New Bill Allows Some Virginia Localities to Incentivize Urban Green Spaces

Virginia localities will soon have a streamlined ability to offer incentives that aid the development of urban green spaces, like city parks or sport fields.

Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, introduced House Bill 1510 to give localities regulatory flexibility. The General Assembly passed the bill with a House vote of 72-27 and a Senate vote of 32-8.

Urban green space is defined as a piece of land covered with grass, trees, shrubs or other vegetation and located around a populated area, according to the bill. The proposed area must help reduce higher temperatures sometimes associated with urban development or aid the mitigation of stormwater in order to qualify for incentives, and can be public or private projects.

The incentives would not be available in rural areas and areas of low population density.

The incentives may include a reduction in project permit fees or a streamlined permit approval process, according to the bill. The type of available permits would be up to localities, but could include permits such as building, Adams stated.

“The process for obtaining permits is both costly and lengthy; ideally, this legislation could help speed up that process for developments incorporating [urban green space],” Adams stated.

The incentives received will depend on how much green space is implemented on a building site. The bill gives cities the flexibility to opt in, Adams told a House Finance subcommittee.

“The bill does not mandate localities do anything, but rather gives those that currently have resources a tool to incentivize or accelerate urban green space development and there is no fiscal impact for the state,” Adams said.

Lee Francis, deputy director for the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, said he sees the bill as an opportunity to serve communities that don’t have access to green spaces. “It gives localities a tool to expand green spaces into underserved communities and kind of even the playing field a little bit,” Francis said.

Jeremy Hoffman, chief scientist at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond, believes that more green spaces in urban communities, such as Richmond, are beneficial to various aspects of the environment. “They lower air temperatures, they soak up stormwater that falls on them as rain and they clean the air of harmful pollutants,” Hoffman said. He describes urban green spaces as “natural air conditioning for cities,” while being the “environmental clean up crew.”

Building more green spaces can reduce a phenomenon called urban heat island effect. It is when air temperatures rise in a city from man-made infrastructures, such as dark paved roads, compared to rural areas, according to Hoffman. “Those [paved roads] absorb more of the sun’s energy throughout the day and then re-emit it back into the air as heat throughout the afternoon and overnight, basically raising the temperatures in those landscapes,” Hoffman said.

Scientists can quickly attain heat island results and use air thermometers or before and after thermal heat photos taken from the ground or by satellite, according to Hoffman. “We trimmed up some trees, planted some new plants and were able to show between the morning and the afternoon the impact of improving that green space,” Hoffman said while talking about Rosemoore Pocket Park in the Scott’s Addition neighborhood in Richmond.

Green spaces can lower temperatures by 10 degrees to 20 degrees on hot days, according to Shelly Barrick-Parsons, executive director for Capital Trees.

Capital Trees is a Richmond-based nonprofit organization that works to implement green spaces in the community through partnerships with the city, corporations and other nonprofits.

Barrick-Parsons sees the potential in the bill and what it could do for urban cities. “I think it has opportunity to increase the development of green space if municipalities take advantage of the opportunity,” Barrick-Parsons said.

The incentives can help accelerate a development timeline, but also have financial impacts. “Permitting fees can be just a few thousand dollars, but that $2,000 can make a lot of difference to a nonprofit,” Barrick Parsons said.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin approved the bill on March 23, and the measure will become effective on July 1.

By Adrianna Lawrence / Capital News Service

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