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More trees, less concrete seen in development

A proposal to build the first environmentally-friendly, low-impact development in Oak Harbor recently made its way through the city permitting process.

The proposal, from Oak Harbor developers Doug Sheppard and George Churchill, spurred city planning staff to put together a recent council workshop showcasing the benefits of low-impact developments, a trend that is spreading throughout the nation.

In fact, city leaders are looking into turning Fort Nugent Park into a low-impact park. The council approved a $15,000 contract with Fakkema and Kingma, an Oak Harbor surveying firm, earlier this month to look into the feasibility.

Also, city planners are researching ways to encourage more low-impact developments by creating incentives or simply making the permitting process easier for these types of projects.

Healthy hydrology

Rob Voight, city senior planner, explained that LIDs (low-impact developments) are “an approach that tries to maintain a healthy, natural hydrological cycle on a site.”

Hard surfaces to be limited

Traditional developments create a whole lot of impervious surfaces — from buildings, roads, driveways and so on — which in turn create stormwater runoff since the water can’t soak into the ground. In traditional developments, the stormwater runoff is either piped off-site through stormwater sewers or collected in a central detention pond.

This isn’t good for the environment for many reasons. For example, heavy metals and other pollutants don’t have the chance to be filtered out by natural processes.

In low-impact developments, Voight explained, the amount of impervious surface is limited and the rain water in kept on-site in a variety of ways.

Churchill and Sheppard are building the Pacific Crest development on NW Crosby Avenue, abutting Parkwood Manor Mobile Home Park. The projects includes 21 duplexes and 18 four-plexes.

The housing project will incorporate a number of low-impact features to meet city and state requirements for handling rainwater. The street will be narrower and there will only be sidewalks along one side. It will incorporate pervious concrete, which is a new type of hard surface that allows rainwater to percolate through. The developers will retain more trees and other vegetation than is normally required.

Instead of storm water detention ponds, which are known for being ugly blights on the landscape, the developers will put in bio-retention swales. Voight describes these as being sort of like ditches full of vegetation, which filters out pollutants. They have amended soils that can hold large amounts of water on top of gravel.

The project will also include rain gardens. Voight explained that they are similar to bio-retention swales, with amended soils and native vegetation. “It just looks like a well-designed garden,” he said.

State DOE looks on

Churchill, who approached the city with the idea, said the Department of Ecology and others interested in low-impact development around the state will be watching the project closely.

“We could make a real statement...” he said. “It’s really kind of an exciting concept.”

Voight, who led the workshop on LIDs, explained that the benefits of low-impact developments reach beyond simply being environmentally friendly. The cost of developing LIDs tends to be less expensive than traditional methods, he said, though he stressed that depends on a variety of factors that could push the cost higher. In the long run, low-impact developments cost less to maintain.

Also, low-impact developments usually bring a higher market price. There’s a definite aesthetic benefit to the community since there are no unsightly detention ponds, plus there are more trees, manicured rain gardens, narrower roads and more interesting landscaping.

New ideas welcome

The council members also were intrigued by the idea of LIDs. Councilman Richard Davis questioned whether the city’s current regulations do enough, or anything, to promote these type of earth-friendly developments.

Davis said he would love to see more creativity in development in the city instead of the traditional cookie-cutter approach with square blocks, right-angle roads and ugly detention ponds.

“Everything that’s been put in lately has been just icky,” he said, “as far as I am concerned.”

Powers explained that current regulations do allow for LIDs, as the Pacific Crest development has shown. But he agreed that more could be done to make the process easier and possibly to encourage such developments. He said planners will report back to the council.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-1166.

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