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Buffers, Doral, Florida
LASN associate editor for ordinances, ''Buck'' Abbey, ASLA

Donald Trump bought the bankrupt Doral Country Club in 2012 for $150 million, and has reportedly spent $250 million in refurbishments. Back in Sept. 2014, The Miami Herald reported Trump had spent $750,000 alone for mature areca palms along the Silver Course (there are five courses), which had grown thick and bushy. At that time, a number of disgruntled homeowners were contesting the blocked views of the 90-hole golf course, but their legal standing was apparently untenable, as the course was never developed in conjunction with the residential communities around the golf course.

Code Design Components
Research at LSU has uncovered 21 design components that are found within community landscape codes.

But perhaps the most regulated and problematic design component in community landscape codes are buffers. And it might be added these are also the most controversial too.

The buffer helps regulate land uses by separating zoning districts that have very different uses, different size buildings and conflicting intensities based upon numbers of uses, parking, noise, sight, smells and other urban elements defined as a nuisance. Buffers were created as a means of reducing conflict between land use as well as property owners.

Common Buffers
Buffers can be one of several types. In some communities the main buffer is simply distance. The first buffers were created as setbacks. A setback is part of all basic zoning law. The setback was applied to the front property to keep buildings away from the street, to allow street expansion at some point if needed. Setbacks were also placed on the rear yard for utility access, on side yards to allow access to the rear and to distance one building from another.

Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux recognized street buffers in 1868 when they designed the first garden suburb west of Chicago in Riverside, Illinois. Olmsted set the pattern back then. Screening and buffering the public road with a street yard buffer is perhaps the most important buffer in a landscape code.

Other types of buffers use space but they also rely upon the use of architectural walls, unit fences, clipped hedges or mixed landscape beds. In some communities in recent years preserved native habitat has become popular. Wild areas and forests make wonderful buffers when space allows, particularly for parks, industrial sites and planned developments.

Writing Buffer Code
Many communities write what you might call "uncreative buffer ordinances," simply because they do not understand design. Many use the same stale calculations based upon plant types, sizes and simple spacing. They mix the calculations up somewhat based upon a factor of plants per 100 feet of buffer. This results in several buffer types A,B,C,& D usually based upon the width or area of the buffer. Growing season, time, growth rate and viaual opacity is rarely considered as a factor in the design of buffers.

Perhaps the most critical indictment of buffer code writers is they fail to write code for buffers within dense urban areas. Urban buffers that are thin offer creative possibilities as green walls, flowering fences, or vine covered arbors. There are a large number of hardy evergreen flowering vines that can add color, texture and vibrancy to urban buffers.

Let's look at one buffer law in the part of the country that is known for buffers being a solution to land use controversy.

Doral, Florida Buffer Law
Doral, Florida (pop. 54,116) is a community 12 miles northwest of downtown ami founded in the 1950s.

Landscape codes came to this area after a 1983-1985 building moratorium was enacted to get some control over the haphazard and uncontrolled suburban development that was taking place in the county.

Buffers are defined and regulated specifically, within the Doral community landscape code found as Ordinance #2010-07-2007, Doral, Florida Code of Ordinances, Subpart B Land Development Code, Chapter 71 - Landscaping And Buffer Div. 5 Buffers, Sec. 71-184 tinyurl.

Buffers in Doral are required based upon a "land use intensity factor" that are determined on a 1-10 numerical scale. A factor is used for some land uses based upon a mathematical relationship between open space and impervious areas both of which help determine intensity. The more intense land use shall install the buffer to protect the less intense land use. There is an option to reduce the land use intensity factor by up to three units based upon the use of a fence or wall or when a deeded right-of-way is located between two properties.

There are nine different types of landscape buffers based upon width (5' to 80') and a table that sets a quantity/unit standard for shade trees, understory trees and shrubs. How these quantities are determined is not clear, but the assumption can be made it is the rather stale idea of using a common spacing standard. Height or opacity levels or density factors do not seem to be considered in the design of Doral buffers. A list of suggested buffer plants is provided yet they is no justification for performance, buffering or visual qualities.

These buffer requirements apply to side and rear buffers only. No street yard buffer is included in this code.

Trump's Buffers
The beautifully designed Trump National Doral Country Club, with its world famous 7,288-yard "Blue Monster" golf course has hosted many PGA tournaments for over 50 years. Recently, Aussie golfer Adam Scott won the WGC Cadillac Championship held at Doral.

During the recent tournament, on a wind swept day, many errant balls driven by the pros landed in the water, sand traps and within the planted buffers. The planted buffers are exceptional. Planted buffers are usually designed to screen inward views from the outside, such as neighborhood homes, but at TND, the buffers screen outward views, i.e., Neighbors usually are happy for nice planted buffers near their homes that screen commercial land uses, but in this case Trump is "sparing" the golfers views of any neighboring homes, some of which are mansions. According to the Miami Herald, Trump says the homes do not meet his standards. Lawsuits have been filed.

The landscape administrators for the city and officials from Trump National are trying to make changes to Sec. 71-184 that will allow a new type of buffer design that would allow angled views through the buffers for neighbors, yet block perpendicular views from within.

Perhaps we will see a new type of buffer that can be used under our buffer laws to keep neighbors happy.

Should readers care to contact the author, get in touch by email at You may call Abbey Associates Landscape Architecture at 225-766-0922.

As seen in LASN magazine, September 2016.

December 6, 2019, 9:39 am PDT

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