Keyword Site Search

Land Development Regulations

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

This is the transformation of downtown Owensboro's Ohio Riverfront as envisioned in the new master plan facilitated by the Gateway Planning Group, Inc., currently being implemented with over $100 million public investment in catalyst projects. Walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods are the cornerstone of the SmartCode, an example of "form-based" landscape codes. Form-based codes visualize specific collection of plants ("planting unit"), a mass or volume collection of plants applied to buffers, street yards, parking lots and site open space. The Form-Based Codes Institute (FBCI) was formed in early October 2004 at a meeting in Lake Geneva, Wis. of leading practitioners in urban design, public policy and law.
Rendering: Gateway Planning Group, Inc.

Oxford Garden
Cost of Wisconsin
Big Toys
Professional Trade Publications
Boulderscape Todd Valley Farms
Teak Warehouse Valmont
John Deere Playworld
BCI Burke Company Belgard

Landscape codes were developed in the late 1960s in response to the nature lost to cities to allow development of individual building lots.

Most landscape codes create buffers, provide street side plantings, parking lot screens and the planting of parking lot interiors. Others provide standards for planting for building street walls, minimum canopy standards and some even have standards for onsite storm water management.

Landscape codes that call for replanting following construction are not the only regulations toward nature in the city. Landscape architects are influenced in their design work by other regulations regarding trees, habitat preservation, erosion control, onsite storm water management, flooding, water quality, water conservation, irrigation, air quality, agricultural chemical-pesticide control and landscape sustainability.

This is not a park, but the grounds of a condo community in Gainsville, Fla., Alachua County. On Jan. 30, 2006, the county initiated a unified land development code, aka land development regulations (LDRs). The code revised zoning districts and use regulations, increased flexibility for residential lot sizes, revised subdivision and stormwater standards, revised landscape and tree protection standards and increased protections for environmentally sensitive areas.

Types of Landscape Codes

Landscape codes come in three types. Some are design-based "prescriptive codes" that set performance goals and provide specific technical standards that designers, landscape contractors and others must follow. Another type of landscape code is considered "performance based." This form of a landscape code uses a conservative point system that must be met to meet design requirements. Points are awarded for meeting certain standards for planting trees, shrubs, ground covers and other landscape construction or maintenance standards.

The newest version of the community landscape code is "form-based code theory." These landscape codes, although in their infancy, visualize a specific collection of plants often referred to as a "planting unit." A planting unit is a mass or volume collection of plants that are applied to specific planting areas: buffers, street yards, parking lots and site open space. The SmartCode contains an example of a form-based landscape coding.

Point-based codes are rare and primarily adopted for suburban land conversions. Form-based landscape codes are even rarer, but the ones that exist in communities such as Centennial Colorado, Altus, Oklahoma and Zachary, Louisiana show great potential for inclusion within community landscape regulations. Form-based landscape codes may be better used for in-fill development and redevelopment of urban areas.

Point-based codes are rare; form-based landscape codes are even rarer. Form-based landscape codes may be better used for in-fill development and redevelopment of urban areas. The form-based landscape codes in communities such as Centennial, Colo. (pictured), Altus, Okla. and Zachary, La. show great potential for inclusion within community landscape regulations.

Land Development Regulations

Yet, an even more important type of green law followed by landscape architects are land development regulations, often called LDRs. These have a history that can be traced back to the 1960s, but for the most part have became common in the 1980s to better manage growth. By doing so, nature as well as historic, cultural and other environmental resources have a better chance of surviving in growing areas
of America.

Both landscape codes and LDRs are in response to rapid land development and suburban sprawl. LDRs are most notable in Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, the Chesapeake region and the Pacific Northwest. Others may be found elsewhere sometimes referred to as unified development codes or land alteration codes. In recent years, land development regulations are being used as a smart growth tool and are even finding their way into development codes related to new urbanism, sustainable landscaping and xeriscaping.

"Low impact development (LID) and green infrastructure techniques utilize engineered or natural systems to mimic natural processes and predevelopment conditions."
Hudson County, New Jersey Planning Board 2009

Some of the first noted land development regulations arose from growth management legislation passed in the late 1970s to control unbridled growth in Florida. The Florida Growth Management Act (Chapter 163, Part II, Florida statutes) required communities to "establish and support administrative instruments and procedures to carry out the provisions and purposes of the act." This encouraged many communities to simply audit their various development regulations and reorganized them into a consistent chapter of the municipal code. Regulations generally consisted of zoning, building, subdivision, and planning requirements. Landscape codes and tree regulations were also included. When these regulations were "unified," loopholes were discovered. Regulations overlapped, so rewriting, filling and developing related regulations were added.

Current land development codes consist of public policy concerning planning procedures, zoning requirements, building standards and subdivision development regulations. This accounts for most of community infrastructure. Landscape codes were brought up-to-date and a host of community landscape regulation improved in the 1980s.

Later, new standards and a finer grade of standards based upon specific land uses were added to create a unified development code.

The principle added areas were development review, historic and environmental protection, as well as storm water management and general design and development standards. Thus we see architectural and landscape architectural design standards being added to community regulations, a way new communities are controlling the way they are designed.

Land Alteration an Essential Element of LDRs

But of course, of more concern to landscape architects are the regulations related to land alteration. Therefore landscape codes included within land development regulations are often referred to as land alteration codes because they establish landclearing regulations.

These super landscape codes encourage mixed-use development that protect natural resources and conservation areas during the land use planning and development review process with an emphasis on designing with nature. Land alteration codes generally will provide performance standards for development in and adjacent to conservation and preservation areas to protect and enhance the natural, physical, biological, ecological, aesthetic, historic and recreational functions of these areas. Many land development regulation control land clearing, protect important trees and require the preservation of wildlife habitat and natural land features. So for landscape architects, LDCs provide more stringent design standards and more teeth to protect land, water and vegetation resources.

Do you have a land development code in your community?

Search Site by Story Keywords

Related Stories

June 26, 2019, 12:00 pm PDT

Website problems, report a bug.
Copyright © 2019 Landscape Communications Inc.
Privacy Policy