Two years in the making. Twenty-five goals. Six hundred recommendations. Twenty years to complete. Those are the parameters of an ambitious environmental action plan that the city of Omaha, Neb., has devised, with the nonprofit organization Omaha for Design, to make future development and construction more environmentally friendly.
Unlike similar plans by other metros, Omaha isn’t trying to force a massive relocation into its central city. “We don’t have the population for that,” says Connie Spellman, Omaha by Design’s director. (Greater Omaha has about 800,000 people, 450,000 of whom live within the city’s limits.) “Plus, we’ve done a good job handling sprawl” by controlling annexation, she says.
Instead, the latest plan focuses on increasing the city’s density to 4,500 people per square mile (it’s currently 3,450) via land-use and code changes, tax incentives, and holding new construction and renovation to significantly higher sustainable standards. The plan identifies several urban corridors for growth that could support mass transit, the cost of which is currently being researched.
Omaha wants to become “a national leader in innovative building construction, renovation, and maintenance.” Over the past decade, there has been more than $2 billion in investment in its urban built environment, anchored by the 422-acre 1.1-million-square-foot Qwest Center, and the TD Ameritrade Park Stadium, which is scheduled to open next April. Spellman anticipates robust mixed-use development for this plan to work. Recent noteworthy examples include Aksarben Village, which includes Broadmoor, with 260 rental apartments; and Midtown Crossing, a Mutual of Omaha–developed complex with 297 for-sale condos and 197 rental apartments.
Both mixed-use projects followed development guidelines that the environmental plan lays out. Spellman says the area’s leading builders and developers were “instrumental in the planning process and zoning code changes. This has been a partnership, and they’ve been at the table.” Local builder Hearthstone Homessupports the city’s objectives, its vice president Neil Smith told the Omaha World-Herald, and he doesn’t think its costs would place undue burdens on businesses.
One primary goal is to reduce Omaha’s energy and water consumption per capita 20 percent by 2020, and another 20 percent every 10 years thereafter. The city has started conducting energy audits of more than 100 facilities and buildings using $4.33 million in energy-efficiency grants it received from the DOE, says Kristi Wamstad-Evans, Omaha’s sustainability coordinator. Omaha also has a three-year, $10 million DOE grant for its Better Buildings Program to retrofit older buildings.
New construction is being encouraged to meet stricter energy-efficient standards, including a reduction in construction waste that ends up in landfills to near zero in 10 years. But the plan is flexible about which sustainable program builders and developers subscribe to, although each project will require a LEED-certified person working on it, says Spellman.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Omaha, NE.