elements provide guidance for communities

also can help communities be more resilient to hazards to grow in ways that are compatible with their natural

created by weather and climate, such as drought, sea

assets, creating great places for residents, visitors, and

level rise, and coastal and inland flooding.

businesses (see table on page 4).

Living near the water has historically been, and is expected to remain, desirable. Lake and riverfront properties are typically in demand. Coastal counties, which cover less than 17 percent of the land area in the United States,1 are home to about 52 percent of the population and are expected to continue to grow.2 The ways in which cities, towns, and neighborhoods along the water handle the development pressures they face will affect their environment, economy, and quality of life for decades to come.
How can smart growth strategies help coastal and waterfront communities manage growth and development while balancing environmental, economic, and quality of life issues? How can communities on the water adapt smart growth strategies to fit their unique character? This publication will help communities answer these questions. It is specifically targeted to anyone who plans, designs, builds, approves, or has an interest in development at the water’s edge.

This guide begins with an overview of some of the challenges and opportunities that communities along the water face. Ten sections follow, one for each of the smart growth coastal and waterfront elements. Each section begins with a description of what smart growth looks like and how it may be applied differently along the water—and then offers examples, tools, and techniques for implementing smart growth approaches. The guide includes regulatory approaches as well as voluntary, incentive-based tools.
Although this document is organized by individual elements, the tools and techniques proposed in each element should be used together to support a comprehensive approach to achieve multiple community goals. The guide closes with a glossary of terms and notes. Additional tools and examples are provided at http://coastalsmartgrowth.noaa.gov.

Smart Growth Principles
1. Mix land uses

Smart Growth Coastal and Waterfront Elements
1. Mix land uses, including water-dependent uses

2. Take advantage of compact building design

2. Take advantage of compact community design that enhances, preserves, and provides access to waterfront resources

3. Create a range of housing opportunities and choices

3. Provide a range of housing opportunities and choices to meet the needs of both seasonal and permanent residents

4. Create walkable communities

4. Create walkable communities with physical and visual access to and along the waterfront for public use

5. Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place

5. Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place that capitalizes on the waterfront’s heritage

6. Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas

6. Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and the critical environmental areas that characterize and support coastal and waterfront communities

7. Strengthen and direct development toward existing communities

7. Strengthen and direct development toward existing communities and encourage waterfront revitalization

8. Provide a variety of transportation options

8. Provide a variety of land- and water-based transportation options

4

9. Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective

9. Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective through consistent policies and coordinated permitting processes

10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions

10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions, ensuring that public interests in and rights of access to the waterfront and coastal waters are upheld

SMART GROW TH FOR COASTAL AND WATERFRONT COMMUNITIES

Coastal and Waterfront Challenges and Opportunities

Bounded by water, coastal and waterfront communities are challenged to make the best use of limited land while protecting critical natural resources from the potentially damaging effects of growth. These communities must consider a common set of overarching issues when managing growth and development.

Resilience to Natural Hazards and Climate Change
Coastal and waterfront communities must be ready to respond to and rebound from hazards created by weather and climate. The uncertainty about exactly how the climate will change should not stop communities from acting to protect property and lives. Although much of the attention on climate change focuses on sea-level rise and coastal storm intensity, other potential effects may also affect inland river and lakefront communities, such as changing water levels and more extreme precipitation patterns that could lead to increased flooding and drought.3

Planning with smart growth principles can help communities make efficient investments in buildings and other infrastructure, protect and restore critical environmental areas, and protect public health. In applying these principles to any development project, communities need to explicitly consider natural hazards, including the potential impact of climate change. Resilience to natural hazards, such as storms and storm surges, sea-level rise, and shoreline erosion, is inextricably linked to the siting and design of development, as well as to the built and green infrastructure that supports it.4

INTRODUCTION

Coastal and waterfront communities face unique challenges, including how to protect development from shoreline erosion, how to successfully manage cumulative impacts from development, and how to best balance competing uses of the water and the waterfront.

Well-planned and well-maintained natural systems can help protect communities in many ways. For example, natural floodplains can act as protective buffers that absorb floodwater, reducing the speed and amount of flooding, controlling erosion, protecting drinking water supplies and water quality, and insulating buildings and roads from damage.

waterfront industries, recreation, and public access to the water. Non-water-dependent uses, such as residential waterfront development, can compete with water-dependent uses like commercial and recreational fishing and port commerce. Waterfront and coastal communities must find ways to balance these uses along the water’s edge.

Vulnerability to the Combined Effects

Public Trust Doctrine

of Development

Communities must consider the public’s right of

The natural environment that draws residents and visitors and defines the economy and character of these communities is vulnerable to both site-specific

5 access to the water when making development
decisions. The public trust doctrine establishes that all navigable and historically navigable waters, including

development impacts and the cumulative and secondary the lands beneath and resources within, are held in

SMART GROWTH

effects of development decisions. For example, the

trust by the state for the public’s benefit and use. The

erection of a new dock or pier may have a small natural doctrine protects a range of uses, including commerce,

resource impact on a large estuary, but if adjacent

navigation, and fishing. This doctrine is a key factor

channels are deepened to access the new pier, demand affecting coastal and waterfront development and

for more docks in nearby areas may increase and cause

must be considered in all land use decisions involving

more extensive natural resource impacts (a cumulative

the waterfront.

impact). Boat and shipping traffic may also rise over

time, causing congestion and additional pollution (a

State and Federal Framework

secondary effect). Residential development and road

This guide focuses on local solutions, but those solutions

building in upland portions of coastal watersheds can also must be crafted in accordance with the state and federal

cause cumulative and secondary coastal impacts, such

regulations governing development along the water.

as reduced freshwater inflow to coastal areas, degraded Regulatory issues along the water are complex, with

estuarine water quality, and increased air pollution from laws and regulations beyond the environmental, land

increased traffic. The impacts of any single development use, and transportation rules for inland development.

project may be minor, but when combined with all other The Coastal Zone Management Act, the Clean Water

development impacts to a watershed over time, they

Act, the Rivers and Harbors Act, and other laws give

can threaten fragile coastal and waterfront resources

broad planning and regulatory authority to federal and

and the quality of life. Policies governing growth and

state agencies. In addition, a variety of federal agencies

development along the water must be sensitive to these have regulatory authority over floodplain management,

unique vulnerabilities and protect the community’s

wetland protection, and disaster recovery. Given this

valuable natural assets.

complicated web of regulations, coastal and waterfront

communities must coordinate with many agencies and

Competing Uses

make development decisions in a process that is clear

A growing population creates a greater demand for

and predictable.

land for housing, placing pressure on coastal and

SMART GROW TH FOR COASTAL AND WATERFRONT COMMUNITIES

ELEMENT
Mix land uses, including waterdependent uses
In coastal and waterfront communities, thoughtfully
6 integrating a mix of land uses with the waterfront can deliver many benefits including generating vibrancy from active, pedestrian-friendly streets, sidewalks, and public spaces.

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Smart Growth Communities