Many of us are familiar with plans and codes specific to wildfire (e.g., Community Wildfire Protection Plans, wildland-urban interface codes), but there is also a vast array of planning tools that could be useful to the FAC practitioner to help prevent future conflicts associated with an expanding wildland-urban interface. One of these tools, the safe growth audit, may be particularly helpful when relating wildfire concerns or discussion points to local planners and regulators.
According to the American Planning Association’s “Practice Safe Growth Audits” (Zoning Practice issue number 10, 2009), the purpose of safe growth audits are to “analyze the impacts of current policies, ordinances and plans on community safety from hazard risks due to growth.” The audit enables a community to evaluate the positive and negative effects of its existing growth guidance on future hazard vulnerability by looking at the comprehensive plan, zoning ordinance, subdivision regulations, capital improvement program and infrastructure policies. In many ways, a safe growth audit provides a “checks and balances” approach for communities who are interested in growth but not at the expense of resident safety.
For example, a safe growth audit asks questions such as:
- Does the future land-use map clearly identify natural hazard areas?
- Are transportation policies used to guide growth to safe locations?
- Do environmental policies provide incentives to development outside protected ecosystems?
- Are the goals and policies of the comprehensive plan related to those of the FEMA local hazard mitigation plan?
- Does the zoning ordinance conform to the comprehensive plan in terms of discouraging development or redevelopment within natural hazard areas?
- Do subdivision regulations allow density transfers where hazard areas exist?
- Does the capital improvement program provide funding for hazard mitigation projects identified in the FEMA mitigation plan?
These and similar questions can naturally be tailored for a specific hazard. As a holistic approach, however, the safe growth audit provides a comprehensive yet succinct look at a community’s future. It also equips hazard mitigation practitioners with the ability to zero-in on the most relevant questions related to planning polices that may warrant further consideration. One tangible and easy step for engaging in this process would be to include applicable safe growth audit questions in the next CWPP update. The full set of safe growth audit questions can be found in FEMA’s Local Mitigation Planning Handbook (2013).
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