Open Space Planning
1. Why Plan for Open Space | 2. Importance of Being Pro-Active | 3. What is an Open Space Plan | 4. Open Space Planning Process | 5. Components of an Open Space Plan | 6. Using BwH in Open Space Plan Inventories | 7. Designating Local Focus Areas | 8. Commonly Raised Public Concerns | 9. Example Plans
What is an Open Space Plan?
An open space plan is a critical element of a town's "conservation blueprint". It not only identifies priorities for what to protect and where, but in turn guides where growth is most appropriate as well.
Successful community planning for long-term benefit must consider both the best places to develop and the most important places to conserve simultaneously. Many communities work hard to ensure that commercial development is encouraged near existing infrastructure and within designated growth areas, yet they lack clear guidelines for where open space should be planned or what qualities the open space should have and they lack a comprehensive vision for future open space functions that is responsive to the needs of town residents.
Open space planning not only directs where conservation and recreation lands are protected, but also allows communities to better direct future development patterns by clearly prioritizing areas to be left undeveloped. These proactive public determinations in turn provide guidance and predictability for the development community. All too often local land use decisions in Maine communities are made by developers left with having to work with relatively loose ordinance language that offers little guidance. When municipalities lack definitive plans that use incentives to direct development to where it is most appropriate and tools to discourage growth where it costs town residents in terms of increased government services and less quantifiable public values such as rural character and wildlife habitat, they are leaving their future to chance. Without clear guidance these towns are also setting themselves up for unnecessary conflict as concerned citizen groups question local board decisions.
The open space planning process is often one of the first endeavors undertaken following the completion of a town's comprehensive planning process. Open space plans are typically initiated based on a well-defined community need that is identified during the comprehensive planning process or by a local conservation commission in response to a Board of Selectmen's or Town Council request. Most plans incorporate an inventory of all town-owned open spaces and known protected lands in private ownership. Recreational facilities ranging from public hiking and snowmobile trails, to ball fields and boat ramps are also included in many of these efforts. The purpose of the inventory work is to identify community needs for acquisition of new facilities and to assess management priorities at existing facilities. By incorporating wildlife habitat concerns and landscape level planning, towns can better arrive at an open space plan that addresses a variety of objectives including wildlife conservation, recreational trail development, protection of rural character, and traditional access for hunting and fishing.