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You’re EPA – Stop This Development!

2009 October 23

I can’t count the number of times I have gotten a phone call or email from citizens concerned about a development planned for their town. It usually goes something like this.

“I live in ____ town. There’s this developer who wants to put a big box store / condos / hundreds of houses / gas station on land that’s now a woods / wetland. I’m concerned about runoff / traffic / noise / the loss of habitat for wildlife / how ugly it will be. Can you make them stop?”

The answer I usually give (unless it concerns building in a wetland) is, “No, sorry, but we can’t help you. Development is a local issue. Contact your local government.”

And, they usually respond, “I already have and they won’t do anything.”

I know how frustrating this can be since I’ve experienced it myself. In my town we now have a big box drugstore where a small nursery used to be. At one of the meetings discussing the proposed development I brought up the fact that since much of the land that was now pervious soil would become impervious, runoff would be a major concern. The answer I got from one of my elected officials was that since any runoff would go across the street into the next municipality, we didn’t have to worry about it!

And, just over the line from my town’s border is a wonderful chunk of land, an old estate with a mansion and deer, possum, red fox, and chipmunks. I had suggested many years ago that my municipality work with the other municipality and use available Open Space funding to protect the land. The answer I received was that we would never spend our money to protect land not in our jurisdiction. Subsequently, the elderly man who owned the property died, then his second wife died, and now her kids want to build hundreds of apartments there. The matter is now in court with my municipality trying to stop the owners.

So, I feel your pain. From my personal experiences and from hearing about yours I have learned a few things that may help others.

It is very important to act before anything is in the works. Be proactive.

Look at your local zoning laws/ordinances. What do they allow? Then do a “Build Out Analysis” – look at every parcel of land and figure out what it could become if it was developed under the full extent of the law. My guess is you’ll find quite a number of surprises, like restaurants in residential areas that could become nightclubs and homes that could become frat houses. Don’t believe it when someone tells you, “That will never happen” because if it can legally, it may.

Then envision the future with the various options for your “at risk” places. Standing there, looking at each property and then closing your eyes envisioning changes might help. Even better would be a graphics person who could mock up what your town could look like from the worst case to the best case.

Then survey your neighbors. What are their “sacred places”? Places that are important to them and help define your community. These might include an old movie theater, a train station circle, a woods and stream, church bells at noon, even the scent of donuts coming from a local bakery in the morning.

Find out about financial incentives, such as tax breaks, for conserving or not fully developing land. Are there grant programs that might have money? Could a “life estate” be set up so that the current property owner could stay on the property until his/her death, possibly avoiding paying real estate taxes and upkeep expenses during that time? Good places to look for information are your local land conservation organization and your county planning agency.

Once you have all your facts, and not before, approach those who own the properties. Then educate, educate, educate. Many people do not understand the environmental and economic implications of changing land use. And, you may not be the best person to do this education. Maybe a local non-profit or teacher might have more success.

Try to understand where the other person is coming from. What’s their motivation? What do they want for the future? Are they willing to work with you? You won’t get what you want all the time, but by being proactive you’ll have a better chance than if you wait.

About the Author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. She currently manages the web for the Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division. Before getting involved with the web, she worked as an environmental scientist. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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10 Responses leave one →
  1. Robin permalink
    October 23, 2009

    I’d like to mention that in some states, like Massachusetts, large development projects must undergo a public environmental review. This is a state process and getting public input is the whole point of the process. So find out if your state has such a process.

    But I agree, being proactive is the best strategy.

  2. Nijel Puliccal permalink
    October 24, 2009

    MIss Nancy , I really appreciate your idea of ” Be proactive” It is true until somebody takes initiative , earlier the better, nothing will work. The comment from the elected rep is also interesting. My experience tells me many of the office bearers related to Environment have yet to improve their undestanding about global warming.
    Miss Nancy , Iwould appreciate it if you could pls go through my suggestions regarding the subject. Let me have your comments too.
    One of the three most important challenges the world is facing today is the GLOBAL WARMING and the world also knows very well that the causes of global warming are the ever increasing concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere. However, in spite of a lot of discussions, seminars and summits, until now the world leaders could not yet reach an effective plan of action for the reduction of GHG emissions. And we still do not know what will be the outcome of the summit in December in Copenhagen. Even if they reach a consensus, the period of implementation is likely to be too prolonged, as the heads of states may not compromise economic development for reduction in the emission of GHGs.
    Therefore, under the circumstances, let the discussions, seminars and summits continue as planned .But simultaneously let us also TRY WAYS AND METHODS OTHER THAN THE REDUCTION OF GHG EMISSIONS to reduce the global warming.
    1. Offset the CO2 in the atmosphere. (By promoting wild growth of plants in all uninhabited areas.)
    2. Reduce or regulate the atmospheric temperature (BY creating a “GREENOSPHERE “ )
    In order to achieve the above two, you know very well, what we primarily need is the water. So unless the global water crisis is solved, the reduction of global warming will only remain a mirage.
    The responsibility to protect the environment should primarily rest with the land owners however small or big be the area of the land owned. Hence I request the EPAs of the world to force the respective governments to enact the required laws to legalize such responsibility of the land owners. New rules and regulations or amendments to the existing rules if any, to the following effect are suggested:-
    1. Except in cities and thickly populated areas , all lands shall have interconnected water wells of small radius at the rate of at least 5 Nos. each per acre.(SUBMERGED WATER WELLS SYSTEM- SWWS)
    2. All land owners shall be responsible to arrange (sand/soil) barriers of one to two feet high in their land in order to prevent the immediate run off of precipitation water and also to direct the precipitation water into the nearest well in the area.
    3. Each land lord shall be required to promote wild growth of shrubs and trees in such lands which are uninhabited or not used for agricultural farming.
    4. In other areas where ever possible the land lord shall create a “greenosphere.”
    5. Non compliance with the above rules and regulations shall be treated as a criminal offence and such land owners are liable to be prosecuted as their actions or inactions promote complete destruction of LIFE from the planet earth and the punishment shall include attachment of ownership to the government.

    The first two steps shall guarantee the availability of water in all places all the time wherever there are inter connected water wells.
    Steps 3 and 4 will ensure that except in agricultural areas, almost all the terrestrial area of the earth shall be covered by a green blanket either by forest or greenosphere and will protect the earth from the infra red radiation and therefore the direct heat of the sun thereby reducing to a great extend or regulating the atmospheric temperature.
    Step 5 will render it mandatory for the land owners to protect the environment over the land under his ownership.
    If the governments formulate laws so as to make it mandatory for the land owners to implement steps 1 to 5, then
    A. That will provide the world with a permanent solution for the water crisis.
    B. Reduce the atmospheric temperature to a great extend in hot regions.
    C. There will be a tremendous reduction in global warming.
    For details regarding SUBMERGED WATER WELLS SYSTEM , GREENOSPHERE ..pls visit

  3. Georgia permalink
    October 24, 2009

    I agree totally. I live in Macon county, Tenn. There are greedy people here. they don’t care about the enviroment,nature or trying
    to preserve this wonderful land or whats left of it. I am from Nashville,Tenn. I moved here thirty years ago. The beauty of this land is what lured me here. I do my best to conserve what I haveand to protect wildlife.

  4. Johnny R. permalink
    October 24, 2009

    It seems reasonable that the people suffering from an overcrowded society would realize that too much of any good thing turns it bad, and so promote peaceful family planning to reduce the population and hence lower the market demand for more houses, shopping malls etc. It SEEMS reasonable, but people are not willing to draw that conclusion and act on it, so the overcrowding gets worse every year, until…..?

  5. Camila permalink
    October 24, 2009

    hey, my name is Camila, and last month weird people builted a restaurant in front of my building, and i’m totally mad about it, its a residential area, so i checked the law, and there is nothing i can do about it now, two blocks from my house there are to gims, and i’m afraid my neightborhood is becoming a comercial zone

  6. Nijel Puliccal permalink
    October 25, 2009

    Miss Nancy ,
    The comments I posted on 23/10/09 is not seen here. i would like to know if there is any technical mistakes in it.
    Thank You
    Best regards.

  7. bonnie MacGregor permalink
    October 25, 2009

    I found the information very helpful. I live in a wetland area in Ellsworth Maine. The local government has broken every rule and regulation to help a business owner put a junk yard auto graveyard into this wet land. It is an abuse of their power as elected officials to help friends make money. We are fighting this but it takes a lot of money.

  8. armansyahardanis permalink
    October 25, 2009

    Our home is ex paddy field in the suburb of the city. By the owners, Its field was be sold to contractors, and that money they used to go to Mecca for pilgrim hajj. Now, their family are poor and have not home. Tragic ….

  9. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    October 25, 2009

    This is great advice. It is always better to think a head but many people don’t do that and real estate developers are only concerned with maximizing profits. That is how we came to have expensive homes built in wild wood areas and flood planes, and how we got expensive homes built on slipping mountains. Developers have plenty of money to spent to be able to build projects where they should not be built. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  10. Nancy Grundahl permalink
    November 2, 2009

    I think it just took some time to get your earlier comments posted. They don’t go up automatically, but need a human to do it. Look higher up on this page and you’ll see them. Thanks for your concern for the environment.

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