This is the response we sent to the planning commission when they were accepting public comment for the draft plan.
As reflected in the plan, Madison County’s ground and surface water shows excessive nutrient load that threaten aquatic life as well as polluting our county’s water supply. It addresses this problem by recommending an expansion of municipal sewer facilities to eliminate dependence upon on-site sewage disposal. Although municipal sewer may mitigate some problems where household waste water is treated by faulty septic systems and package treatment plants, it has also been a significant source of contamination at the treatment plants’ discharge points in Otter and Tates Creek (Kentucky Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet 2008 Integrated Report to Congress on the Condition of Resources in Kentucky on the Kentucky Division of Water website http://www.water.ky.gov/). Rather than an objective of increased reliance on municipal sewer, we recommend that the plan’s stated goal be an improvement of surface and ground water quality by keeping contaminants out of our sources for drinking water. This could include the upgrading of sewer treatment plants as well as encouraging environmentally sustainable, on-site waste water treatment systems. Several types of these on-site systems have been successfully used for years in the county including constructed wetlands, greywater gardens, composting toilets and ecological machines. The county would benefit by encouraging the use of these and other experimental waste water treatment systems in places where municipal sewer is not available and be offered as an alternative to mandatory tie on to municipal sewage disposal.
Another impairment of surface water is excessive sedimentation levels related to destruction of native vegetation and disruption of soil during excavation for development. The plan appropriately addresses this by recommending a more intensive Storm Water and Sediment Control Ordinance and supporting PUDs. We recommend that the plan also leave room for other alternative neighborhood structuring that protects green space, encourages landscape buffering and decreases soil erosion related to road and infrastructure development. This may include a neighborhood of commonly held land with cluster housing and collective sharing of on-site resources (ie: water collection, waste water treatment and electricity production).
Access to an ample supply of clean water has increasing been a concern of Madison County. The plan addresses this by advocating for an expansion of municipal water services. Power outages, severe droughts and malfunction of water treatment plants have shown that the water source of a large number of citizens can quickly be threatened. On-site rain catchment and water treatment is a viable clean water source that eliminates the need for additional municipal water and should be allowed as an alternative to connecting to municipal water.
To slow the growth of water requirements, we recommend that the county be proactive in water conservation and water recycling. The above mentioned on-site waste treatment systems are a good way to decrease water demand. Dry toilets, such as composting toilets, significantly reduce household water requirements. Greywater and rain water gardens can be primary water sources for landscape and garden irrigation. The ecological machine can accommodate waste water from multiple households and purify it for reuse. We believe that the plan encourage these and other water saving and reuse systems.
The rapid development in Madison County is encroaching on the unique rural characteristics of the county. The plan extensively addresses this by limiting development to the Urban Corridor, encouraging conservation of open space and encouraging other foresighted planning objectives. However, few specific requirements are made on subdivision design. We recommend designating “open space zoning corridors” that would require new subdivisions in those areas to site houses on smaller parcels of land, while the additional land that would have been allocated to individual lots is converted to common, shared, open space for the subdivision residents. This would require a redefinition of tradition subdivision regulations such as road frontage, lot size, and setbacks, to permit the developer to preserve ecologically sensitive areas, historical sites, or other unique characteristics of the land being subdivided. Open space zoning allows the same overall amount of development that is already permitted but on only a concentrated portion — typically half — of the parcel. The remaining open space is permanently protected under a conservation easement co-signed by a local conservation commission or land trust, and recorded in the registry of deeds. This technique has been successfully implemented by a number of municipalities in the Ohio counties of Wayne, Lake, Geauga, Medina, Summit, and Madison
With increased development comes an increased strain on the natural environment. The need to preserve eco-systems requires new ways of relating human habitation with plant and animal habitation. Over the decades, homesteaders, universities and alternative communities have been pioneers of green living models such as natural building, organic farming, grey water gardening and renewable energy. But each area’s ecosystem requires unique design elements in need of adaptation to that site. In addition to encouraging proven green development, we recommend that this plan support innovative experimentation with environmental sustainable building, resource management and land use so that these models can be appropriately adapted to meet Madison County’s distinctive needs and so that new models can be developed. The county might develop a partnership with such pioneers so that their data and experience could be made available to others, providing expertise and consultation to those interested in implementing new, sustainable technologies.