We will protect significant natural features. The boundaries of Oklahoma City encompass a variety of well-preserved natural features, such as grasslands, riparian areas, upland forests, and sensitive aquifers, which contribute to the landscape in a number of ways. They contribute to our economic strength by increasing the attractiveness of the city, which improves competitiveness in the global marketplace. They provide ecosystem services, such as filtering water, cleaning the air, and providing food and habitat for birds that eat insect pests, and bees that pollinate crops. Moreover, they contribute to quality of life for residents and visitors, providing the benefits of recreation, beauty, and distinctive character.
Protection of significant natural resources is based on a map of Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs), which has already been completed. The resulting regional inventory provides information for developers and property owners to use as they design developments to ensure they avoid impairing significant features. Using mapped ESAs as a baseline, we will elaborate a policy to protect ESAs that specifies methods to mitigate damage to natural features (see Chapter 2 for overview).
We will develop and protect a network of green spaces that preserves environmental assets and connects habitats for wildlife. An effective conservation plan will ensure not only that environmentally significant areas are protected, but also that they are connected via wildlife corridors, remain minimally fragmented by roads and other infrastructure, and represent the natural ecosystem diversity of the area.
Connectivity: Connections between protected areas maintain the viability of wildlife populations, enhance biodiversity by accommodating more species, and provide corridors that allow wildlife to move safely between habitats. Current development patterns often break connections between green spaces, particularly where they cross boundaries of ownership or development projects. We will identify opportunities to develop a connected network of ESAs and other green spaces using existing and potential trail corridors, greenways, open spaces, wetlands, forests, waterways, and natural areas. The resulting guidance for development will ensure that connections between green spaces are maintained.
Minimal fragmentation: Current practices allow large natural areas to be fragmented into multiple smaller areas by infrastructure, such as roads, fences, pipelines, and transmission lines. These features, as well as noise, disrupt the dispersal of plants and animals. Guidelines will be adopted to minimize fragmentation by directing infrastructure to locations with least impact, minimizing the amount of habitat disruption around the infrastructure, and utilizing best practices to restore damaged habitat.
Representativeness and heterogeneity: A strategy to protect ESAs will employ principles of representativeness and heterogeneity. Representativeness ensures that green spaces exemplify the range of natural diversity in our area, including diversity of species, ecosystems, and geology. Heterogeneity favors green spaces that include a mix of ecosystems closely grouped together, as these spaces are shown to harbor greater biodiversity than more homogenous green spaces.
We will develop a package of incentives and requirements to ensure developments near natural features minimize adverse impacts. The ESA inventory and green space network will be protected through a combination of requirements and incentives. Requirements will minimize disturbance of targeted areas with highest ecological value. In addition, because property owners and developers should not be penalized for responsible development of land near ESAs and corridors, we will establish tools and incentives for properties to be developed in ways that minimally impact natural areas and incorporate green features into their designs. For example, one such technique is conservation design, which preserves permanent open space while allowing an equal or greater development yield to that permitted by the site’s underlying zoning. Permanent open space is often protected through conservation easements, which may be donated to a public or nonprofit body in exchange for tax advantages.
Click to expand policy information.
Pursue grants, partnerships, and programs that accomplish the following:
- Restore tree stands and wildlife habitats in environmentally sensitive areas.
- Acquire land or establish conservation easements in environmentally sensitive areas to reserve as permanent open space and protect wildlife and habitat.
- Establish a comprehensive habitat management program.
- Provide education and resources for proper use of pesticides and fertilizers, with special focus on encouraging integrated pest management and organic practices.
- Provide education about land management practices that address fire suppression, invasive species, use of herbicides/pesticides, and overgrazing.
- Promote the economic and aesthetic value of preserving Oklahoma City’s natural resources such as riparian areas, Cross Timbers forest, grasslands/prairie, bottomland forests, and wetlands.
Support and incentivize the adaptive use of existing buildings, infill development, and brownfield development.
Establish development regulations to help protect Oklahoma City’s water resources through standards that:
- Require buffers, setbacks, and vegetation conservation requirements to protect riparian and littoral zones and filter waterborne pollutants from development activities and storm water runoff. Buffer widths should be based on water quality function and wildlife habitat needs.
- Encourage natural drainage systems and methods for onsite infiltration and onsite sediment retention.
- Require new developments to maintain or decrease the site’s pre-development runoff rate.
- Allow low-impact development design features such as pervious pavement, rain gardens, landscaped parkways, and alternative curbing designs.
- Reduce the amount of impervious surfaces allowed in buffer zones around Environmentally Sensitive Areas.
- Restore watershed features such as forest, wetlands, and natural stream channels.
Establish incentives such as a simplified permitting process, reduced application fees, and special recognition for projects that:
- Utilize best management practices or other low-impact development methods for storm water management.
- Bring buried streams to the surface and restore riparian habitat.
- Install bridge systems instead of culverts for stream crossings to help maintain the natural ecosystem associated with the stream.
Revise policies, codes and development regulations to reduce the risk of damage resulting from flooding and preserve water quality and stream related habitat by avoiding alterations to the 100-year floodplain (as depicted on the FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Map). Allow these areas to remain in their natural state to the greatest extent possible. Revised policies should allow positive alterations, such as restoration of natural riparian areas with appropriate vegetation.
Preserve wetlands in their natural state to the greatest extent possible to increase water quality, minimize quantity of runoff, and increase groundwater recharge. Maintain wetland headwaters and avoid the alteration of surface or subsurface drainage patterns that would eliminate, reduce, or severely alter the frequency and volume of water entering wetland areas.
Develop a comprehensive watershed management strategy that identifies programs, partnerships, actions, and incentives that the City and partners can take to protect the city’s water resources and aquatic areas. The strategy should address the following:
- Creation of a Stormwater Master Plan.
- Update to the City’s sediment control program and establishment of performance measures.
- Coordinated watershed restoration projects.
- Preparation and implementation of Small Watershed Action Plans (SWAPs) and participation in studies to identify needs and opportunities for stream restoration, wetland creation and restoration, and storm water management.
- Identification of opportunities to create wetlands to offset construction and other land development impacts.
- Identification and utilization of “receiving lands” that can absorb storm surge overflows.
- Public education on how to conserve water and minimize chemicals, pathogens, sediment, and nutrients in urban and rural watersheds.
- Acquisition and protection of greenways, river buffers and flood prone areas.
Revise development regulations to require the following factors to be addressed in development and redevelopment proposals:
- Preservation of existing natural resources, such as wooded areas, habitat areas, and floodplains.
- Utilization of natural treatments and methods to stabilize or rehabilitate stream and river banks as a means to preserve downstream habitats.
- Integration of a variety of native or compatible non-native, non-invasive plant species.
- Mitigation of impacts of development on habitat, wildlife corridors, riparian and littoral areas, and water quality, through actions such as restoration or re-vegetation of disturbed natural areas and replacement of trees/habitat on-site or off-site.
- Management of invasive plant and animal species.
- Management and maintenance of natural areas, common areas and drainage areas.
- Impact on surface and groundwater supply.
- Impact on water quality caused by land uses and activities.
- Impacts on floodplains, riparian and littoral areas and wetlands and areas with significant landforms.
In areas where standard on-site wastewater systems are not feasible (such as in areas with shallow or poor soils), require very low-density development or development that utilizes conservation design and a centralized treatment facility or other environmentally sensitive systems for wastewater treatment.
Develop a manual of best management practices that can be integrated into City codes. These include, but are not limited to:
- Tree care and management.
- Tree planting.
- Tree protection.
- Street trees (location, conflicts, maintenance, etc. – in addition to general tree care guidelines).
- Placement of utilities (e.g., under streets vs. under park strips)
- Low impact development techniques.
- Habitat protection and restoration.
- Conservation easements and/or subdivisions.
Revise the landscape ordinance to include the following:
- Define terms such as invasive species, exotic/non-native species, and native/indigenous species
- Require removal of invasive species from existing sites, and prohibit such species from being planted or maintained in new development.
- Provide a reference list of native plants and drought-tolerant plants.
- Provide incentives for using native and drought-tolerant plants and disincentives for using high-water plants and turf grass.
- Establish requirements for using design practices that minimize the need for supplemental irrigation.
Preserve natural habitat, maintain wildlife food sources, and reduce the risk of propagating invasive plant species by utilizing vegetation native to Oklahoma, preferably central Oklahoma, for all mitigation and habitat restoration efforts associated with new development and redevelopment projects, public and private, to the greatest extent possible.
Establish an Urban Forestry Program and City Urban Forester position to achieve the following:
- Measure and monitor tree canopy coverage and habitat on a regular basis so that any policies, programs, and regulations may be adjusted accordingly as situations change. Establish a process to maintain current data.
- Develop and maintain regulations, policies, processes, and programs that focus on protection and preservation of native trees.
- Provide assistance with proper tree selection, location, and maintenance to prevent power outages, reduce property damage, and coordinate emergency response during natural disaster events (excessive snow and ice, tornadoes, etc.), address the urban heat island effect, and reduce energy costs, etc.
- Establish programs such as tree give-aways, neighborhood planting programs, and education workshops.
- Provide resources to the public about tree selection, management, and care.
- Seek grant funding for community tree planting to improve City parks, publicly maintained rights-of-way and other areas of the city.
- Inventory the City’s street trees and develop a tree replacement program.
- Partner with volunteer and nonprofit organizations to recruit volunteers for tree planting and maintenance and to coordinate community-wide tree planting efforts.
Develop and adopt a tree preservation ordinance that achieves the following:
- Defines methods of preservation;
- Defines situations where preservation of trees is mandatory versus optional;
- Establishes incentives for tree preservation;
- Establishes mitigation options if preservation cannot be accomplished; and
- Establishes penalties for unauthorized tree removal.
Provide the public with resources, tools, and guidance to deal with environmental hazards, such as:
- Information about safe disposal options for household contaminants such as motor oils, paints, computers, televisions, batteries, etc.
- Information on environmental hazards, such as brownfield sites.
- Information about funds available to assist with environmental cleanups.
Pursue methods to reduce the impact of the urban heat island effect on Oklahoma City by:
- Establishing a minimum canopy coverage requirement over paved surfaces such as parking lots.
- Instating a “continuous canopy” requirement for new streets and street reconstruction projects.
- Promoting the use of building and roofing materials that reduce heat island effects.
Modify development and subdivision regulations, and City policies to minimize alteration of natural landforms and native vegetation and maximize retention of distinctive natural features for public and private projects.
Establish development regulations that help improve air quality, including:
- Specifying construction controls that reduce airborne dust;
- Increasing landscaping and tree planting to absorb carbon dioxide and air pollutants; and
- Encouraging development patterns and densities that support alternative modes of transportation in the urban LUTAs.
Develop an enforcement mechanism for the City’s Building Energy Code. Develop a healthy building code to support construction of durable, health-promoting and energy efficient buildings that incorporate proven green development practices, locally-sourced and environmentally responsible materials, water conservation fixtures, innovative design and construction techniques, and low waste construction practices. Incentivize their use with shorter approval procedures, priority permits and inspections, and reduced fees.
Partner with agencies, non-profits, and private entities to:
- Implement a sustainable development online forum – an educational and networking resource that will inform the public about local opportunities and the benefits of sustainable development while increasing builder and developer participation.
- Educate citizens on energy and water conservation opportunities both at work and at home.
- Encourage appropriate re-use and reclamation of water in new development and redevelopment to reduce the reliance on potable water use.
- Provide detailed cost-benefit information about green building practices to encourage increased use of such practices in Oklahoma City.
- Reduce reliance on electricity produced by fossil fuel by encouraging the use of renewable energy sources in new development and redevelopment.
- Explore mechanisms (incentives, regulations, programs) to divert demolition debris from landfills and redirect to facilities that can reuse these materials.
- Establish a promotion/award program to showcase innovative development that utilizes low-impact development practices and energy-efficient building techniques / equipment, conserves riparian buffers, and extends greenway networks with hiking/biking trails.
Preserve overall landscape character and natural landforms (rolling hills, native vegetation, etc.) to the greatest extent possible.
Increase the amount of biodiversity-rich green space in urban and suburban areas by:
- Integrating vegetation to support biodiversity in parks, gardens, trails, and green roofs. Native vegetation that provides food and habitat for native wildlife such as “micro prairies” and urban forests will have the greatest effect.
- Encouraging optimal mowing practices on large lots that are adjacent to natural features.
Enrich natural biodiversity in agricultural areas by promoting practices that provide food, water, and habitat for wildlife and minimize negative impacts. Strategies to achieve the goal include:
- Working with farmers, rancher, conservationists, sustainable agricultural organizations, and other stakeholders to develop a plan to conserve nature in farming and ranching landscapes.
- Implementing optimal mowing strategies, which include harvesting grasses at a growing height of 10 plus inches; creating early successional habitat with burning, disking, and haying every 3-5 years; mowing from the center of a field outward to allow wildlife to escape the surrounding areas; adding flushing bars to mowing equipment to minimize bird injuries and death; leaving 4-6 inches of stubble after harvest to capture snow and water; harvesting or mowing after first frost to avoid disturbing bird nests and improve grass quality; and leaving portions of fields as standing crops.
- Increasing nesting habitat.
- Adopting best practices for fertilizer and pesticide applications.
- Developing landscape conservation cooperatives.
- Encouraging grassland ranching as an ecologically beneficial alternative to cultivation, particularly practices such as “mob grazing” that mimic natural grazing patterns.
- Promoting ranching of bison, which benefit conservation efforts by dispersing seeds, increasing plant biodiversity, and enhancing groundwater recharge.
- Restoring grassland on previously cultivated landscapes, particularly in buffer zones near natural features.
- Encouraging and supporting agricultural parks that combine recreation and food production and foster appreciation for agricultural heritage.
- Promoting sustainable intensification, which increases production and profitability while providing rich sources of habitat for biodiversity.
Protect and preserve natural resources, by:
- Identifying and mapping valuable natural resources, such as, native prairies.
- Maintaining a comprehensive inventory and assessment of natural resources and critical habitats.
- Identifying opportunities to create an interconnected green infrastructure network throughout and beyond Oklahoma City’s municipal boundaries via existing trail and greenway projects, parks, stream corridors, and natural areas.
- Seeking the voluntary sale of land or dedication of conservation easements on private land that is identified as critical habitat or is necessary to link wildlife corridors.
- Pursuing protection of strategically identified natural areas by placing them in conservation easements or land banks, and reserving them for future use as open space and passive recreational areas.
- Managing invasive plant and animal species.
- Partnering with applicable State agencies and non-profit entities.
Strive to preserve natural open spaces, including native prairies, and re-plant native vegetation to take advantage of their drought tolerance and deep root structures that slow and adsorb stormwater runoff and reduce erosion by anchoring the soil.
Identify and protect critical habitats for state and federally listed threatened or endangered species.
Identify migratory birds and their nesting sites prior to construction. Protect migratory birds and their nesting sites throughout the construction process and refrain from construction near nesting sites until migratory birds are no longer actively nesting and have moved on from the site. Verify compliance with Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Establish strategies, procedures and policies that prevent degradation or loss of critical habitat and sensitive areas, such as Cross Timbers, upland forests, wetlands, wildlife corridors, groundwater recharge zones, and riparian areas. Protection methods should ensure that placement of lots, alignment of roads, and installation of structures and infrastructure minimize disturbance of the environmentally sensitive areas using tools such as:
- Directing development to appropriate locations;
- Greenbelt preservation;
- Assurance of no development in protected open space;
- Clustering / conservation subdivisions;
- Pervious surface treatments;
- Density transfers; and/or
- Conservation easements.
Ensure that strategies, procedures, and policies incorporate principles of connectivity, minimal fragmentation, representativeness, and heterogeneity.
In conjunction with City regulatory changes, such as significant modifications to zoning ordinances, building codes, or subdivision regulations, assess the effects of the proposed modifications on housing development costs and overall housing affordability, considering the balance between housing affordability and other objectives such as environmental quality, urban design quality, maintenance of neighborhood character and protection of public health, safety and welfare. This assessment should be integrated into the code amendment process, identify barriers to housing affordability, and include recommended mitigation.
Modify codes to allow residential clustering in rural land use typology areas, provided water supply and sewage disposal requirements are met, and permanently preserve nearby open space through means such as conservation easements.
Require that new development tie into the park and trail system by providing linkages to existing parks or dedicating new park land. Connect existing parks and neighborhoods to create a continuous system of open spaces, for example along stream corridors.
Enhance public park design standards to allow for public art and innovative design solutions regarding stormwater management, use of native vegetation, open space, and play areas.
Revise subdivision regulations to require development adjacent to parks and public open spaces to maintain open sight lines to parks and public open space. Reduce/limit residential rear yards, fences, walls, and physical and visual enclosures around park and public open space perimeters. Encourage designs that allow homes to face into parks or where side yards are located near parks.
Pursue all opportunities, including donations, conservation easements, inheritance trusts, naming rights, and developer incentives to accomplish the following:
- Acquiring new lands for parks, open space;
- Acquiring natural areas that provide greater opportunities for people to access nature;
- Maintaining existing and future parks, open space, and natural areas;
- Enhancing existing landscaping at parks and along trails by planting additional native vegetation.
Adopt new citywide site design and building regulations that ensure new developments meet basic functional and aesthetic minimums related to:
- Walkability and bike-ability
- Internal and external street connectivity
- Integration of uses
- Building location
- Building appearance
- Open space (passive and active)
Adopt subdivision regulations that ensure new neighborhoods meet the basic needs of residents while supporting an efficient development pattern. Regulations should cover:
- Open space (passive and active),
- Demonstration of sustainable funding levels for common area and facility maintenance costs,
- Walkability and bikeability,
- Internal and external street connectivity,
- Block length,
- Integration of uses,
- Integration of a variety of home sizes,
- Integration of a variety of unit types, and
- Preservation of Environmentally Sensitive Areas.
Regulations could be based on a point scale to allow flexibility, while still requiring basic minimum thresholds be met.
New regulations should remove the existing requirement for development in Rural LUTAs to connect to water and sewer systems and establish a minimum one-acre lot size for lots with on-site sewer treatment.