Preconstruction Land Planning

Kevin Caldwell

In my previous blog, I discussed the concept of protecting, and incorporating the ecology of a building site into the green-building process on raw land.  To clarify, this process is largely focused on protection of rural and semi-rural forested areas that will be impacted rather than urban sites.

Forest ecosystems, in the Blue Ridge, naturally dominate the landscape, and protection of these systems is paramount. Impacts to non-forested areas, while important, are not our focus though the same techniques noted here can be applied within them.

While a primary goal is to build in the least impact location (with solar gain, privacy, aesthetics) the construction process should also be a minimum-impact event in terms of timing of clearing, staging, erosion, etc.   To achieve these goals a plan must be developed and carried out that is based on actual natural resources, physical structure, and rhythm & dynamics of the land throughout the year.  This is complex.  The rough process is as follows.

First – collect information.  I use GIS, but non-users can pull up their county GIS website to view and print the key information:  the greater physical region, geology, soils, property boundaries, slope, aspect (direction), streams and wetlands data, existing roads, and even rare species records, and overlay this with USGS contour maps and aerial photography.

Second – assess, inventory, and map the site using GPS to mark interesting features to map later. Key natural features of interest are various “forest communities”, wetlands (bogs, springs, seeps), wildlife den & roosting trees, fruit & nut trees, large diameter & very old trees, and especially rare plant & wildlife species.  Cultural resources are critical:  map old log & haul roads, homesteads, disturbed sites, former farm-fields, fallen chimneys, orchards, fenceposts, barbed wire fencing, and even trash.

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Third – a plan is made based on a landowner’s vision and the ecology and restraints of the land.

Fourth – the construction process begins, and this is the stage where very careful considerations for protection, impact minimization, and natural resource “recycling” and re-use beginBlog #3 will continue the information collection process and other pre-planning considerations.