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Existing Conditions

Conservation design and its principles are not new to our region and are present in both NIPC's 2040 Regional Framework Plan (NIPC Framework Plan PDF) and the 2030 Regional Transportation Plan (2030 RTP). A regional conservation design initiative could dramatically give action to the Open Space and Greenways components of the NIPC Framework Plan, as well as contribute to the Green Infrastructure Vision Plan (mentioned above) by adding to green space capacity and biodiversity opportunities. Conservation design can also take an active role in fulfilling several of the NIPC Framework Plan's strategies to encourage redevelopment, reuse and infill, promote livable communities, protect water resources, protect and enhance biodiversity, and enhance and connect green areas.

The 2030 RTP encourages projects that "promote effective stormwater management" and "enhance greenways, trails and open space," which are direct benefits of conservation design strategies. It also endorses the NIPC Framework Plan's recommendations for the treatment of green areas in addition to many other policies including natural landscaping, protection of natural groundwater recharge and the improvement of water quality.

Conservation design is also an active concept in the work of many non-profit environmental advocacy organizations in the region. Chicago Wilderness (CW), partnering with the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission, created the comprehensive Conservation Design Resource Manual in 2003, which has served as a primary reference for this strategy report. CW has continued to promote conservation design through other reports, and has funded efforts such as the Sustainable Watershed Action Team (SWAT) composed of experts in conservation design, stormwater management, and use of native vegetation to work directly with local officials and/or developers on specific planning or development projects (Glosser, 2006). The Conservation Foundation and Openlands are also active in promoting conservation design and other local efforts. On September 10, 2008 The Conservation Foundation hosted a seminar titled "Beyond the Basics: Integrating Conservation In Our Communities." The event aimed at addressing challenges in applying conservation design in new developments was co-hosted by CMAP and several other organizations. Additional resources can be found in the Ecological Planning and Design Directory.

Municipalities are also taking advantage of the benefits of conservation design developments. Some are even requiring all new municipal-owned buildings be built to LEED standards or incorporate aspects of conservation design. The Villa Park Police Station in DuPage County is one example in our region of emerging municipal interest in conservation design. The police station is an urban infill project, built on a former parking lot was designed to incorporate bioswales, porous pavement and a green roof to drastically decrease runoff on the site. Native landscaping was also used on this LEED Silver rated site (Conservation Design Forum).

Many communities in northeastern Illinois have passed ordinances guiding land development that are based on the principles and techniques of conservation design. One of the more recent case studies in the region is McHenry County, which revised its subdivision ordinance by implementing formal "Conservation Design Standards and Procedures." A collaborative effort among the County Board, townships, municipalities, developers and conservation organizations, McHenry County's ordinance was tailored to find a balance between increased development and sensitivity to open spaces. One of the key features of the ordinance is the offer of density bonuses to developers if certain thresholds are met, such as amount of new open space, connectivity of new open space to pre-existing open space, housing type mix, and the restoration or enhancement of wetlands, among others (McHenry County, 2007; McHenry County, 2008). For a complete look at the McHenry County Ordinance, click here.

Businesses can also implement elements of conservation design. Tellabs, Inc is a telecommunications equipment manufacturer located on 55 acres in Naperville, Illinois. An exception to nearby businesses, Tellabs planted all natural landscaping on their property. In addition to cutting their maintenance costs in half, Tellabs now benefits from a fully functioning stormwater management system, which contains and filters stormwater on site through the use of bioswales, vegetated land strips, and a system of pipes, diffusing the stormwater runoff in to the ground. Although initial construction costs may have been higher than traditional landscaping, Tellabs capitalizes on the decreased maintenance costs, in addition to many environmental benefits on the site (Matre, 2002).

Conservation Design Sites

There are several other programs and developments in our region which have chosen to implement selected conservation design principles. For example, the city of Chicago created the Green Alley Program to help solve the problem of flooding in Chicago's alleys. Many alleys were built without connections to the city's sewer system and as a result stormwater tends to pool rather than disperse, causing many secondary problems to home owners, local infrastructure and water quality. Instead of installing expensive connections to the sewers, the city implemented the Green Alleys Program. This program retrofits older, problematic alleyways with several possible combinations of permeable pavement materials, reflective concrete paving with recycled materials, optional drains and energy efficient dark sky compliant light fixtures (City of Chicago). Chicago has installed more than 40 Green Alleys since the program's pilot phase in 2006 (Chicago Sun Times, 2007). For more information, please see the Green Alley Handbook.

On a smaller scale, Plainfield Library has installed a butterfly and hummingbird native garden. Started three years ago, it is now home to dozens of species of butterflies and hummingbirds as well as a variety of native plants including purple coneflower, showy goldenrod and New England aster. The garden serves as a place of education for the children that use the library as well as those visiting from surrounding schools. The Plainfield Library's garden is part of a larger city initiative, called the Green Village Program, which also includes a monthly speaker series for residents that promotes greening of neighborhoods and backyards in Plainfield (Plainfield Library Staff). For more information on Plainfield's Green Village Program click here.

Our region boasts several successful conservation design developments. The map to the left (click for larger image) highlights a selection of completed and planned conservation developments. If you have Google Earth, you can download the KML file to view an interactive map. As you explore the map, the aerial image of each development is accompanied with a pop-up display of the sites planned features. In some cases not all of the features are currently utilized on-site.

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