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Ecologist reports on county's first 'conservation design' development

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Last week St. Croix County supervisors saw the fruits of their decisions as an ecologist gave a presentation on a conservation design plan for a town of Hammond housing development.

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Several county departments and agencies worked for the better part of three years on an ordinance package, major components of which were changes to set conservation design land division standards, said Planning and Zoning Director David Fodroczi.

Soon after the amended ordinance was adopted, developers of the Rolling Hills Subdivision began the process of seeking county approval for their plan.

"We liked what we saw," said Fodroczi, explaining that the Planning and Zoning Committee wanted other supervisors to see the Rolling Hills presentation.

The subdivision will create 77 half-acre house lots on a 140-acre site, said Kim Chapman, the doctorate-level ecologist who worked on the design.

Chapman said his company, Applied Ecological Services Inc., has designed a number of this type of division around the country in the last 15 years.

Conservation design to mesh "human use of the land" with conservation, said Chapman.

Under the plan, 65 percent of the acreage -- located on County Road J and 160th Street -- will be left as open space, smaller lot sizes will be used, and there will be ecological management of storm water runoff, he said.

Chapman said the conservation design process is "to let the land tell you where the roads and the lots are to go."

He said the process begins with looking at the soils to see which areas can infiltrate storm water runoff. Once drainage ways are identified, soil borings are done to fine-tune drainage.

If the development maintains existing drainage ways, the site will look more natural, said Chapman.

He said designers also look at the slopes and natural features of the site to find a balance between houses and wildlife habitat.

Chapman said the Rolling Hills site is 140 acres of cropland with remnants of natural habitat, including some old oak trees and some planted pines.

He said the buffer requirements of the ordinance were important and the design includes setbacks from farmland and wetlands.

The ordinance calls for three types of areas: a buildable zone, primary conservation areas and secondary conservation areas.

Chapman said the development design will keep existing drainage ways intact and, through engineering, direct water runoff to pond areas that are already there.

He said all areas between the lots will be in permanent vegetation, there will be no cul-de-sacs, a park area will be in the center, and a trail system will lead people to the open spaces.

Some of the land is still in agriculture, and a conservation easement will be put on that to keep it permanently in grass, said Chapman.

Sewer and wells will be on site, but individual septic systems will be under the common areas rather than on the lots.

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