What Happens When You Submit a Plan?
A beautification project on public property is a wonderful idea, but the execution of the idea is a lot more complex than you might expect. Your group may think they can grab some shovels and plant some trees and flowers anytime they like. Why would anyone be critical of a voluntary attempt to add plants and make an area prettier than it was before? It’s public land, so that’s okay, right? Without going through the proper channels, even well-meaning groups can run into problems when they decide to enhance public lands with landscaping.
Agencies tasked with stewardship of public lands require anyone who proposes to alter or disturb the land in their trust to submit a landscape proposal for review. The agency needs to make sure regulations and policies governing the use of public land are followed, and it is responsible for protecting public land from harm. The agency also wants to make sure no one gets hurt while installing or maintaining approved landscaping. It’s surprising how many things can go wrong when a group decides to plant something within the rights-of-way or easements. The agency, having seen years and years of proposals, knows what can go wrong and how to help things go right. A landscape plan review is a helpful way to avoid problems and keep everyone safe. It results in a better design.
Sometimes ad hoc landscapers have nefarious intent. It’s crazy, but it’s true. A public highway provides visibility for signs and business adjacent to the road. By “landscaping”, developers can “clean up messy vegetation” (fell existing trees) and replace them with cheap, low-growing shrubs or “wildflowers” (weeds) to provide wide open views of the forty-foot letters running across the local outlet mall or fireworks store. A non-reputable business or sign owner might plan on installing shrubs in an open, spotty manner, and then knowingly neglect to water or maintain them, hoping the authorities never notice them bush hog the wilted debris to open clean views to nearby signs. They might even lace the ground with slow-acting poison around trees which they were not allowed to remove and which obstruct their advertising. An agency review of a bad plan and vigilant agency enforcement of violations of policies stop bad players before they can act on their schemes.
Sometimes ad hoc landscapers mean well, but don’t quite understand the safety and sustainability requirements for the site they wish to enhance. A group might get fired up about a project’s progress in late spring and attempt to install their grand plantings in the oppressive, dry heat of mid-summer, only to be discouraged at the loss of plant material later. Many groups propose a stately row of tall trees along the length of the entrance to their city, never realizing the potential liability for planting fixed objects in the clear zone, and never looking up to see conflicting overhead power lines. They might unintentionally propose invasive species or plants not capable of surviving the conditions of the site. They might unwittingly propose to plant tall trees in front of legitimately-permitted billboards without realizing they must keep sign view zones open. Agency policies can help by require planting to only take place during naturally wet months. An agency plan review can tweak a design to make the landscape work well for the site.
The infographic above shows things to include on your plan submittal and consider on your design. Try to include all pertinent information for an informed review. Clean up all unnecessary lines and clutter on the plan sheets. Research the submittal procedure. Contact the agency reviewer to ask questions before submitting your first plan. Understand there will probably be corrections needed to meet all the policies and regulations, and a phone call can save you lots of revisions later. Show all utilities and fencing. Show the right-of-way boundary. Keep trees beyond the safety clear zone for roads. Avoid invasive plants, since they are probably not allowed on public sites. Finally, resubmit your plans quickly, addressing all review comments.
Beautification of public lands is a worthy pursuit for local civic groups. When you take on a project, understand you will be working in partnership with the agency controlling the land you propose to improve. Presenting your landscape plans for their review, according to their policies, is a good start in nurturing that partnership. Together, your group and the agency can ensure proper stewardship of land which belongs to everyone.