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One Smart Green Code


By Buck Abbey, ASLA, Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, Louisiana State University





The Town of Bluffton Unified Development Ordinance states: "Native and regionally appropriate plant species are required. Invasive species, as identified by the U.S. Forest Service or Clemson University, are prohibited from being planted in the town of Bluffton. Further, ... Bluffton encourages the replacement of invasive species with desirable hardwood species." Beaufort County has a least 14 varieties of oaks. Southern magnolias are the naturally occurring accent tree, with wax myrtle, saw palmetto and dwarf palmetto supplying the understory. Vinca minor, Confederate jasmine and saw palmetto are the low ground covers in village right-of-ways.


"We will sustain the vitality, function and beauty of Bluffton's natural heritage."
-- Bluffton Comprehensive Plan, 2007

Low Country Living
The May River in South Carolina's low country has always shaped the quality of life for people who have chosen to live on this bluff surrounded by forests, marshes, swamps and water. Four rivers enclose Bluffton. The town laid out in the early 1800s as a resort community, but was officially founded in 1852 by those wanting to escape yellow fever ravished rice plantations in the summer.

South Carolina's succession is traced to the "succession oak" that still stands where Robert Barnwell Rhett agitated in the 1840s over tariffs. He helped ignite the "Bluffton Movement," which culminated in the succession of South Carolina from the Union in December 1860.

The development of nearby Sea Pines Plantation and Hilton Head Island, the birthplace of landscape codes in the late 1950s, has brought tremendous growth to historic Bluffton. The town's planning documents, codes and ordinances are as up-to-date as will be found in any community.

Form Based Code
Bluffton upgraded its local codes in 2011 to carry out the Comprehensive Plan prepared in 2007. The municipal zoning regulations were replaced by a unified development code that brought all building regulations together in one document. One big step, for good or bad, was to transition away from traditional Euclidian zoning to the new "form based codes" developed on the model of the SmartCode.

Readers will recall from a previous column in LASN the SmartCode was first used in the 1980s by the firm Duaney Plater-Zyberk & Company and has since fueled the New Urbanism approach to town planning. Form-based coding literally conveys an architectural pattern to all decisions concerning land use, building placement, building design, parking, street frontage, landscaping and other minor aspects of community building, including parks and public spaces. Existing site conditions play a secondary role to creating walkable communities and reducing the impact of cars.

This code is primarily based upon performance type standards conveyed by a series of "preformatted design tables." Its simplicity seems perfect for a small historic community such as Bluffton. An interactive (IZone) document has all of the town's zoning and green laws. The interactive nature of this document makes it very easy to navigate the code. Take it for a test drive at www.townofbluffton.sc.gov/Documents/izone.pdf

 




Form-based coding conveys an architectural pattern to all decisions concerning land use, building placement, building design, parking, street frontage, landscaping and other minor aspects of community building, including parks and public spaces. Existing site conditions play a secondary role to creating walkable communities and reducing the impact of cars. Pictured is the Palmetto Bluff development http://landscapeonline.com/research/article/5507 in Bluffton, S.C., a Lowcountry town (pop. 12,530) between Interstate 95 and Hilton Head Island in the county of Beaufort.



The Green Laws
Nine articles are included in the code. The green laws include regulations for silviculture (trees), landscaping, open space, stormwater and sustainability. Landscape architects will find most of the information they need in Art. 5 (Design Standards), Art. 6 (Sustainable Development Initiatives) and in a very good Stormwater Design Manual. Several innovative ideas are contained in these laws. They include heavy restrictions on tree removal and the preparation of forestry management plans. Large trees over 14-inch DBH as well as special classes of preferred trees exceeding 6-inch DBH must be saved or replaced. Tree protection zones (TPZ) around critical root zones are used to prevent encroachment. All removed trees are replaced on a 1:1 ratio.

Landscaping requirements include minimum plant material sizes and plantings for buffers, parking lot screens, landscape islands, medians, building foundation plantings and street trees. Interestingly, the minimum canopy requirement is 75 percent coverage at maturity.

Preserved habitat areas include wetlands, river buffers and a 150-ft. coastal buffer along the South Carolina Ocean and Coastal Resources Management waterway critical line. A 30-ft. buffer is required along all perennial waters.

Twenty percent of the gross area of each building site must be preserved for common open space. This drops to 10 percent for residential developments. PUDs (planned unit development) must be designed with a minimum of 35 percent.

Open space may be in the form of greenways, greenbelts, greens, squares, community gardens, parks, plazas and habitat preserves. Interestingly, this list goes beyond what is found in the SmartCode. Open space areas may be used for stormwater management.

One Smart (Green) Code
A minimum of 15 out of 20 sustainability points must be scored to qualify a project to receive fee-waiver incentives. Points are given for the use of native plants, tree mitigation and exceeding the minimum requirements for wetland habitat and stream bank buffers. Additional points are provided for water conservation, energy efficiency, reduction in the heat island effects and low impact maintenance of open space facilities.

Fee reductions are also used as developer incentives to encourage LEED building design and for the transfer of development righ
ts that protect critical resources.

This final part of the code pushes the concepts of environmental sustainability. It incorporates several of the LEED/SITES ideas into the code. Landscape architects ought to review this code. This is the direction that landscape codes are moving.

You may contact the author at lsugreenlaws@aol.com, or reach him at the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture at 225.578.1434.




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August 25, 2019, 5:41 am PDT

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