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Even for a man of Lance Lang’s expertise, summarizing Chapter 24 of the current Minot City Code of Ordinances that relates to landscaping issues isn’t an easy task.
“Our landscaping ordinances have been kind of heavy-handed and there were a lot of regulations to sort through for developers,” said Lang, who is the City of Minot’s Principal Planner. “We started looking at ways to make our ordinances to have more common sense and to have some flexibility.”
Lang, a certified planner and landscaping architect, is among a group of officials and developers that has worked collaboratively to simplify and improve the City’s landscaping ordinances. The rewritten Chapter 24 was approved on first reading by the Minot City Council at its October meeting. It still must be approved on second reading.
It hasn’t been a simple process.
“A lot of thought went into this. The landscaping chapter is essentially a total rewrite. We carried over a lot of things, but we’re approaching it in a whole new way,” Lang said. “We studied what other cities were doing with their landscaping ordinances, including Bismarck, Fargo and Rapid City. We feel like what we’ve created is a simpler method to figure out what the requirements will be for a developer to follow.”
The new regulations are broken down into six components: Streetscapes, parking lots, building foundation perimeter plantings, loading and service areas, buffer yards, and supplemental landscaping. Lang said the new plan was developed through the Planning Commission, with input from a host of others, including a steering committee and developers themselves. By including developers in the discussion, Lang said the City hopes to create regulations that satisfy all parties involved.
“The developer forums we’ve held have been great. They have helped us understand the developer’s point of view on many issues,” he said. “It’s also a way to show that the City is responsive to the concerns and needs of developers.”
Lang said everyone involved in creating the new guidelines wanted to simplify existing ordinances, reduce cost to developers when possible, and create flexibility within regulations without sacrificing the overall intentions of proper landscaping.
“One of the dangers we talked about during our discussion is that we’ll cut the requirements too much, but I don’t think we’ve done that,” Lang said.
Although there will still be math involved in the newly written ordinances, Lang is hopeful the new regulations will be easier for everyone to understand. For instance, instead of guidelines based on a percentage of a total area, Lang said the goal was to simplify the math and create more common sense guidelines, like requiring that one tree be planted for every 50 lineal feet of streetscape. And within that tree requirement, there would be options and tradeoffs for developers, too.
“The one per 50 establishes the quantity, not the spacing,” Lang said.
For example, if a developer doesn’t want tall trees potentially blocking the view of a business or its signage, there are alternatives that include varieties of trees or shrubs that would fulfill the new landscaping requirements while not interfering with lines of sight to a business. There are also options as to where a developer can plant those trees: evenly spaced out, all at one end, all in the middle, etc.
“Our goal with these changes is to find a balance – an acceptable median. Developers are used to having rules, and they can accept rules if they understand them and the rules are applied fairly and consistently,” Lang said.