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Avon considers new landscaping standards to limit water consumption – kechambers

Avon considers new landscaping standards to limit water consumption

Water budgeting will encourage landscapes that utilize rocks and native species while avoiding high-consumption plants.
Dave Elin/Courtesy photo

The Avon Town Council is considering an amendment to the town’s landscaping standards that will reduce water consumption and improve fire resiliency in both public and private landscaped areas.

The primary change would be the adoption of water budgeting standards for all new developments and redevelopments that institute a maximum irrigation budget of 7.5 gallons per square foot of irrigated landscape area per season. There would be a possible increase to 8 gallons if incorporating certain design elements that incentivize healthy landscapes.

The code would also require the use of hydrozones, or the grouping of plants with similar levels of water consumption. All hydrozones will be categorized by one of seven water use levels, ranging from no water to high water, turf or water features to give the town a more detailed view of the total water needed to support landscaping within its borders.

“It is obvious that water is a valuable and essential need for a community, and the Town Code must reflect responsible water use, essential for the Town’s sustainability and the health, safety and general welfare of the Avon Community,” wrote senior planner Jena Skinner in a report on the subject. “Our long-term sustainability will become increasingly more precarious without considering ways to be more conservative now. This mindset is the reasoning behind incorporating a water budget and modifying accompanying landscaping controls.”

The amendment would also require all new multi-family and commercial properties to have a licensed landscape architect design and approve water-efficient gardens that comply with the new standards.

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The code amendment will not mandate the selection of certain plants over others, but the water budget will encourage the use of native and low-water consumption species.

“By doing the water budget, it provides flexibility so that it’s not telling anyone that they have to take out what they currently have, and it’s not going to ban having Kentucky Bluegrass, but it may limit how much Kentucky Bluegrass you can have on your property if that’s what you choose to have as part of your landscaping,” said town manager Eric Heil.

Reducing highly consumptive landscapes would also include restrictions on turf. Irrigated turf will only be permissible in essential areas, such as sports fields. Non-essential areas listed in the ordinance include but are not limited to: medians; areas adjacent to open spaces or transportation corridors; areas sloped with more than a 25 percent grade; stormwater drainage and detention basins; commercial, institutional, or industrial properties; areas that are neither designed nor used for passive or active uses.

The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District is already in the process of implementing water use targets for customers that the district’s director of engineering and water resources, Jason Cowles, said will be synergistic with the new standards.

“Many of our existing customers will need to make changes to their landscaping to meet their water use target, and Avon’s standards can additionally inform customer landscape conversions,” Cowles said in a letter to town staff. “A well-informed and aligned landscape standard may well inspire other municipal governments to adopt progressive guidelines that support water conservation.”

In addition, landscapes must comply with Wildland Urban Interface regulations, which include avoiding fire-prone plant materials or keeping them at a distance from the home and prioritizing the selection of Firewise plants, which contain more moisture and are more resistant to flames.

In presenting the new standards to the council on Jan. 10, Skinner said that the town should set the example for how to incorporate water-efficient plants in an attractive manner that encourages residents to follow suit with enthusiasm rather than resentment.

“Having an example house that has done this transition, people go by and think ‘I want my house to look like my neighbor,’ and it just trickles down,” Skinner said.

Example of a water-efficient landscape design.
Town of Avon/Courtesy photo

One additional aspect of the ordinance that the Town Council is considering is whether to apply the new standards to all existing properties in the town over time. Heil recommended implementing a 10-year period in which existing landscapes would have to be converted to meet the new standards, a timeline that Council member Chico Thuon said he thought should be shorter.

“Why 10 years, and maybe not five?” Thuon said. “We take aggressive stances on things like styrofoam, plastic bags, and water is a consumption that makes up our body. We’re losing it at a daily rate that’s insane, why does it have to be 10?”

Council member Rich Carroll expressed resistance to adopting a universal compliance timeline at all, feeling that it would be an overreach by the government to mandate changes to existing landscaping.

“I’ve always said that water is the biggest impediment to growth in the West. I’m going to have to chew on that one for a while … town governments telling people what they have to do to their yard that’s already built,” Carroll said, shaking his head.

The council voted to hold the first public hearing and reading of the landscaping ordinance at the next town council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 24. Members of the public are encouraged to join via Zoom or in person with questions or concerns.

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