Saturday, April 3, 2010

American Fork's New Landscape Ordinance

Living downtown has made me sensitive to the landscaping and design elements of the business district. It's easy to see a correlation between good design and stable business. Conversely, poor design seems to be a good predictor of blight. Blight usually leads to crime and disinvestment -- the last thing I want for my neighborhood.

This is why I was so greatly pleased when, after two years of deliberation with staff, the City Council enacted a landscaping ordinance last November.

Many thanks are due to Council Member Sherry Kramer, an outspoken advocate for City beautification, who guided the ordinance through its own development and approval process. I joined the cause after visiting with a local landscape architect who opened my eyes to the problems of operating without a landscaping ordinance.

Developers are more than happy to comply with such regulation, he said, showing me the three-inch binder in which he keeps our surrounding cities' landscape ordinances. Developers understand that landscaping adds value to their projects. Some install healthy landscaping without the requirement of law, but most install exactly what the law requires, nothing more, nothing less.

The advantage to having an ordinance on the books, he said, is that developers are given to understand up front what requirements will be asked of them BEFORE they go to the expense of design or the even greater expense of redesign.

Without the ordinance, City process becomes somewhat arbitrary and, I dare say, even capricious, with landscaping approval left up to the subjective judgment of planning commissioners and city council members.

The ordinance now sets forth, in predictable detail, exactly what manner of landscaping will be required. It does so through a mathematical system of ratios, with notes such as this:

Twenty-five percent (25%) of the required shrubs may be converted to turf based on one (1) 5-gallon shrub per fifty (50) square feet of turf.
Or this:

Species diversity: The percent of any one (1) type of tree that can be planted in a development shall be as follows:

a. 0-5 trees: No limitation
b. 6-21 trees: No more than 50% of one (1) species
c. 21 or more trees: No more than 20% of one species
Such requirements ensure that the necessary landscaping will in fact be installed, that it will be attractive and well planned, and that the landscaping will be sustainable in the long term.

The ordinance governs commercial development and large-scale subdivisions. It does NOT apply to single family dwellings or existing development.

During deliberations, the concern was raised that governments ought not to make such requirements of businesses. Each additional requirement adds more cost to business and grants more powers to government.

This is a fair point. It is the kind of argument the council considers very carefully, especially during time of economic recession. In reality, this ordinance imposes no new requirements on developers, and no more than other cities require. This ordinance simply puts into code what was already enforced in practice. Given the requirements up front, developers can easily incorporate them into their planning without fear of being put through costly revisions.

Landscaping standards, I feel, are a necessary and worthy addition to the City code. Landscaping enhances, conserves, and stabilizes property values by:
  • reducing heat and glare,
  • facilitating movement of traffic within parking areas,
  • shading cars and parking surfaces, reducing local and ambient temperatures,
  • buffering potentially incompatible uses from one another, and
  • improving air quality.
These purposes fall squarely within that list of concerns used to justify planning, development, and zoning powers -- namely the health, safety, morals, welfare, convenience, order and prosperity of the City.


Blogger Wendy said...

I think this is great! It brings development in on our terms.

Wendy Hickman

April 6, 2010 at 9:25 AM  

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