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Walmart's Landscape Code

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

Perhaps the best-known private landscape codes in the U.S. are the developmental design covenants of Sea Pines Plantation on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Located on the southern tip of the island. the Sea Pines covenants were written to maintain the natural character of the South Carolina low country.
"Sustainability has become a part of everything we do."
- Mike Duke, CEO Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., July 16, 2009

Most of the landscape codes found in the literature are public landscape regulations enacted by government. These codes are enacted to 'preserve, protect and rebuild nature in the city," and to manage community natural resources. Public green laws do green up a city.

Private Landscape Codes
Private landscape codes green the city as well. They exist in the form of covenants for residential districts, gated communities, golf course communities, commercial districts, office parks and traditional neighborhood developments. Some prime mixed-use communities not only follow covenants but have design committees who carefully review architecture and landscape architecture plans to ensure the design intent of all covenants are respected.

The best known example of private landscape codes are the design covenants for the development of Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island, South, Carolina. Private covenants were written to fit the community into it natural environment and maintain the natural character of this South Carolina low country sea island. These covenants may be considered the ancestor of private landscape codes.

Today private landscape codes are also being developed by some of the country's largest commercial development companies, such as St. Joe Company (second largest private landowner in Florida), General Growth Properties in Chicago and Walmart Stores in Bentonville, Arkansas. Each has its own set of private development regulations.

These companies approach land development for housing, shopping centers and big box retail using consistent in-house developed landscape design methodologies and standards.

The Walmart landscape standards include larger planting areas with a regional palette of plants, balanced planting of perennial plants with evergreens, arranging plants in larger groups by color and the use of a variety of flowering material for seasonal color. The code encourages plantings that are layered, reduction in the use of potable water, capturing rooftop water and treating, filtering and infiltrating stormwater. Some parking lots feature low energy use LED lighting.

Big Box and Walmart
Walmart, founded in 1962, needs no introduction, but it's worth trotting out a few facts. The company is the world's largest public corporation by revenue, and the largest private employer in the world, with over two million employees! Walmart has over 9,000 retail units in 15 countries with 2010 sales of $405 billion. In the United States Walmart has over 3,800 stores, and more opening each month. It is synonymous with the phrase "big box retail," a business practice that appeals to consumers' pocketbooks, but whose labor practices are excoriated.

Big box ordinances generally refer to retail outlets over 75-100 thousand sq. ft. of retail on five to seven acres of land. The current trend in big box is best exemplified in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Multiple amendments to the City Comprehensive City Zoning Code ? 14-16-3-2 Shopping Center Regulations (American Legal), Council Bill C/S2 0-06-53, 8.20.2007 have given this southwestern city control over large retail developments and who fits into the city's character.

Big box regulations attempt to achieve compatibility with surrounding neighborhoods, create high-quality mixed-use environments, reduce traffic congestion, lower architectural scale and increase pedestrian use though connectivity of walkways, plazas and forecourts. These large-scale retail regulations want to use big box anchors to create a village center or a main street type atmosphere. Open space articulation, parking design and landscaping is an integral part of these ordinances, so landscape architects play a big role in establishing successful big box operations and integrating them into surrounding neighborhoods.

Walmart, facing big box ordinances, made the decision to develop their own landscape requirements and adapt them uniformly across the country. The company, through a corporate sustainability policy prides itself as a global leader in sustainability. They are dedicated to "100 percent renewable energy, zero waste and selling products that sustain people and the environment."

It is no wonder their private landscape regulations are based in part upon big box regulations and sustainability metrics.

Walmart, facing big box ordinances, made the decision to develop their own landscape requirements and adapt them uniformly across the country. Walmart's landscape standards are primarily aimed at parking lots. This parking screen is at the Walmart Neighborhood Market in New Orleans. With the average store or neighborhood market under big box regulations devoting 60-70 percent of the site to parking, developing green parking design standards will make a tremendous difference in the ecology of urban parking lots. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. may well be on its way to designing green parking lots on a global scale.

The Walmart Landscape Code
The landscape code was founded on the principles of xeriscape created by the Denver Water Co. in 1978. But this code goes beyond the original seven principles that include, native plants, irrigation, mulching, soil preparation, turf grass minimization and appropriate maintenance. In addition, the Walmart code has standards for integrated pest management (IPM), regional plant lists, site restoration, green irrigation equipment and design for bioswales and bio-islands. Guidelines meet and, in most cases, exceed local landscape codes.

How Different
Unlike public landscape ordinances, this private development code sets forth a philosophy of design directed at designers rather than specific design requirements that must be met.

For the most part, the Walmart code contains typical design components that set aside specific parts of the property to be planted. The code provides minimal specific technical standards that must be carefully calculated and followed to design the planting areas. It appears that the code leaves these major decisions up to the design consultant.

Big box ordinances similar to the one from the Village of Channahon, Illinois have been created to fix this flaw in private development codes. Design components set forth in the Channahon Commercial Design Guidelines include facade design, building materials, parking areas, street access, signage, bike paths, landscaping, lighting and accessory structures. The landscape aspects of big box retail are spelled out in detail within Channahon Municipal Code, Title XV Land Usage, Chapter 158, ? 158.01(American Legal).

Private landscape codes are generally prepared for use by professional designers and corporate building project teams, not just for public review. This means they will usually be written by technical experts who can clearly convey the standards and content to project landscape architects. The Walmart code provides some interesting technical detail not often found within public landscape codes.

Appendix A to the code includes proprietary specifications and details that are used across the country at various Walmarts. Details are provided for bio-islands, curb inlets, planting, signage, bioswales, infiltration profiles, check dams, filtration areas, planting and drip irrigation details. Checklists for design and construction insure all important aspects of drainage design (testing, slopes, grades, material use and flow) are considered.

Other technical information is provided for water conserving site irrigation. Emphasis is placed on the use of ET based controllers rather than the standard programmable analogue unit. Low-volume systems using drip and micro-spray are preferred when possible potable water must be replaced with captured water.

Hopefully, in the next few years Walmart will develop more sustainable design standards for building sites based upon LEED and the Sustainable Sites Initiative.

Walmart should consider building green parking lots, provide for multiple transit choices, better screen the scale and character of the large store facades, and increase the minimum canopy standard and permeability ratio of all building sites.

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September 17, 2019, 10:54 pm PDT

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