Landscape Buffers: Here today, gone tomorrow?
As if the major changes proposed for the Comp Plan weren’t enough, Supervisors will vote on proposed changes to the Zoning Ordinance on December 16. One of these changes would weaken our buffer standards for new and existing development. Buffers are strips of land with trees and other plants that separate (buffer) two different land uses, such as roads, strip malls, stormwater facilities and neighborhoods.
Currently the Zoning Ordinance says that utility and other easements must be located outside of the buffer. “Minimal” (perpendicular) crossings of sidewalks, trails and utilities are allowed if there are no other options.
The changes being proposed would give government staff the authority to approve utility easements that run parallel down a new or existing buffer. This would virtually eliminate any given buffer… you can’t plant trees over utility easements and expect them to stay there.
If approved, this relaxed standard would apply to all buffers, and there’s no requirement for staff to notify the neighbors before approving a utility line right down the middle of a buffer… I guess citizens would find out when the trees start coming down.
It’s a great double-up opportunity for developers, who could use the same strip of land to satisfy both buffer and utility easement requirements. Utility companies would have a free rein for running utility lines (no need to deal with those pesky neighbors anymore).
Buffers are important assets that protect the quality and scenic appearance of our neighborhoods today and over time. We also need utilities, but why not have both? If utility easements are suddenly a problem, let’s add the 15 feet to the required buffer width. Space for utility lines would be guaranteed and, if it’s never used, we’ll have a few more trees.
Sec. 32-250.32. Buffer Area Standards.
2(a) Utility and other easements shall not be located within any buffer area except as
otherwise expressly permitted in this Chapter. Minimal easement crossings, and sidewalks and
trails shall be permitted in accordance with section 800 of the Design and Construction
(b) Utility and other easements may be allowed to run parallel within an existing buffer
when no other location for the utility can reasonably be established and provided the following
conditions are met:
(i) The existing buffer is not subject to proffer or special use conditions that require the
area to remain in an undisturbed or natural state, or prohibit utilities.
(ii) The existing buffer has been platted.
(iii) The existing buffer is located on property that is not bonded as a new development.
Should the subject buffer be part of a bonded development, the bond must be amended to permit
the utility prior to the placement of the utility.
(iv) The easement shall not preclude the application and maintenance of landscaping
standards as established in the Design and Construction Standards Manual across the full width
of the buffer.
When allowed as stated in the paragraph above, the utility shall meet the following
(i) Any dry utility (phone, cable, electric, etc.) shall be located underground and in
(ii) Upon completion of installation of the utility the buffer shall be planted as
necessary by the applicant or property owner to meet the buffer standards of the DCSM.
(iii) Any utility easement located within and parallel to the buffer boundary must be
located so as to include one and only one of the buffer boundaries and shall under no
circumstances occupy more than fifteen (15) feet of the buffer width.
The placement of utility easements in buffers under paragraph 2b is subject to the
approval of the Zoning Administrator.