Climate-friendly landscaping becomes more prevalent in Valley

As cities update their development and design language for new homes, look for more language dealing with climate change and the environmental impact of new housing developments.

In the course of updating its land development ordinances, surprise considered not allowing grass lawns with any new homes, but councilors did not support this measure.

Surprise’s new land development ordinance and planning and engineering design standards went into effect in January 2021. While they were not a complete departure, a lot of the parameters relating to landscaping and trees in new developments was included with climate change in mind.

“The LDO includes provisions to reduce heat, noise, air pollution and glare in new development,” said Surprise Water Resources Manager Michael Boule.

Glendale Planning Manager Tabitha Perry said the city has not updated its land development ordinances, planning and engineering design standards or engineering development standards in the past five years.

As such, the city’s language is not as specific with regard to climate change issues.

“General comments are made to provide trees that are low drought-tolerant plants. We do not specifically talk about non-invasive roots or xeriscaping when discussing landscaping for new developments with home builders,” Perry stated.

While cities may or may not have the climate in mind when directing homebuilders, those builders often do. Bob Flaherty, group president of Toll Brothers in Arizona, stated in an email one of that company’s major goals is to maintain the original character of the area it builds its communities in.

The company’s aim is for upscale developments that foster a sense of place and exist in harmony with the surrounding environment, Flaherty said.

The Pennsylvania-based builder is in the midst of several Valley projects — including Adero Canyon in Fountain Hills, Cadence in Mesa, Caldea in Queen Creek, Boulder Ranch and Sereno Canyon in Scottsdale and Sterling Grove in Surprise.

“As a business practice, we follow the natural contours of the land to the greatest extent possible. Toll Brothers’ most impressive communities in the Valley — including Sterling Grove, Sereno Canyon, and many others — enhance the existing natural features of the site and preserve them as community assets for the people who live there,” Flaherty stated.

Surprise staff is involved in concept review meetings with developers, and offers alternatives to intensive water-use landscapes. The city promotes low-impact development and works to limit nonfunctional turf in areas such as entry monuments.

Developers have been more conscientious in the most recent cycle of building, Boule said.

“We’ve seen developers be much more mindful, to be honest,” he said. “I think they’re not checking a box. They’re making a genuine effort.”

Planning and zoning has increased its focus to ensure trees planted in new developments for shade do not have intrusive roots — which had been an issue in development plans approved before 2015, Boule said.

Surprise’s updated guiding documents require automatic irrigation timers and a list of drought-tolerant plants in the development. Xeriscaped front yards net a developer a credit from the city.

“It requires buffers between development and wildlife corridors,” Boule said. “And it requires the developer to salvage native plants.”

Prior to embarking on site improvement, Flaherty said the Toll Brothers land planning team incorporates responsible land planning strategies to address issues inherent to sustainability. The developer concentrates on reducing the amount of natural land impacted by a development, as well as preserving as many of the natural land features, as feasible.

Topography and natural desert landscape are carefully considered in all aspects of design, and they align with city ordinances to preserve the character of the natural desert, Flaherty said.

“We also take an environmentally sensitive approach to conservation during development. Toll Brothers has had a longstanding partnership with Native Resources International and Natural Restoration to help salvage plants at our desert communities,” Flaherty stated. “Trees and cacti identified for salvage are usually replanted within the common areas of the community. We also work closely with the city, as they conduct inspections to verify removal, relocation to the nursery, and replanting before issuing final permits.”

Surprise collaborated with fellow West Valley cities Avondale, Buckeye, Glendale and Peoria on standards, Boule said.

Both single-family and multifamily developments have been able to meet the Glendale’s requirement for drought-tolerant plants, Perry said.

“Multifamily development requires a 30% minimum on-site landscaping of the total site area and a 15-foot buffer when abutting a single-family district. These are standard requirements that have not been challenging for the majority of developers,” Perry said.

Most land that remains to be developed in Surprise is natural desert. Boule cited the Tierra Verde East and Tierra Verde West developments — which faced concerned nearby residents, a wash bisecting the property, and a large number of native plants to be removed and salvaged — as an example of this more conscientious​​ approach.

The Tierra Verde developments are property of Crown West Realty.

“It’s one of the first developments that got this new suite of requirements and they’ve gone beyond that,” Boule said.

Richard Smith Circle.png

Associate Editor | Surprise and West Valley Preps

Richard Smith has been with Independent Newsmedia since 2016, and worked at a Sun City-based news outfit covering the Northwest Valley for 22 consecutive years.

A NAU alum and lifelong Arizona resident, Richard began as a copy editor and page designer at Surprise Today and the Daily News-Sun, then rekindled his love of sports writing by taking the reins on West Valley Preps in 2008.

For most of the mid-2010s he was the Surprise editor and West Valley Preps reporter. Now he’s the West Valley Preps Editor and Surprise Associate Editor.

As COVID restrictions lift, Richard is cautious, slowly optimistic he will visit book stores, football fields and gyms again this fall.

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