2012 year-end report

The Environmental Element, Omaha’s vision for creating a more sustainable city, has a lot of moving parts – more than 600, to be correct. During the first half of 2012, six volunteer task forces convened by Omaha by Design studied the more than 600 recommendations outlined in the document, now part of Omaha’s master plan. Each task force – the natural environment, urban form/land use, urban form/transportation, building construction, resource conservation and community health – then identified its top priority for implementation. Below is a year-end report on the progress of each task force.

natural environment

Priority strategy – develop a natural resources inventory and establish a process for updating its content

This strategy is being executed by the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA), the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District, the City of Omaha and Douglas County with assistance from the Natural Resources Inventory Task Force. This type of inventory is useful for local government agencies in developing policies, informing land use decisions and identifying areas for natural resource conservation and management. MAPA, through its Heartland 2050 plan, is providing the base level GIS information, which will be completed by the end of 2012. (Although MAPA is gathering this information for its entire region, the Natural Resources Inventory Task Force is focusing on Douglas, Sarpy and Washington counties in the Papio Watershed.) As resources become available, additional components will be added to the GIS database.

A subcommittee of the Natural Resources Inventory Task Force, led by the city planning department, is updating the city’s Protection of Natural Features list, which is used by the city for mitigation of existing natural resource areas.

The planning department and task force also will address the strategy of creating an environmental assessment handbook/checklist for developers and planners.

A new partnership within the Natural Resources Inventory Task Force is the inclusion of the Back to the River organization, which is planning for the rebuilding along the Missouri River after the 2011 flood. Back to the River is collaborating with the landscape architecture departments at Iowa State University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to conduct a design studio along the Missouri River.  ISU students will kick off the project in the spring of 2013, and UNL students will continue the study in the fall. The plan also will connect with the Heartland 2050 and CSO projects.

The Natural Resources Inventory Task Force also partnered with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Agricultural Research Division to bring Ronald Fleming (FAICP, The Townscape Institute) to Omaha to conduct a visual resources workshop. The natural environment visual resources strategy calls for preserving natural areas and views that contribute to a scenic setting and distinctive character as well as minimizing adverse impacts of air and light pollution on daytime views and night sky views while providing for public safety.

urban form/land use

Priority strategy – to identify new redevelopment finance tools to help encourage urban redevelopment

A task force has been created to pursue this strategy, and it includes representatives from the city, state legislature, Greater Omaha Chamber and local developers. After conducting research on what redevelopment bills are being considered for the 2013 legislative session, the following action items were agreed upon:

  • Omaha by Design will develop a broad coalition that will provide education and support for the creation and adoption of new redevelopment financing tools.
  • Education will come in a variety of forms, including fact sheets, presentations, advocacy, hosting legislative events, testifying and working with the UNO School of Public Administration on the development of a white paper.

At present, the bills that will address redevelopment finance are the Nebraska Municipal Land Bank Act, and the Nebraska Job Creation and Mainstreet Revitalization Act (formerly known as the historic tax credit bill). There will probably be bills dealing with TIF and the sales tax turnback as well.

Most of the redevelopment bills will be applicable to all cities and business districts throughout the state, regardless of size. The education messages will be tailored accordingly.

urban form/transportation

Priority strategy – conduct an education campaign for the Omaha metropolitan area on the economic benefits of a strong and adequately funded transit operation

At present, there are several transit studies under way in the metro that will conclude by mid-2013:

  • The Central Omaha Transit Alternatives Analysis
  • The Regional Transit Study
  • The Heartland 2050 Plan

Omaha by Design and ModeShift Omaha are working with Metro to create a coordinated communications plan focused on the launch of an education campaign and the dissemination of the study results.

The education campaign will be conducted in two stages. The first stage will focus on the general need for transportation options and will use inclusive language that addresses the economic and quality of life benefits that transportation options bring to a community.

Some ideas include the development of a “We Move” campaign and the creation of an infographic on transportation funding.  There are also early discussions with Metro on the creation of a marketing plan.

The second phase will be dependent on the results of all three studies. The end goal is the development of a strong, positive transit identity for Omaha.

community health (safe omaha)

Priority strategy – promote the use of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is a multi-disciplinary approach to deterring criminal behavior through environmental design. CPTED strategies rely upon the ability to influence offender decisions that precede criminal acts.

Alegent/Creighton Health has provided Omaha by Design with $5,000 to develop a program to promote CPTED in the city’s existing business districts and neighborhoods; encourage city officials, employees and design consultants to obtain CPTED education and training; and include a CPTED certified individual in the city’s review process for public and private property.

In October 2012, Omaha by Design partnered with the Neighborhood Center to host a free CPTED workshop for neighborhood residents and business owners at the Omaha Public Library’s Benson branch. The presenter was Officer Angie Echtenkamp from the Omaha Police Department’s Business Watch Unit. She is one of two OPD officers who are CPTED certified and available to make community presentations as their schedules permit. ObD will continue working with Officer Echtenkamp to offer additional workshops for this target audience in other sectors of the city and develop a simple CPTED checklist for use by neighborhood residents.

Omaha by Design is also working with the City of Omaha Planning Department to identify the appropriate staff member to send to CPTED training in 2013. After the staff member has attended the training and received his or her certification, Omaha by Design will coordinate a series of free lunch and learns on CPTED principles for the professional design community, city officials (including members of the Omaha Planning Board and Omaha City Council) and other city staff.

building construction

Priority strategy – Continue to update the city codes to incorporate the latest provisions for energy efficiency and healthy buildings.

Some background on city codes:
The City of Omaha’s current building energy code is the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).  The State of Nebraska has adopted the 2009 IECC standards, which requires Omaha’s energy code to meet or exceed the 2009 IECC.

City staff is in the process of reviewing all code standards, including updating the 2006 IECC. The goal is to stay within the International Codes Council’s (ICC) family-year of code standards. Jay Davis, City of Omaha Department of Planning, has formed an internal team that is reviewing the 2012 ICC family-year of code standards, which includes the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code. This review should be completed during the first two quarters of 2013.

Once the internal committee finalizes its review, Davis plans to create a community task force that will include members from the EOIT Building Construction Task Force and the Green Omaha Coalition’s Design and Construction Council. This task force will be charged with reviewing the recommendations and amendments to the 2012 IECC standard that the internal task force has endorsed.

The EOIT Building Construction Task Force achieved another of its 2012 goals – providing energy code education at the Great Plains Energy Codes Conference. The event was held Oct. 16-18 in Omaha. The task force is also exploring additional programs, incentives and educational opportunities that will encourage energy efficiency. Examples include posting Home Energy Rating System (HERS) index scores in the Multiple Listings Service (MLS) and building on the ReEnergize program.

resource conservation

Priority strategy – Establish and implement a fee for curbside garbage removal to provide a mechanism to incentivize waste minimization and landfill diversion; encourage and support research to quantify and standardize the macro and micro measurement of waste.

The completion of the Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan has helped prioritize the issues related to these strategies. The City of Omaha and Douglas County now have an interlocal agreement regarding solid waste management. One of the first steps is for the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency to create a task force to address the priority issues:

  • Core efficiencies in the collection system via transfer stations
  • Route optimization
  • The use of compressed natural gas vehicles
  • Support for Under the Sink
  • The capture and measurement of different types of waste
  • Recyclable markets
  • Product stewardship
  • Incentives for commercial recycling

The Resource Conservation Task Force is working in collaboration with the City of Omaha and Douglas County on these issues. Education is once again an issue to address (for example – how to make it easier for the consumer to recycle and where) and will be leveraged with communication about changes to regional solid waste management.