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Waterfront Management

A New Approach to Waterfront Development and Use Control

By David M. Taylor of Hanson-Taylor Planning,
Urban Design, Landscape Architecture, Developmental Management






“The Port Cochere Seawall” located near San Diego, California at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort, helps create a beautiful waterfront and complements both the landscape and structural elements of the resort. The expansive Seawall project was added to an existing seawall and encompasses 4,200 facial square feet. Construction of the wall, which cost $18 per square foot, began in May of 1991 along the southern property margin and was concluded in October of 1992. The Seawall, which stretches for 410 feet and is over 12 feet high, was designed for a ground acceleration of 0.29 and was built below the mean sea level. With normal tidal activity the Seawall is completely submerged at high tide. The water surface is restricted to approximately the bottom two feet.


To achieve a successful waterfront management strategy, a unique blend of legal, economic, urban planning and waterfront design expertise must be employed. The application and success of such expertise is seen as an emerging direction for both the exercise of effective public policy for Landscape Architects, and the successful implementation of private urban waterfront projects.








Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is recognized as one of America’s significant maritime communities. From its own official documents, the City recognizes this preeminent status. Yet, the City is facing great pressure to meet the myriad demands being placed on the maritime industries and the finite waterfront resources. Against the backdrop of these increasing demands, Fort Lauderdale is taking strong but measured responses to yield a balanced waterfront strategy.






A cut section of the wall shows the basic elements for a successful in-harbor seawall. Originally designed as a cast-in-place wall, the designer, Fred J. Nove, C.E., used retaining wall units from Keystone, stabilized with regular rip-rap, and supported with Miragrid wrapped rip-rap. The project was installed by Noveco, Inc. of Torrance, California.


Like so many other aspects of urban development, the dynamics of waterfront utilization in Fort Lauderdale have become increasingly complex. This complexity largely parallels the national experience:

  • The ongoing economic changes, and often fallout or decline, in the general maritime industry;
  • A lack of understanding or appreciation by the community of the role and significance of the maritime industry and waterfront activities;
  • The potential conflicts, which may arise when a independent industry faces regulation, especially in economically sensitive times;
  • The competition for waterfront locations, both public and private, by non-water dependent uses; and
  • The significant environmental protection and regulatory concerns, coupled with heightened demands for public access to the water.

These unfolding conflicts and complexities may be more fully appreciated within the context of traditional and emerging waterfront trends and dynamics. Contemporary uses of the waterfront may have one or more primary characteristics°™water dependent, water related or water enhanced.

Water Dependent Uses – These are uses, which cannot exist in locations other than the waterfront because of their primary functions. Such uses have been the traditional occupants of the waterfront.

Water Related Uses – This tier of uses is helped by a waterfront location, but can still operate or function away from the water’s edge.






More than just slope stabilization, waterfront development requires the integration of mixed uses like this very popular riverside restaurant providing private access to the marina.


Water Enhanced Uses – These are uses for which a waterfront location primarily brings a marketing advantage through greater user satisfaction and through design treatments that enhance such uses.

The primary conflict is between the sharp and significant shift from water dependent to water enhanced uses. A resolution to the conflict takes place within the community as it engages in dialogue to resolve such key questions as:

  • Is the waterfront a resource or a commodity?
  • How important is the traditional maritime industry?
  • How effective is current public policy?
  • Are there specific design standards, which impede or encourage desired results?
  • What are the means of balancing the highly competitive forces at work on the waterfront?

Elements of a New Approach

As Fort Lauderdale faced such serious questions, it employed erratic, incremental approaches to the management of its waterfront. When individual issues emerged, quick responses were initiated, often without a full consideration of the multiple implications. At one turn, a specific legal remedy was applied. Another crisis generated a certain planning response. Economic factors were only marginally considered. Within this incremental environment lies the seeds for a new approach which, when brought to fruition, yields effective public policy and coordinated private development.






Gazebos provide shelter during a pleasant walk next to the water.


The most effective approach is to develop a targeted, driving strategy to address complex waterfront development issues. Because of the changing economic, political, regulatory and development environment, four fundamental principles are integrated in a meaningful way.








The approach, recommended and accepted by Ft. Lauderdale, correlates and considers four fundamental principles for waterfront development and design: (see graphic above) In themselves, there is nothing “new;” what is a breakthrough is that results are beneficially enhanced by the application of all four principles in a coordinated fashion. Individual aspects of the principles may be defined as follows:






Sunbathers enjoy public access to a bench lined dock facing the new performing arts center.


Legal Parameters – Identifies the key legal issues related to the public ownership of affected water bodies; define the basic police powers inherent to zoning of the land/water interface; establish the need; and utilization of innovative techniques.






The Waterfront at Fort Lauderdale, Florida
The proximity of office, commercial and marine use demonstrates the mixed utilization of available waterfront. The landscape architect must reach beyond the normalcy of aesthetics and provide cooperative solutions to the intense competition for available waterfront access.


Economic Analysis – Incorporates the changing value of land as displacement of waterfront use occurs: anticipates the economic impact of regulations on project feasibility: and explores the incentive and negative impacts of tax policies.

Urban Planning – Provides within the Comprehensive Plan single, exclusive-use zones to protect important maritime uses; defines mixed use projects which blend marine, residential, office and commercial components; and identifies compatible and incompatible use relationships.






St. George, Utah. Waterfront management applications are used in larger and smaller projects.
Pictured below is a new retirement subdivision by Ence Homes called “West Springs” located in St. George, Utah. Here, a retaining wall system called Diamond Wall was incorporated into the pond. The 1,600 square foot project consists of three-way split block units, used for their flexibility in design when creating curves. The wall now provides a raised edge for the turf area, which increases the ease of maintenance. These retaining wall units were also chosen for their color (desert tan), which complements the terra cotta roof tiles.





Waterfront Design – Focuses on the details of the land/water interface; prepares small area plans, which give design and development guidelines; details private use and public use zones; and relates the landside to waterside structures.

Through a comprehensive, multifaceted approach, conflicts along Ft. Lauderdale’s waterfront are being resolved and sensitive solutions to difficult problems are being found. Waterfront conflict resolution and development is now being screened through the matrix of legal, economic, urban planning and waterfront design parameters to ensure community sensitive solutions.



Along the Coast

Dune Restoration Reduces Impact of Major Storms






Wood fencing and beach grasses provide the beach with a rustic ambiance while catching sand and thus providing security to the inland developments. Pipe is layed for drainage and as a foundation within the dunes.


Ocean City, Maryland has a history of devastating storms including a 1933 hurricane and the virtual leveling of the city by a 1962 nor’easter. Almost thirty years later, in 1991, another series of brutal nor’easters took their toll. After that storm however, the Army Corps of Engineers, along with the T.L. James Company and Ruppert Landscape, decided to incorporate a relatively new and emerging method of maintaining shoreline stability...Dune Restoration.

Bruce Ware of the Army Corps of Engineers explains that restoration of the dunes is an environmentally-aesthetic protection feature. “Once established, the new dunes (90' wide and 6-7' above the beach berm elevation) will provide a barrier against wave and high water damage and also provide a reservoir of beach sand during severe storms. Dune fencing and planting greatly assists in the stabilization of the dune line and captures windblown sand.”






Man made efforts seem futile in the face of the tremendous forces of the sea. Yet these devices do work and protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare.







Ruppert Landscape oversaw the repair of decks, stairs, handrails and access ramps to the beach, the installation of 22 miles of sand fence, and the installation of 210 vehicle and pedestrian crossovers from the street-ends over the dune to the beach. According to Rupperts’ Ken Hochkeppel, “the finished planting was to include over three million pieces of beach grasses and fertilizing of the entire area.”

Hochkeppel sees this type of restoration as an ongoing trend. “This is now one of the methods accepted to protect shorelines. Although the dunes may be battered again and again, they take the brunt of a storm and save millions of dollars in damage.” And that’s just what happened!

A major storm hit the coast in mid-December of 1992, before the project was complete. Although a third of the plant material was yet to be installed, and in spite of the fact that almost one third of the seven-mile-long project was damaged by the storm, the dune restoration still served its purpose.






Three million pieces of beach grass provide a root base that can limit the erosive impact of storm waves.







By establishing a catch zone for sand and debris, the elevated dunes keep the water from reaching the business and population centers. Donna Meiras, a spokesperson from the Army Corp of Engineers confirmed that “while the storm did damage much of the project, it served its purpose by protecting the oceanfront and Ocean City.”

So...they have again begun to rebuild. Will another storm hit the coast? Most likely it will, and with devastating power. Yet Ocean City can rest just a little bit easier thanks to the protection provided by sand dunes.



Choosing the Right Vegetation and Making it Work








The challenge of dune planting is to use vegetation that can thrive in an environment, which is dry, low in nutrients, based in unstable sands and frequently bathed in salt spray. Even an application of fertilizers and root enhancers cannot guarantee solid performance from all plant materials.

At the Marco Island Beach and Dune Restoration Project about 1 million cubic yards of sand from offshore sources, “borrow areas,” was pumped ashore to restore the beach and dune to match that of a naturally created beach and dune system. After delivery of the beach material, a 12-acre dune was sculpted and planted with over a quarter million plants.

The dune planting was designed to provide both quality erosion control and color at the lowest possible price. The Landscape Architect selected Sea Oats and Seagrape as the primary vegetation for low cost dune stabilization. Wild flowers, such as Beach Sunflower, Railroad Vine and Blanket Flower were planted around the dune walkovers to provide colors and highlight the beach access points.








To minimize some of the harsh conditions of the dune environment, the planting effort started in February and finished in April. This timing proved to be ideal for the planting. The weather had become cool and unusually rainy. The cool and wet conditions helped reduce the plant shock, which in turn allowed them to adapt quickly to the site. The Sea Oats responded quickly and provided full coverage throughout the project within three months after planting was completed.

On several sections of the dune a root growth enhancer was applied. The intent was to test the new product’s potential to stimulate a faster rate of dune vegetation growth as well as to improve on the planting’s survival rate. The results of the test proved to be quite favorable. The enhancer was applied by diluting it with water and spraying it on the dune from a water truck. Roughly a one-acre area was sprayed with this product. The plants that were sprayed with the root growth enhancer responded quickly showing new growth throughout the experimental area. The problem however, is that after months of bathing from salt and rainwater the root enhancer had dissipated, leaving the soil inhospitable to some of the plant material.








The entire beach spans for 200 feet, and while the project has survived through subsequent storms the vegetation itself is now struggling.

From the ‘91 project, according to Jerry Neal, Engineering Project Manager for Collier County, the wildflowers used to accent and highlight the sight are not thriving. The Railroad Vine and Blanket Flower are very stressed while the Beach Sunflower and Glaillardia did not survive at all. Of the primary vegetation, Sea Oats and Seagrapes, the Sea Oats survived but are now yellow and they do not intend to plant any more. The Seagrape is thriving and doing very well.

From the test sites using compost, the dormant seeds from the ‘91 plantings now have sprigs coming up. From this it appears the compost will create a soil mixture in which plants will not only survive but thrive.

So remember to choose your plant material for both their long and short-term effectiveness and plan for frequent revitalization of the soil and nutrient base.




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