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Oakwood Commons
Sustainable Retail Development

Landscape Architecture by Neff & Associates, Parma Heights, Ohio


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Oakwood Commons, a retail center in South Euclid, Ohio, combines educational elements, and sustainable low-impact development techniques and environmentally conscious practices. The site has nearly 5.5 beautiful acres of wetlands and water quality ponds designed to far exceed local stormwater runoff requirements. Some of the buildings in the shopping complex have been LEED certified, including the first LEED Certified Wal-Mart Supercenter.


A golf course that had been part of a community for years suddenly closes. The large greenspace is purchased with the intent to build a shopping center. The anchor is a "big box" retail store. All ingredients for a highly controversial development, which will require residents to vote in favor of rezoning the property.

The project is in South Euclid, Ohio, a suburb (pop. 22,295) on Cleveland's east side. The city's ward councilperson is familiar with sustainable design and pledges to support the project as long as sustainability would be the benchmark for the design. First Interstate, Ltd., the owner and developer, took that direction and ran far beyond expectations. The result is a case study to help educate developers, planners, public leaders, contractors and the general public on how sustainable design can be successfully implemented.

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BEFORE


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The park offers nearly a mile of walking trails, preserving large native oaks and maples, and 5.5 acres of wetlands with native plantings and wildflower meadows that present educational opportunities. Those who take a walk to or from the Wal-Mart Supercenter see dense plantings of Appalachian sedge, 'Heavy Metal' switchgrass and rows of Virginia sweetspire shrubs (left) bordering the walkway.


Oakwood Commons is an ecologically innovative 325,000 square foot commercial development anchored by the first LEED certified Wal-Mart Supercenter. Where most developments of this nature try to maximize building square footage and parking spaces with minimal attention to aesthetics and long-term effects on the environment, this project uses sustainable elements as a feature, not an afterthought. The result is not your usual shopping experience.

Shoppers immediately notice the outdoor surroundings: large masses of plants and trees (over 35 native species of trees, shrubs, meadow grasses, wildflowers, and low maintenance turf grasses). And the patrons will rarely see landscape crews mowing or applying fertilizers. Those walking from the bus stop to Wal-Mart's main entrance encounter signage that identifies native grass plantings. Those shoppers pulling up in an electric car will be delighted to see there are 8 charging stations on site free for their use. The night shoppers will also notice something different: LED lighting throughout the parking lot.

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"There always some sort of wildlife to see, ducks, geese, deer and more."


Shoppers take their time visiting the site; stormwater also hangs around for a while as well. Rain travels through multiple stormwater treatments such as vegetated swales densely planted with trees, shrubs and grasses, or across two acres of permeable pavements. There is over five acres of manmade stormwater wetlands and water quality ponds; that which is not absorbed releases into nearly 700 linear feet of restored stream. All of these features help remove pollutants from the traveling rainwater and reduce downstream flooding.

The stormwater wetlands/water quality ponds can be enjoyed by the neighborhood residents as they walk the paths through the 21 acres of donated parkland that increased the total public park space in the city by almost half. Visitors to the park notice the stands of large oak and maple trees that were preserved by meandering the ponds in the former fairways.

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Oakwood Commons donated over 21 acres of pristine land and $400,000 for funding of improvements to the city of South Euclid to create this passive public park at no cost to the city. The former manicured golf course fairways that are now part of Oakwood Commons offer over 35 different native species of trees and shrubs, 4 different native meadow and wildflower seed mixes and 4 different native low maintenance turf species. The largest percentage of the seed mix is Little Bluestem 25.6%, wild rye 18.8% and Partridge pea 12.5%.


This project did not come without challenges. First, the most visible and prime retail space was at the lowest elevation of the site where stormwater management would typically want to be. With thoughtful planning, this challenge turned into an opportunity. The stormwater wetland, which has become a feature of the donated park, was oversized and able to be strategically placed by using the excavated material to raise the site.

The "unconventional" site plantings initially caused concerns from some neighbors. During the wildflower establishment period, city hall started receiving numerous calls reporting the property's landscape was not being maintained. Homeowners, of course, are accustomed to well-manicured lawns, trimmed shrubs and masses of annual colors, and didn't understand what they were seeing. The property owners were sure they would be purchasing a lot of mulch every year when they saw masses of mulch beds with tiny plants in them. However, once a number of educational signs were placed in highly visible locations to help educate the public about the sustainable site plantings, and once the wildflowers started blooming, the complaints turned into compliments. As the plants started to grow larger and the visible mulch started to disappear, the owners also became less concerned and discovered in the second year that there was a 50% reduction in mulch requirements, and that amount continues to decrease. With large massing of native plantings it is common to plant smaller material to help keep installation cost reasonable and mulch the beds to help reduce competing weeds while the desired plants establish. Sometimes it is just a matter of changing the perception of what a landscape should be.

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"The sustainable design practices implemented have become key features of the property and serve as unique elements to Oakwood Commons," said the director of operations for First Interstate Properties, Ltd., the property owners. "We're excited to report that the balance of the shopping center is currently under construction and new businesses are expected to open in summer 2017."

Other benefits of the sustainable design at Oakwood Commons include limited mowing, reduced use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, plus the use of LED fixtures, whose operating cost and maintenance are considerably less than traditional fixtures.

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The "unconventional" site plantings initially caused complaints from area neighbors who expected manicured turf, trimmed shrubs and masses of annual colors for the shopping development's landscape. They perceived the plantings as not properly maintained. Signage was posted to educate the public about the sustainable palette. Pictured: gray sedge, 'Heavy Metal' switchgrass, inkberry holly, Prairie dropseed and river birch trees.


Oakwood Commons Team
Client/Owner: First Interstate Properties, Ltd., Lyndhurst, Ohio
Landscape Architect: Neff & Associates, Parma Heights, Ohio
Landscape Contractor: Royal Landscape-Gardening, Inc., Cleveland
General Contractor: Great Lakes Construction, Hinckley, Ohio
Native Seed Supplier: Ohio Prairie Nursery, Hiram

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BEFORE


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Oakwood Commons has over 700 linear feet of streams that drain into Nine Mile Creek. The streams were lengthened to allow them to meander and thus slow the water flow. This creates more viable habitats for native plants, wildlife and improves the overall biodiversity. The streams now have weirs, plunge pools and riffles (shallow areas with quicker currents where the water surface is broken by rocks, which allow streams to meander). These features create more natural and sustainable streambeds.


Specified Products
1. LEDs Area Lighting
Pole - Visionaire Lighting - Round Tapered Steel Pole
Fixture - GE Evolve
2. DayViz Solar Powered Blinker Pedestrian Signs: Tapco
3. Permeable Pavers: Unilock Eco-Optiloc
4. Bike Racks: Dero
5. Solar Electric Vehicle Charging Stations: GE WattStation
6. Site Furnishings
Benches RB-28 Black: Victor Stanley
Trash Receptacles A-24 Black (with Ashtray): Victor Stanley
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The Oakwood Commons parking lot is lit by LEDs, has porous pavement and is bordered by plantings of common rush, 'Heavy Metal' switchgrass, purple coneflower and 'Goldsturm' Black-Eyed Susan.


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The landscaped slope buffers the asphalt expanse of the Supercenter's parking lot with London plane trees, Prairie dropseed, 'Cardinal' dogwood and Inkberry holly.




As seen in LASN magazine, January 2017.






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