How will Kalamazoo's updated Natural Features Protection district effect residents on the map?

The Kalamazoo City Commission approved a Natural Features Protection overlay district in May 2019, including over 300 parcels with existing natural features agreed worthy of preservation. A year later, the Natural Features Protection (NFP) Review Board is updating the map to include over 500 more parcels in the overlay district. 

The Kalamazoo City Commission approved a Natural Features Protection overlay district in May 2019, including over 300 parcels with existing natural features agreed worthy of preservation. A year later, the Natural Features Protection (NFP) Review Board is updating the map to include over 500 more parcels in the overlay district. 

The NFP overlay creates land development standards for areas with natural features in order to achieve better management and long-term protection for the environment. 

By more than doubling the overlay district, more homeowners are finding their properties inside an NFP area. Some homeowners have voiced their desire to exclude their property from the NFP district, fearing that the regulations would become too restrictive. 

According to Jamie McCarthy, sustainable development coordinator for the City of Kalamazoo, most homeowners shouldn’t be affected by NFP regulations. 

“If you’re not doing anything different to your property; you're not tearing down or building a new garage, you're not doing any construction projects; I don’t think there are any rules that would come into effect,” McCarthy said. 

Residents who aren’t making any changes to their property will continue life as usual while living in an NFP zone. Residents looking to cut down trees, add an addition to their house, or develop on a wooded property, will need to operate by the guidelines listed in Chapter 50, Article 6 of the Zoning Code.

McCarthy wants to clarify that the NFP overlay will not scrap plans for new garages or home additions. What the overlay does is give the homeowner input on how to complete these projects without harming significant environmental features.

“The code helps shape some decisions, but doesn’t necessarily limit them,” McCarthy said. 

The NFP overlay requires things like buildings, parking lots and other development structures to be set back a certain distance from significant features like lakes, rivers, wetlands, woodlands, and slopes. The distance of the setback varies based on the size of the feature. 

Illustration of setbacks from lake and body of water

Image taken from Chapter 50, Article 6 of the Kalamazoo Zoning Code. 

 

Tree removal is also regulated by the NFP overlay. Except for certain exceptions, the replacement ratio for trees is 1:1; every inch of tree removed from a parcell (measured by diameter at breast height), should be replaced by an equivalent number of inches elsewhere on the property.  The NFP also prohibits planting of invasive plants.

The updated map was created using spatial data and geographic information system (GIS) analysis, but resident input also affected the final map. In contrast to the original NFP district in 2019, McCarthy says more residents offered input than commercial property owners this time around.

“We use the public input, knowledge and familiarity of their own neighborhood, literally their own backyard, to check the maps,” McCarthy said.

The NFP Review Board spoke to 50-60 residents about what natural features to include on the final map. 

“Most people were really supportive and they felt like (the NFP overlay) really aligned with what they thought was important, to protect the natural features on their properties,” McCarthy said. 

The city planning commission was given the opportunity to accept or send back the updated NFP map at their meeting on November 5; they chose to send it back. The planning commission felt residents in the overlay district were not given sufficient notice or education on the NFP district, McCarthy said. 

“It would be good to have more projects come through this process,” McCarthy said, “so residents can see more examples of the NFP district at work.”

With more homeowners than ever included in the NFP overlay, more thought was needed for stipulations which put extra costs on homeowners. For example, the code states that a professional arborist is needed to determine if a tree is diseased prior to removal, or to create plans for woodland vegetation management. This requirement makes sense for a commercial property, but puts extra costs on private residents. 

More education and community outreach is the next step of the process, McCarthy says. The NFP Review Board will dive back into editing the overlay district in January. The current plan is to present a new NFP map to the Planning Commission by early spring.

 

Learn more about Kalamazoo's NFP overlay and zoning code.