CLEARWATER – The city of Clearwater is making strides to become greener and is working on its final draft of its Clearwater Greenprint sustainability action plan.
“The end result (of the plan) is measurable, achievable strategies that can be implemented by residents, businesses, the industrial sector, and the municipal government,” said Lauren Matzke, long-range planner for Clearwater and the spokesperson for the Greenprint plan. “It’s designed to be more incentive, adaptation based, not regulatory in nature.”
Funding for developing the plan came from a U.S. Department of Energy grant, and a group is developing numerous ways that all sectors of the community can become more environmentally sustainable. The plan focuses on the following areas: Education and awareness, food production, green businesses and jobs, green energy and buildings, land use and urban form, transportation, urban agriculture, waste management and water resources.
“Clearwater Greenprint is a community sustainability plan that identifies a series of tangible actions … that have the potential to reduce energy consumption, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions while stimulating the local economy and improving quality of life,” the draft of the plan states.
The city has contracted with the companies, Renaissance Planning Group and ECO Asset Solutions to help put the plan together, and a steering committee has also had input. The public offered ideas, too, in two open houses – one at the beginning of the process back in the fall, and one at the beginning of March, Matzke said.
Some ideas in the plan are to promote and encourage green businesses by doing things such as creating an online database of green businesses and jobs, create green business profiles and a green guide for Clearwater, Matzke said.
Other cities have worked with the PACE loan program, which encourages homeowners to make their home more energy efficient, Matzke said. The incentive is that the loan is for the property, not the property owner, so if people are not sure how long they will be in their house but still want to make it more sustainable, they don’t have to worry about doing the improvements and then getting stuck with the bill after they’re gone because the loan stays with the property.
The Greenprint plan also has ideas to promote walking, bicycling, and public transportation, implementing its Complete Streets policy, Matzke said. Everyone understands that cars are here to stay, but the goal is to make it easier for cars not having to be the only way.
The Greenprint plan also will advise the city to change its comprehensive plan to establish energy conservation areas and energy conservation corridors, Matzke said.
It says the city should look at incentives for energy efficient development, and in places in the city where development is already pretty compact, try to incentivize green development in the area, she said. There are areas in the city that already exhibit a tendency toward or potential to be more compatible areas for more efficient transit, she said, so adding this goal into the comprehensive plan would help make it happen.
The plan focuses on three ranges of strategies and goals: Short-term goals for the next five years, medium-range goals for the next six to 10 years, and long-term goals for 11 to 25 years out, Matzke said. Economic times are hard now, so some of the short-term goals reflect that situation and work on building up what the city has already and other cost-effective and planning strategies.
Some short-term goals include rewriting some of the city’s codes to update them for sustainability and create incentives to build green, Matzke said. One current practice is that the public utilities offer free plumbing water saving devices to residents, Matzke said. Between these types of devices and citywide water restrictions, water usage dropped 27 percent between 1990 and 2009, she said. The plan encourages this to continue and to grow to have even more of an impact. The city also currently has solar powered parking meters on the beach, and Clearwater Gas plays a role in sustainability through alternative energy, and it will extend gas lines out to homeowners and offer incentives for switching to natural gas. The city is also getting natural gas-powered vehicles including a garbage truck, and it will soon have a filling station, she said.
On other items, the city will need to take action before they can move forward, Matzke said. The urban agriculture side has taken on a life of its own, she said, and she is working with the city to change the city’s comprehensive plan to be more conducive toward it. There is a large movement of people who want to garden in their back yards or on a community level, but currently the codes are not conducive to readily allowing urban agriculture, she said. Changing the comprehensive plan could make it easier for community gardens to spring up in vacant lots and other available nooks and crannies in the city. Right now, if a plot is zoned for residential or commercial purposes, it would be difficult to allow a community garden because that falls under agriculture. The codes and comprehensive plan still needs to catch up to modern, green needs.