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Oklahoma City Landscape Code, Part I

By Buck Abbey, ASLA




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The Okalahoma City Landscape Code is based on a point system. A sample landscape plan might tally points like this:





One of the newest landscape codes in the country is the landscape ordinance from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This code is known to area landscape architects as the OKC Landscape Ordinance. Ordinance No. 22,366, subsections 59-6600 of the Oklahoma municipal code was originally written in 1990 but substantially upgraded in 2001 to reflect the changing development environment of Oklahoma City.

The old code lasted 14 years before conditions within the community necessitated revision. The new code which is included in the zoning code became effective in January 2004. The development community is starting to understand how the code works and is quite pleased with its results.

The landscape code, known locally as the "sight-proof, screening and landscaping ordinance," was written to encourage the use of plant materials in proposed developments to promote the economic, ecological and aesthetic environment of the city. The code enhances the visual character and structure of the built environment and adds other values to urban living. Public safety, public health and public enjoyment of the urban environment are primary issues addressed by the code.

To this end, landscape regulations by zoning district have been created to provide landscape design solutions for open space plantings, perimeter buffers, parking lots, screening and subdivision buffers. Landscaping within perimeter right of ways is allowed as long as plantings do not interfere with utilities and traffic visibility standards. Provisions are also included in the code for the development of landscape plans, site maintenance, security fences and irrigation. No provisions are made for on-site storm water management although reductions in the volume, rate and discharge of storm water runoff is a stated goal of the code.

The code applies to single family, multifamily, commercial and industrial development in slightly different ways and understandably according to different design standards. These design standards are progressively enhanced for higher level zoning classifications, such as single family homes. One of the most interesting and perhaps controversially aspects of the Okalahoma City Landscape Code is its compliance methodology strategy, based on a point system rather than the classic site design strategy used in may communities.

The code assigns points based upon site size and number of parking spaces. For example the greatest number of points (26) are allowed for an eight-inch caliper tree, while a large shrubwill earn three points and a one-gallon ground cover will garner a half point. A 3:1 landscape berm earns one point for each five linear feet. Turf grass earns fewer points. A one-quarter point can be calculated for each square yard of grassed lawn.

Credits are given for preserving trees six inches in caliper or larger. Up to 50 points can be credited for the preservation of any tree over 25 inches DBH (diameter at breast height). Negative points to discourage poor site design are not included in this code. Perhaps this is something that should be questioned and improved upon. Incentives are always best, but negative values may be used to guide design outcome if the developer's rights are carefully considered. The code could be improved greatly if more refined habitat preservation standards and tree preservation could be included in this chapter of the zoning code.

In spite of this conceptual difference of opinion between administrators and designers in the manner in which the code is written, it is a fine example of a contemporary point-based method. It could be used as a model for communities that might prefer a point-based measurement system. The code is written well, organized for clarity and is precise to a measurable outcome of design.

The landscape code and design manual package can be viewed or downloaded at okc.gov/query.html?planning/landscape/index

The design manual contains a copy of the ordinance, ordinance summary worksheets, a plan review checklist, sample landscape plans and tables of site elements and landscape materials. The plan review check list consisting of 15 design criteria is one of the most complete in the country and shows that administrators in Oklahoma City completely understand their code.






More communities, particularly in the South and Southeast, base compliance with landscape codes on "pure design," a strategy that looks at the site as related-use units that require certain types and amounts of planting. LAs tend not to like point systems like the Oklahoma Code as they are more cumbersome and stultifying, which can lead to rather uninspiring, conforming designs (pictured) that meet code but make for a general sameness. This effect is called "codescape" in some quarters.


What are the ordinance, legal, legislative and licensure issues in your state?

This column is devoted to ordinances, legal matters, legislation and licensure. Last year we asked Prof. Buck Abbey, ASLA to become an associate editor. He is an associate professor of landscape architecture at LSU and has taught planning, design and site engineering classes there since 1974. His specialty is municipal landscape codes and is the author of U.S. Landscape Ordinances.

We have also been including in our news pages ordinance issues from cities around the country (Phoenix, Miami, Minneapolis, Potsdam, New York and Lynchburg, Va., to name a recent few), along with legislative, legal and licensure news. Regarding licensure, besides Colorado's veto and New Hampshire's passage of their state's landscape architect licensure laws, New Jersey and Illinois are seeking to upgrade to a practice act.

Following all ordinances, legal matters, legislation and licensure around the country is not an easy task. While we stay in touch with ASLA chapters and associations in the landscape industry, we encourage you to bring to our attention any ordinances, legal matter, legislation or licensure issue affecting landscape architects in your part of the country.

Please send information or any concerns you may have in these areas to Stephen Kelly: skelly@landscapeonline.com or call 714.979.5276 ext. 120.






D.G. "Buck" Abbey, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at Louisiana State University, is LASN's Associate Editor for Legislation.




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June 17, 2019, 8:46 am PDT

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