Sample Conservation Review Criteria
 ~ Courtesy of West Greenwich Conservation Commission ~

(Draft Revision, 6.4.09)


The West Greenwich Conservation Commission believes that proposed development projects in the Town should be evaluated from an environmentally comprehensive perspective. To that end, the Commission has developed these guidelines to assist not only the Commission in our review of proposed projects, but also to assist applicants particularly in the very initial planning/beginning stages of proposed developments.

There are three major aspects of any proposed project that will be considered by the Conservation Commission as part of our review process: site assessment, building assessment, and an assessment of the overall pattern of development. The guidelines below hopefully constitute a principled, clear, and useful methodology to examine potential impacts any development proposal may have from a comprehensive environmental and community perspective. If implemented properly, such a review should routinely be of value to the work of other town agencies and boards, as well as to owners and developers seeking to build more responsibly in an increasingly interdependent world.

A conservation review should evaluate all three aspects of any proposed development: site assessment, building assessment, and overall pattern. At all stages in the review, eco-design constants — and especially appropriate innovations — should be emphasized, encouraged, and practiced.


The appropriate siting of a proposed structure/development integrally considers its natural surroundings, critical natural resources and articulated community values. Examples of articulated community values include the Town’s Comprehensive Plan for growth, vision and goals, the Town’s Conservation Inventory of environmentally valuable/critical/necessary features and places, and relevant Town zoning ordinances. The primary concern of the site assessment is preserving distinctness of place and ensuring healthy growth.

Elements of Site Assessment

1. Compliance with the Town Comprehensive Plan (e.g. environmental and preservation goals)
2. Review of the Town Conservation Inventory (detailed plat and lot listing of community valued features, aspects and places with weighted values assigned to relevant parameters – like important natural resources, species preservation requirements, historic and culturally significant places, and aesthetic, recreational and quality-of-life values)
3. Implementation of the Town Conservation Development Ordinance: the conscious demarcation of on-site natural/community valued places/features as a first step in the location of proposed structures, roads and other infrastructure improvements. For example, residences configured around a natural feature like a field, pond, and/or recreational/scenic/habitat greenway. Specific acreage of structures, often skillfully clustered together, would be determined in relation to the prominent natural features to be preserved and in conjunction with developer/resident preferences. In sum, site placement should be done with environment/community benefit and maximum owner satisfaction in mind.

Sample Checklist:

– soils, terrain, topography, slopes and elevations

– appropriate setback distance from wetlands and streams

– presence of adequate underground water for use via private well(s)

– presence and pattern of surface waters and connections to off-site surface waters

– perc testing profile and depth to water table, bedrock or other confining layers

– flora and fauna existing on the site, wildlife supported on the site

– particular siting requirements of proposed development (i.e., shape of parcel(s), easements, deed restrictions, adjacent/nearby property features that may affect siting, etc.)

– the site’s unique weighting in the conservation inventory: the specific natural, cultural, and/or community valued feature to be built around


Buildings or structures should be planned and constructed with clear ecological standards and sustainability in mind. There are three aspects of building assessment: green design, proper siting and landscaping, and minimizing impacts during construction.

1. Green Design and Construction:

a. Use of sustainable, recycled, and/or non-toxic building materials

b. Properly sized and efficient healing and cooling systems, including consideration of passive in design of structure

c. Design and use of energy efficient lighting, including the use of natural lighting in the design of the structure

d. Design and use of water efficient systems and appliances

e. Properly designed wastewater systems and consideration of wastewater reuse

f. Discussion of any pertinent or additional green design criteria employed, such as of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) – any such achievements attained or planned

2. Proper Siting and Landscaping:

These criteria include landscaping and vegetative design, buffering, shade, native plants and xeriscaping, and other environmentally friendly construction techniques and processes. It also includes storm water management during and after construction, traffic inflow, proper lighting and sound buffering.

3. Minimizing Impacts During Construction:

A proposed development should have a plan to minimize adverse impacts to the site and surrounding area during construction. The plan should consider the following:

a. minimizing damage to trees and roots during site preparation, roadway/driveway construction, drinking well water installation, installation of septic systems and any other site utilities or improvements

b. minimizing site disturbance for material storage, vehicle access and parking during construction

c. consideration of impacts of construction, vehicle traffic and noise during construction on the surrounding area

A Note on Eco-Intensive Design Features

The Commission encourages owner/builder/developers to go beyond bare minimal requirements and standards and to consider eco-intensive design generally: innovations in design and retrofitting that generate or contribute to optimal energy flows. Eco-intensive design means looking for and innovating component parts that work in ways that amplify or leverage each other’s inputs, outputs and effects — the very nature of internally smart/intelligent design, that which is sensitive to manifold environments.

This means looking at structures in a different way, almost as organic and evolving entities. It means focusing on energy sources, quality and interdependence, thereby recognizing and implicitly connecting with and contributing to the goal of global climate health. This means examining and developing the capabilities and resilience of all systems that contribute directly or indirectly to this end.

Hence a vital question in any proposal: what are the environmentally friendly, or much better, the superior eco-design features embodied this structure?


A comprehensive environmental assessment addresses the pattern of development in the area, region and globally, and its probable/potential effects, both positive and negative.

The following questions should be considered in the early stages of planning a development:

What whole effect, what kind of tendency, what kind of atmosphere is likely to be created?

How does this structure or group of structures fit into wider and wider settings? What is the pattern it creates, especially when accumulated over a long period of time or replicated many times? Does it measure up to the criteria of simple sustainability? Have undesirable or toxic side effects? Reinforces mutual or collective sustainability? Create new dynamics entirely? What set of “dispositions” does this pattern contain? How is a whole community (or nest of communities) affected? What are likely effects at all scales, and especially how might it figure in long-range scenarios? The disruptive or integrating effect of some new technology? The effect of mixing high and low tech approaches? A rule of thumb: the truly local, the successfully local solution is apt to be globally helpful and appropriate… a good, sound local interface tends to conduct a wider harmony… a poor part, on the other hand, detracts from the whole…

This overall assessment focuses on the overall effect of restraining or pursuing a given path of development. The question: what are likely whole town, whole region, and literally planetary effects of a given line of development? Consider space, time, movement, and patterns of interaction… Regional and other interfaces: what effect certain set-asides? protected valued features (residential/tourist)? functioning in larger management plans (like watersheds)? What are global impacts, inputs to regulating and enhancing global homeostasis and dynamic balances? How to monitor emerging technologies as they create distinctly new possibilities for food, water, energy generation, human enjoyment and welfare, etc.?

Distinctly different developmental scenarios might conceivably be a part of the thorough evaluation of any complex proposal…


Cradle to Cradle, McDonough and Braungart

Sustainability Assessment, Gibson et al.

Reshaping the Built Environment, Charles Kibert, ed.

Ecological Design Handbook, Fred Stitt, ed.

A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander et al.

WGCC and RIACC Documents:
WGCC Conservation Criteria, “Conservation Questions for Building Proposal Applicants,” last revised, April 1998
WGCC memo of August 1, 2007, “Reflections on our review criteria”
RIACC “Beyond Sustainability: The Spectrum of Ecological Design” Worksheet 3.15.08
WGCC Draft/Proposal of Revision of Conservation Review Criteria June 5, 2008
WGCC Approved Revision, March 5, 2009

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