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March 21, 2019   
Landscape Laws: Acts and Ordinances from Santa Monica, Calif. to Miami-Dade, Fla. Adopt Various Meth  March 16, 2007

In a recent column in an issue of a respected civil engineering news magazine the author asked if government regulation of land development had gone too far. Citing the complexity of getting a small 20-acre piece of land developed and permitted, the author enumerated 17 issues he deemed as excessive government regulation.

Among the issues painted by the author as excessive was the minimum landscaping requirements regulated by law. He maintains the regulations for plant material size, parking lot shade, tree density and number of trees planted in parking lot encumber land development. Regulations banning tree removal and limiting impervious areas as part of landscaping requirements were questioned and thought excessive. What do you think?

This brings to mind some of the most famous words found within the U.S. Historical Documents section housed at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. Those impressive words have a bearing on zoning and therefore site design regulations. Consider these words: “ to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time as shall be thought most convenient for the general good. ”

For those interested in the framing of our laws these words are remembered and known as an essential clause of the Mayflower Compact. This classic document of American law signed by the founders on November 11, 1620 is largely responsible for our government by law. Thought by some scholars as the initial constitution, others believe that its importance lies in the concept that government is a covenant between people setting forth the great democratic principle that the power of government is derived from the consent of the governed.

Those weary travelers who stepped ashore in what became known as Plymouth, New England, believed they would work together to draft such laws, acts, ordinances and codes that would allow them to live and survive comfortably in an unknown territory. As these words were crafted, the founders did not realize their words would become part of the basis of community zoning and would affect all settlements in this land.

Landscape laws are derived from modern zoning principles. Zoning sets forth the perquisites of those that are governed as well as design standards for professionals to follow. Landscape laws and community landscape ordinances specify parts of development sites that must be set aside for landscaping, stormwater management and screening. Regulated design components and technical standards contained within these ordinances lead to better site development. Better site development preserves natural resources, makes efficient use of land, sets design standards for screening, climate control and stormwater management and leads to the preservation and planting of thousands of trees in every community across the country.

A Quick Review of Landscape Laws from Various Communities
These laws llustrate the governed are ready to endorse landscape laws, acts and ordinances in various ways to seek better site design.

Santa Monica, Calif. sets regulations in their Landscape Ordinance that sets a limit on the percentage of a developed landscape that can be planted as turf grass. The city is interested in protecting water resources.

The Miami-Dade, Fla. County Landscaping Ordinance has been crafted to re-establish native habitat and encourage the use of native plant materials. The city fathers are interested in protecting the natural character of their community.

In Fulton County, Ga., trees and urban forest canopy are protected and enhanced according to their Tree Preservation Ordinance enacted to promote a host of environmental values that include erosion control, increased aesthetics and protected property values.

Further north, Overland Park, Kansas, through its Landscape and Screening Ordinance, finds it is essential to protect the view from public streets and to buffer uncomplementary land uses.

In Chicago, Ill. the Municipal Code sets forth standards that require all developments to plant and maintain trees in the public parkway fronting all streets. This has lead to the planting of thousands of beautiful street trees and the greening of this Midwest giant.

“Better site development preserves natural resources, makes efficient use of land, sets design standards for screening, climate control and stormwater management and leads to the preservation and planting of thousands of trees in every community across the country.”—Buck Abbey, ASLA

In other parts of the country the governed see other important reasons to enact green laws. Water is a problem on the front range of the Rocky Mountains, so Lafayette County, Colorado drafted its Landscaping Regulations to protect potable water supplies. These regulations establish procedures and design guidelines for designing, installing and maintaining irrigation systems and water-efficient landscapes.

Too much water is a problem in Montgomery County, Vir. The governed here have enacted Minimum Standards for Landscaping that require landscape plans for stormwater management. Plans must be drawn in such a way to create stormwater management BMPs that use selected plant material species. These wetland plants are essential design tools for bioretention facilities, aquatic benches, constructed wetlands and riparian fringe areas that are used to remove target pollutants and to keep them from entering the coastal waters of the United States.

This discussion could describe how communities from Little Rock, Ark. to Tigard, Ore. and on to Southlake, Texas or Mandeville, La. have chosen to govern themselves in the regulation of land development.

The colonists who founded government aboard the Mayflower recognized that each citizen might not agree with all of the regulatory actions of the government they were creating; but they understood that government could be useful and fair only if it originated with the consent of those governed.

Landscape laws are not “governmental overkill” as stated in the column cited in the opening of this article. Landscape laws are an essential element of community building whose time has come. Since the governed demand better site design that protects and rebuilds nature in the city we will see more landscape regulations in the future. Landscape architects agree with the Pilgrims.

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

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