In recent years, many communities have implemented options for protecting valuable natural resources.

photo of West Creek
Priority conservation areas can take many forms but often seek to protect critical areas that line rivers and waterways.

These options include setting aside land for conservation and utilizing site-sensitive design and cluster development strategies to reduce negative impacts on the environment. These sustainable development practices can reduce development costs related to grading, site preparation, storm water management, and the construction of infrastructure such as road and utilities. These sustainable development practices have been shown to increase the value of the lots sold. Common Ground, The Land Protection Report of Northern Ohio published by the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, recommends a developed community, such as Cuyahoga County, is best served if it can sustain 15% of its land in permanent protected conservation status.

The Priority Conservation Areas (PCAs) are areas designated locally for protection and restoration as part of a Balanced Growth Planning effort. Balanced Growth Ohio, a voluntary and incentive-based program, promotes best local land use practices with a framework to develop municipal and watershed plans that sustain economic development and conservation. Four state-endorsed Balanced Growth Watershed Plans identify the PCAs in Cuyahoga County as of 2020 include:

  • Chippewa Creek
  • Chagrin River
  • Big Creek
  • Furnace Run.

Even without a Balanced Growth Plan, many local watershed groups have identified sensitive areas and preferred conservation areas.

Importance and Value

Striking a balance between built spaces and natural spaces and securing that balance over time is critical. This assures that Nature functions well and that natural areas are accessible to people as part of the overall quality of life for the region.image of sunny pond

  • Large natural areas are sources of clean air, clean water, biological diversity, and have a positive impact on nearby property values.
  • The protection of natural areas can help resolve water-related environmental problems, something to be considered with the effects of climate change.
  • PCAs provide the needed habitat, including the seed bank for future vegetation, needed for mammals, birds, and insects to survive. These natural areas provide economic opportunities because they attract nature lovers and tourists seeking outdoor experiences.
  • The presence of protected natural areas within the urban fabric can serve to counterbalance the stress and strain of modern life.

Actions for Communities and Landowners

  • Develop and follow a state-endorsed Balanced Growth Plan.
  • Identify and protect important natural features. It is essential for communities to have a detailed inventory and evaluation of resources in order to determine priority areas for conservation.
  • Protect natural areas through purchase, conservation easement, or with requirements for restricted, sensitive development.
  • Coordinate with a watershed or land conservation group to restore degraded landscapes to their prior state or to what they would have become without disruption.image of towpath
  • Consider converting vacant space and/or brownfields adjacent to parks and nature preserves into green space.
  • Ensure the integrity and sustainability of natural areas with plants and animals that are both native and resilient (can resist disturbance).
  • Promote infill development and brownfield redevelopment rather than greenfield development.
  • Promote higher-density, mixed-use development to conserve land area and public resources. Communities should encourage development patterns that mix land uses so that jobs, services, schools, shopping, and other destinations are near residents’ homes and neighborhoods.
  • Use cluster or conservation development strategies. Develop homes on a smaller portion of the total available land. The remaining land, which would have been allocated to individual home sites, could then become protected open space shared by residents of the subdivision and the larger community. Conservation development is characterized by three features:
    • At least 40% of the land in the development is dedicated as open space.
    • The open space is high quality and linked to other areas of open space.
    • The design of the open space protects natural and cultural resources.
  • Enhance habitat on private property through landowner enrollment in state and federal conservation programs.
  • Take advantage of Clean Ohio Green Space Conservation Program grants and other funding programs to help set aside land for conservation.

Resources for More Information