Yankeetown, Florida Natural Resource Adaptation Action Area

Executive Summary

The Town of Yankeetown, Florida is utilizing a state authorized land-use planning tool - called Adaptation Action Areas - to mitigate the impacts of sea-level rise on local ecosystems. Specifically, Yankeetown is experiencing coastal inundation due to sea-level rise that is causing large swaths of coastal forests to rapidly decline and salt marshes to migrate inland, creating a phenomenon known as “ghost forests.” Yankeetown has taken a unique approach to planning for coastal change by utilizing Adaptation Action Areas. Adaptation Action Areas are overlay districts local governments can utilize to increase management attention and oversight over defined areas within their municipality with the goal of increasing resilience to sea-level rise impacts. Yankeetown amended its local comprehensive plan to create a “Natural Resource Adaptation Action Area,” which is the first instance of a locality in Florida using this tool for the purpose of natural resource management rather than solely infrastructure protection. The tool is helping Yankeetown shape future growth and development to conserve and protect its natural resources in the face of rising seas. Local governments could consider adopting overlay districts like Adaptation Action Areas or other zoning, land-use, or planning tools to reduce or limit development in wetland and forest migration pathways as a part of comprehensive retreat strategies. 

 

Background

The Town of Yankeetown is a small Florida municipality with approximately 500 residents. Yankeetown is located on the north bank of the Withlacoochee River, just five feet above sea level. Encompassing eight square miles of dry land and 13 square miles of estuarine and marine ecosystem, the low-lying coastal geography and topography of Yankeetown make it especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. In particular, rising sea levels have caused large areas of coastal forests in Yankeetown to become inundated with salt water and drown, resulting in forest retreat and salt marsh migration inland. 

 

Managed Retreat Examples

State Support for Local Governments: Adaptation Action Areas 

The Community Planning Act, a Florida statute passed in 2011, provides for the designation of Adaptation Action Areas or overlay districts in the coastal management element of local government comprehensive plans. Adaptation Action Areas can be used to identify areas within a municipality that are experiencing coastal flooding due to extreme high tides and storm surge and that are vulnerable to the impacts of sea-level rise, for the purpose of prioritizing funding for infrastructure needs and adaptation planning. 

Planning and Zoning Tools: Yankeetown’s Natural Resource Adaptation Action Area

Yankeetown is utilizing the state’s Adaptation Action Areas tool to limit or restrict development in migration corridors to prevent the construction of structural barriers that could inhibit ecosystem migration. Specifically, in 2016, Yankeetown amended its comprehensive plan to establish a nearly 18-square-mile area,  covering 86 percent of the town, as a Natural Resource Adaptation Action Area (NRAAA). The voter referendum on the amendment (required under the town’s charter) passed overwhelmingly. The NRAAA consists of two zones - the Resource Protection and Residential Environmentally Sensitive zones - “for protection of natural resources and accommodation of sea level rise within the Town of Yankeetown” (Policy 5.2.1.1).1 The NRAAA includes the following setback and no or low-density development requirements to protect natural resources and facilitate the inland migration of forests and wetlands: 

  • Setback: Throughout the NRAAA, permitted activities must include a 50-foot buffer or “protection zone” for wetlands.
  • Resource Protection Zone: No new development is permitted (other than for uninhabitable structures) and only educational and passive recreational activities are allowed.
  • Residential Environmentally Sensitive Zone: Only single-family, detached dwellings are permitted at a maximum gross density of 10 acres (i.e., homes are permitted at a low density to maximize open space preservation) and must include at least two acres of “contiguous pre-development upland acres” that can allow coastal ecosystems to migrate inland. 

In addition to the NRAAA’s setback and development requirements, Yankeetown’s comprehensive plan includes two policy objectives to ensure that future town decisions regarding land acquisitions and the siting and design of infrastructure in the NRAAA will also support ecosystem migration. The town’s first policy objective provides that the local government should prioritize and acquire upland properties where forests and marshes can migrate in response to sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion (Objective 5.2.3, Policy 5.2.3.2). The town has used the plan to identify priority areas it can acquire, including upland parcels adjacent to the Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve (a 413-acre parcel of undeveloped wetlands), based on their strategic capacity to support coastal ecosystem migration. 

The second policy objective requires the town to review new development proposals in the NRAAA for how the siting and design of infrastructure can be “sea-level rise ready” and compatible with ecosystem migration. Accordingly in Goal 5.3, the town must discourage new structures within the NRAAA that are vulnerable to sea-level rise unless those structures can be designed to permit and not obstruct coastal ecosystem migration. For instance, sea-level rise ready infrastructure could be permitted in the NRAAA if it can float, be elevated, or moved if it becomes a future barrier to ecosystem migration. Goal 5.3 balances new development with resource conservation by discouraging new structures within the NRAAA unless they can accommodate inland migration. 

The NRAAA was developed with support from the University of Florida and Yankeetown’s residents. In 2013, the University of Florida Conservation Clinic introduced the town to the conceptual framework for a NRAAA. The university prepared a model comprehensive plan element that addressed sea-level rise in the context of natural resources adaptation and presented it to Yankeetown; the town’s government then vetted the idea to its community through public processes. Other municipalities in Florida had previously only used Adaptation Action Areas to protect critical infrastructure from flooding as opposed to the natural environment itself. 

 

Considerations and Lessons Learned

Yankeetown’s NRAAA provides an example of how planning and zoning tools can allow for the inland migration of vulnerable ecosystems impacted by sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion. Other jurisdictions can similarly use their comprehensive plans and overlay districts as a part of managed retreat strategies to identify and protect ecosystems from coastal climate change impacts.

 

Related Organizations:

  • Town of Yankeetown, Florida

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