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Comprehensive Planning and Climate - Communities Can Work for Sustainability

By: John Bradley

Claverack has started to update its comprehensive plan which was adopted in 2008. The core planning committee, led by Stephen Hook and Stephen King, are in the process of identifying the issues most in need of updating.  

A town’s comprehensive plan plays an important role as a guide for the Planning Board, Zoning Board and to the Town Board when thinking about what projects to focus on and how they fulfill the Plan or not. All proposals to the Planning Board must conform to the plan. One of the reasons the plan is being ‘updated’ is that there are numerous areas that the plan does not adequately address. Issues that have changed over the past couple decades. In some cases, the town board has had to pass moratoriums on proposals while it rewrites parts of the plan.  Several examples are, the proliferation of solar farms, new business models for campgrounds and lodging, the growth of the short-term rentals market, and the demand for battery parks to accommodate the increased demand for energy storage for renewable energy production.

Since the pandemic, many aspects of the housing market have changed. Affordability is a crisis throughout the county, aggravated by the growth of the short-term rental market, building material cost increases and zoning restrictions. A town’s comprehensive plan can foster protection of open space, it can influence the way development and land use is allowed to proceed. It is essentially a statement of the values of a town. 

Climate change has also complicated some issues for the comprehensive plan update. The threats of severe weather add importance to protecting and restoring our lands’ ecosystems. The urgency to mitigate the causes of climate change means attention to the built environment to foster energy efficiency, the use of sustainable materials and greenhouse gas reduction.  

Climate change already affects Claverack and the entire region. We expect increased storms and dangerous weather in all seasons, both heavier rains with flooding and longer dry spells with more frequent droughts, and oppressive heat waves. These features bring increased risk to human wellbeing, economic costs to our community’s infrastructure and support networks (transportation, communications, energy, social and health service networks). Disruption to the complex ecology threatens our region’s economy and rich environment. The comprehensive plan will help us envision how to adapt and shape a sustainable future for our town.

In response to these threats, the Town of Claverack in 2020 joined the NYS Climate Smart Communities program which assists towns to take action to mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gasses, conserving energy and transitioning to renewable energy.  The Town formed the Climate Smart Committee (CSC) of volunteers to advise the town in accordance with the NYS climate policy framework which includes a range of climate actions some of which provide grant funding.

Based on the work of Climate Smart volunteers, the town has adopted a Climate Action Plan (CAP) and Greenhouse Gas Inventory for government operations. The energy cost for the town government operations’ is $130,000 and emits 273 metric tons of GHG emissions. The Inventory and CAP articulate a practical path to meet the NYS climate goal of 50% reduction by 2030.  These actions should inform the comprehensive plan to guide the town to reduce its GHG emissions, transition to renewable energy, and reduce total energy use and costs.  The Climate Smart Committee also secured funding for an energy audit of the town garage, which will provide the town with options of how to reduce the garage's use of energy and taxpayer dollars.

The town also participates in the Columbia County Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plan, prepared with the technical assistance of the Cornell Cooperative Extension. The increased threats of severe weather and the urgency to decarbonize our energy use raises complex issues about land use and a rural economy.  Protecting nature is no longer just about preserving an amenity, but also preserving and restoring the ecosystems on which we depend. It is important to understand that our land use and especially biodiversity affects the climate in distant communities; just as theirs affect our weather.  

The Comprehensive Planning committee is currently still identifying and prioritizing the issues to be addressed. They plan to conduct a community survey and form work groups to ensure broad input. The town has contracted the same consultant who worked on the 2008 plan and has worked with numerous communities in the Hudson Valley. 

With the community’s concern for the impacts of new weather patterns, town comprehensive planning is increasingly expected to address these issues and how we adapt and build resilience.  The Climate Smart Committee of volunteers is charged with an advisory role and is committed to advocating for climate smart actions and educating on the ‘inconvenient’ realities of climate change.   In this newsletter we will be reporting on this comprehensive planning initiative and encouraging community engagement as we do on many climate issues and projects.

Please encourage your friends to sign up for this newsletter and to become involved in the Comprehensive Planning process.

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