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Harmony with Nature | PC Draft

Vision: In 2040, the City of Roanoke will boast a clean, resilient environment in which everyone will live and prosper in harmony with nature through innovative, sustainable, and resilient practices that nurture community health, embrace recreational opportunities, protect our natural resources, address the local aspects of climate change, support ecosystem services, and foster appreciation and understanding of the City’s relationship with its natural surroundings.

Background

Our natural environment must be considered carefully as the city steadily grows and works to diversify its economy. Much of the community’s quality of life and our ability to attract business, tourists and new residents is based on the beauty of our valley. Future growth and development must factor the preservation of important natural area and the interaction of our built and natural environments, particularly with changes in our climate.

Natural Environment

The theme of Harmony with Nature aims to “Ensure that the contributions of natural resources to human well-being are explicitly recognized and valued and that maintaining their health is a primary objective.” Roanoke’s natural environment is one of its most attractive assets. The   City’s proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains and connection to resources such as the Roanoke River, Blue Ridge Parkway, Appalachian Trail and Smith Mountain Lake create a unique natural vibrancy within an urban framework. The approach Roanoke takes in caring for its natural resources is vital to the quality of life for current residents and the marketability of the area for attracting new residents and businesses.

Parks and Greenways

The City’s 20 miles of greenways and trails were identified as a vital community resource throughout the City Plan 2040 planning process. Greenways and trails provide a way for the community to connect with each other and with their natural environment. Access to parks and outdoor activities helps to improve the physical and mental health of the community. Outdoor exercise provides “greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement; decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression; and increased energy” when compared to indoor activity. In 2019, the Parks and Recreation Master Plan was adopted as a component of City Plan 2040. The Parks and Recreation Master Plan shows the popularity of Roanoke’s recreational amenities and highlights important areas of improvement. The Plan’s “Big Moves”  include addressing aged recreation centers and neighborhood connectivity for the greenway system.

Outdoor Recreation and Tourism

Roanoke saw record growth in the lodging industry in 2018. Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge, the Roanoke Region’s destination marketing organization, recorded a 9% increase in demand for hotel rooms, which correlated with a record number of sporting events in the area. The region is quickly becoming a destination for outdoor enthusiasts. The annual GO Outside Festival was attended by over 38,000 people in 2018. Roanoke was designated a Silver Level Ride Center by the International Mountain Biking Association in the same year. Events and recognitions are drawing more visitors and creating new economic activity through tourism. Meeting new demand for recreational space, while maintaining current facilities and protecting natural resources, will be a challenge for the future.

Water Resource Management

In 2018, Roanoke’s rainfall eclipsed previous records with 62.45 inches, exceeding the normal average by over 20 inches. While that was a remarkable year, even more startling is the increase in the frequency and severity of flooding over recent decades.

Chart showing the increasing number of Roanoke Flood events 1900-2020.

Source: National Weather Service

While most of the increase can be attributed to changing weather patterns, flooding is exacerbated by increasing impervious surface like parking lots. Impervious surfaces prevent absorption of rainfall and causes runoff to concentrate much faster into drainage systems and natural watercourses leading to higher peak flows and flooding.

Flood prone areas in the city are identified on Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maps.  These maps may not accurately represent flood potential as rainfall frequency and intensity increases and as better topographic data and analysis tools become available. In fact, recent mapping of the Roanoke River has identified that the most critical flood prone area, the floodway, is larger in many areas than current maps indicate. FEMA is beginning a process to update the maps for our region (upper portions of the Roanoke, Dan and Yadkin Rivers). This process will result in new flood maps in or around 2025 that may show more flood prone areas than currently identified.

In order for Roanoke to adapt to these changes,reduce flooding, and better manage land use in flood prone areas, a  comprehensive approach is needed to:

1) Identify and adopt strong policies to reduce impervious surfaces, specifically strategies to reduce existing pavement.
2)  Ensure new development manages stormwater appropriately and consider how stormwater is managed for redevelopment and retrofit
3) Develop an informed policy for managing development in floodplains and floodways.
4) Advocate for such policies at the statewide level.  Water that floods does not respect municipal boundaries.

As more stormwater flows, there is increased concern for water quality. The Roanoke River and 11 tributaries are impaired, or do not meet water quality standards. Maintaining and improving water quality, air quality, and other measurable aspects of the natural environment is needed to ensure the health of current residents, and imperative in preparing for future threats to environmental quality.

If we want to improve water quality, then we need implement policies that prevent and eliminate sources of water pollution:

  • Maintain performance standards for erosion control during construction.
  • Maintain standards to manage and treat water runoff from new impervious surfaces.
  • Implement practices to treat runoff from existing impervious surfaces and in existing drainage systems.
  • Maintain existing riparian buffers and create new ones.
  • Increase tree canopy
  • Implement stream restoration projects.

Climate change

Cities across the globe are experiencing rising temperatures, changes in weather, and other negative effects due to climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit in a century. While projections may be subject to critique, the existence of climate change induced by human activity is no longer seriously debatable. The inevitability of climate change makes it necessary to mitigate the effects which, in Roanoke, are most obviously manifested by more frequent and more severe flooding. The City has a responsibility to contribute to the effort of slowing climate change through policies that align livability with sustainable practice.  The City of Roanoke’s Climate Action Plan will accompany the priorities, policies, and actions of this plan to increase measures of sustainability and options for resource conservation and protection.

Tree Canopy

Trees provide vital public services, including improving water quality, improving air quality, temperature control, water absorption, habitat provision, in addition to providing beauty. In 2010, Roanoke’s tree canopy coverage was 47.9%. This met the 40% goal laid out in the Vision 2001-2020 comprehensive plan. However, Roanoke’s tree planting budget was significantly reduced in 2008. Since then, the City has relied on local groups and nonprofits to help with the City’s tree work. A 2019 study on tree canopy distribution revealed that Roanoke’s now has 26% tree canopy coverage. In order to maintain and grow the City’s tree cover, the City needs to increase its efforts in tree protection and tree planting. 

Map showing percentage of tree canopy by neighborhood in Roanoke, VA. The majority of neighborhoods have 20% or less tree canopy. South Roanoke and Garden City neighborhoods show 40-60% canopy. The highest concentration is Mill Mountain with 80-100%.

Source: DATA SHEET: TREE CANOPY DISTRIBUTION IN ROANOKE CITY USING THE VIRGINIA STATEWIDE LAND COVER DATASET. Marcus F. Aguilar, Ph.D. 2019

Priority One: Sustainable Land Development

As a city with limited developable land, it is crucial for development to occur sustainably and with consideration for the natural assets within the area. A holistic approach to land development will ensure future development is both durable and adaptable to future uses.

Energy efficient and waste reductive development creates longer lasting buildings, reduces pollution, and helps to preserve natural areas, which is a benefit to the developer and overall community. There are several organizations that offer different levels of green building certifications. However, it can be difficult to entice developers to apply for these certifications as the certification process itself can be costly and time consuming. Creating and incentivizing a local green building standard can encourage green building and sustainable site design practices without a costly certification process. Through simpler recognition and promotion, this type of development can become more common within our community.

Action Items:

  • Adopt a City Green Building and Site Design Standard that promotes durability, sustainability and environmental compliance in building materials, site design, landscaping, energy efficiency, and health during all stages of development
  • Improve indoor air quality and energy efficiency through creation of a City building benchmarking system defined by Department of Energy metrics and indoor air quality goals
  • Create incentives for green roofs on new buildings and retrofit of existing buildings
  • Continue to require pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure as part of new development plans to create a connected system
  • Remove all minimum parking requirements from the zoning code; adopt a simplified mechanism to control excessive parking (e.g., maximum coverage)
  • Encourage development that respects natural topography
  • Use innovative practices to promote compact development
  • Implement new measures of oversight to ensure development standards are properly maintained over time

Retrofitting buildings with sustainable design elements can be difficult due to the nature of older structures and preexisting regulations, such as those associated with Historic districts. Incentives for redevelopment projects need to be tailored to entice individuals to take advantage of them.

Action Items

  • Implement tax credits for reducing pre-existing parking lots/impervious surface
  • Implement tax credits for utilizing renewable energy or increasing energy efficiency
  • Identify and promote ways for Historic property owners to adapt to green building standards
  • Encourage building benchmarks at point of sale
  • Incentivize compliance with the City Green Building and Site Design Standard
  • Improve knowledge of green building opportunities through public education and outreach
  • Implement new measures of oversight to ensure improvements are properly maintained over time

Historic Properties

Preserving and reusing a historic building also preserves and reuses the embodied energy of the building. The embodied energy of a building includes all the energy used to grow, harvest, manufacture, and transport any materials used in the building, as well as energy used for service and labor. Using pre-existing materials is the most sustainable method of development.

Sustainable land development addresses more than physical structures. Considering the location of development ensures protection of the City’s natural assets. Preservation of sensitive lands and habitats maintains diversity and environmentally significant environmental features.

Action Items:

  • Protect and promote native plant species in landscaping requirements and as part of projects in sensitive lands or natural habitats
  • Identify sensitive lands, natural habitats, and species within the City and create practices to protect and encourage connections between them
  • Continue to update the River and Creek Overlay District and maintain riparian corridors as part of the City’s natural habitats and sensitive lands
  • Assess parks for conversion of underused turfgrass areas to new forested areas

Biophilia refers to the innate connection humans have with the natural environment. Biophilic design serves to addresses this connection by incorporating natural elements into cities, architecture, and other areas of design. Increasing opportunities for the community to interact with its natural surroundings improves physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Action Items:

  • Encourage development that is oriented to waterways
  • Incentivize private recreation and civic yard space through development standards
  • Identify and incentivize preservation of quality green space in development projects

Quality Green Space

Quality green space can also be referred to as activated green space. Outdoor spaces that contain vegetation and furniture or amenities are more likely to be used, and therefore provide greater benefit to the community.

Impervious surface contributes to high temperatures, increased water runoff, and pollution. Reducing the amount of impervious surface within the City improves stormwater management by allowing for more vegetation which in turn adds aesthetic benefits and temperature regulation. The city’s policies and standards for development and infrastructure  should be updated to reflect our desired results.

Action Items:

  • Remove minimum parking requirements
  • Encourage space saving parking measures, such as shared parking and parking decks, through incentives and zoning requirements
  • Increase permeability requirements as part of parking standards (.e.g, permeable pavers, infiltration strips, rain gardens)
  • Replace dated standards, such as impervious surface ratio, with measures that reduce impervious surface while encouraging desired compact development patterns
  • Update development standards to increase permeability for existing large areas of impervious surface, especially in industrial and commercial districts
  • Incentivize replacement of impervious surface with permeable material
  • Use a land tax to discourage excess impervious surface
  • Encourage parking lots to be removed or repurposed into civic space, green space, and other interactive uses
  • When impervious surface is unavoidable, promote disconnection and permeable pavers to reduce storm drain runoff

Priority Two: Tree Stewardship

Roanoke has successfully met its goal of 40% tree canopy determined by the last comprehensive plan. While this progress is noteworthy, vegetation within the City is in constant fluctuation. Trees provide an array of services including water absorption, air filtration, temperature control, as well as aesthetic benefits. Protecting and expanding the tree cover allows the City to continue benefitting from these natural services.

40% tree canopy coverage has been a widely accepted benchmark for communities. While this is considered an admirable minimum, community characteristics need to be taken into account. In order to maximize the ecosystem services provided by trees, such as temperature regulation, 40% coverage needs to be met per block. Much of the City’s tree canopy is concentrated in natural areas like Mill Mountain . In order to experience lasting benefits, tree canopy needs to be increased and with targeted dispersion throughout the city.

Action Items:

  • Increase funding for the City’s urban forestry program
  • Expand and improve the City’s tree planting program
  • Assess parks for conversion of underused turfgrass areas to new forested areas
  • Achieve recognition beyond that of a “Tree City”
  • Create an incentive program for residential tree planting
  • Perform a tree assessment and promote tree planting in areas with less coverage to encourage even distribution of canopy
  • Create a healthy and diverse tree canopy through the City tree list and tree assessments
  • Increase tree planting requirements with consideration to “right-tree-right-place” in streetscape improvements and developments with large areas of impervious surface

Increasing the City’s tree canopy not only requires new plantings, but protection of existing tree stock. Many trees are on private property, and the best way to ensure their longevity is through education. Residential and commercial educational programs and certifications will ensure a healthy wealth of trees within the City.

Action Items:

  • Fund maintenance and protection of the City’s existing and growing tree stock
  • Promote tree education certification for businesses and utilities within the City (Right tree right place)
  • Require tree education for appropriate City employees and contractors
  • Expand the influence and efforts of regional stewardship organizations such as Roanoke Tree Stewards, Master Naturalists, Master Gardeners, Trail Crews, and other similar organizations
  • Engage in national environmental celebrations (Arbor Day and Earth day) citywide to increase resident education and involvement
  • Partner with schools and institutions for education opportunities and tree planting initiative

Landscaping requirements are one of the City’s tools to protect the public health, safety, and general welfare by incorporating vegetation and screening into the development process. Increasing tree requirements and improving enforcement of landscape maintenance are part of the City’s role in tree stewardship.

Action Items:

    • Encourage trees within close proximity to hardscaped areas
    • Promote tree canopy adjacent to watercourses
    • Monitor adherence to landscape requirements and replacement of lost landscaping through various methods such as bonds
    • Protect mature trees in new development projects and assess ways to protect mature trees throughout the City
    • Revise development standards to ensure better growth and survival of trees and landscaping (e.g., interior tree planting requirements in conjunction with parking requirements)
    • Promote native tree species in landscape requirements
    • Assess ways to protect mature trees and overall tree canopy through various methods such as forest conservation plans

Priority Three: Water Resource Management

Record rainfall in 2018 in addition to global weather events have brought attention to the negative effects resulting from climate change. As these changes occur, the City needs to adapt the way it manages its water resources and approaches stormwater management. This requires implementation of innovative practices that reduce runoff in addition to protecting local rivers and tributaries.

Storm frequency and intensity is expected to increase as a result of climate change. The City needs to reduce its contribution to climate change and also adapt to these expected increases through innovative, sustainable methods.

Action Items:

  • Update design standards to reflect changes in rainfall intensity
  • Prioritize construction of BMPs over less sustainable stormwater infrastructure as part of City projects
  • Promote innovative practices in stormwater management
  • Ensure a systems approach that balances current capital improvement projects with future climate goals

Green Infrastructure allows for management of stromwater by utilizing natural, sustainable practices as opposed to hardscaped engineering practices. These measures improve safety and quality of life by mirroring natural water cycles.

 Action Items:

  • Continue to foster collaboration between the Planning Department and Stormwater Division to ensure a comprehensive approach to the Stormwater Management Program
  • Create a green infrastructure metric in line with the Roanoke City Stormwater Management Program
  • Re-evaluate stormwater control measures and BMP’s to improve incentives for green infrastructure
  • Monitor and report percentage of green infrastructure projects annually
  • Review the stormwater manual and regulations with an expanded stakeholder group that includes the addition of representatives from zoning, utilities, and the commissioner of revenue

Best Management Practices (BMP)

Stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs) are techniques that will best manage stormwater quantity and quality on a site, based on unique site conditions, and planning and engineering requirements.

BMPs involves site development design that incorporates the most suitable techniques, or combination of techniques to best manage the anticipated stormwater flow and quality based on an evaluation of site conditions and planning requirements. While a combination or system of BMPs should be included in site designs for the most effective stormwater management, it is preferable that the overall site design be based upon the protection of existing natural resources and hydrological features, with these features incorporated into the overall site design with little or no disruption.”

State law allows the purchase of stormwater credits in other communities. This exchange reduces the efficiency of local stormwater management systems. In order to improve local performance, the City needs to reduce the number of stormwater credits purchased in other communities and increase the on-site management of runoff. Additionally, the stormwater utility fee must be structured to reflect individual runoff contributions. This change would incentivize the use of sustainable alternatives to stormwater management.

Action Items:

  • Amend state regulations so local nutrient credits are required to be used for mitigation projects in the Roanoke region
  • Explore methods to reduce the negative impacts of the stormwater credit system through stormwater fee evaluation and code changes
  • Increase visibility of stormwater fee
  • Tier stormwater fee to reflect individual impact on runoff and better incentivize stormwater reduction credits (i.e., apply it to paved areas but not productive buildings)

Local water bodies perform various functions within the community, including water provision, outdoor recreation, and being a habitat for local species. As such, they need to be protected. Education will be a key method for creating an understanding of and appreciation for water resources within the community.

Action Items:

  • Conduct an overall study and planning document that assess flood potential, natural assets, land use, and other factors along our streams and rivers to develop consistent conservation strategies and appropriate development standards that minimize potential for damage
  • Improve the water quality of the Roanoke River and tributaries through flood management and pollution reduction, with a focus on the three primary pollutants, bacteria, sediment, and PCBs
  • Increase informal education and awareness efforts (e.g., artwork on storm drains)
  • Establish partnerships to create an adopt a storm drain program
  • Partner with Roanoke Outside, schools, and other organizations to increase outreach, education, and river access
  • Strategic acquisition of floodplain and/or better establishment of riparian buffers
  • Improve management of yard waste to mitigate negative impacts on the storm drain system, such as congestion and pollution

Waterbodies are interconnected resources that serve multiple communities. As such, a cooperative approach is necessary to ensure that shared assets are protected and sustained.

Action Items:

  • Promote a regular meeting on water management through WVWA members
  • Encourage water conservation and plan for a lasting water supply

The natural functions of floodplains serve to store and convey water, as well as protect water quality. While it is important to protect these functions, appropriate development can be allowed, and already occurs in some areas of the floodplain. A holistic approach to floodplain management involves balancing appropriate development with natural services in a cost conscious manner.

Action Items:

  • Develop a floodplain management plan to determine appropriate future land use in flood prone areas
  • Perform regularly updated studies of storm frequency and intensity in order to maintain accurate data and predict potential changes in flooding
  • Expand the City’s Stormwater Utility Flood Mitigation Program in order to reduce repetitive flood losses and re-establish natural flood plains
  • Use greenways as a floodplain management tool
  • Protect the natural function of undeveloped floodplains

Priority Four: Clean Energy and Transportation

Two large contributors to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions are energy production and transportation. Improving the options for and safety of alternative modes of transportation reduces emissions in addition to improving air quality. Allowing for a wider range of energy sources, specifically renewable energy sources, creates a resilient city by improving environmental quality and energy sustainability.

With one local energy provider, it is necessary to incentivize the use of renewable energy and consider opportunities for new energy sources.

Action Items:

  • Improve and expand incentives for the use of renewable energy
  • Expand solar electric power generation with measureable goals of kilowatt hours
  • Work with the Regional Transmission Organization to purchase renewable energy

Improving incentives and public education on local energy programs will increase residential use of renewable energy. 

Action Items:

  • Improve public outreach, education, access and support of fixed renewable energy programs
  • Continue and expand the City’s tax incentive program for energy efficiency
  • Identify areas with potential for renewable energy generation to ensure cohesion with priorities for greenspace and increased tree canopy
  • Encourage development of renewable energy generation in underutilized spaces

In order to increase use of sustainable transportation, infrastructure for these modes need to be improved and expanded. This includes increasing the sense of safety for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users through education and better accessibility.

Transportation is the second largest source of energy consumption within the U.S. and the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions. Allowing travelers to reduce their transportation footprint contributes to a more sustainable lifestyle and a reduction in overall carbon footprint.

Action Items:

  • Increase sidewalk connections and maintenance
  • Improve crosswalk safety (street design, cameras, lights, signs)
  • Update bicycle lanes and related facilities (e.g., bike boxes) to be painted and separated from vehicle traffic where infrastructure allows
  • Improve community transportation ratings for transit, walking, and cycling
  • Increase the number of electric vehicle charging stations through EV ready building incentives and find innovative ways to map their locations
  • Improve public transit to meet the needs of the community
  • Educate all transportation users on the various modes, with a focus on motorists’ education of pedestrian, scooter, and bicycle rights and safety
  • Increase law enforcement against dangerous driving behaviors and motorists that fail to yield to other modes of transportation
  • Provide education on safe routes to schools through RCPS
  • Expand energy efficient and emission reducing policies for management of city vehicles
  • Support technology, strategies, and businesses that improve access to more sustainable modes of transportation, such as Ride Solution

Priority Five: Outdoor Recreation

Roanoke has a large list of recreational accolades that continues to grow. Some of the more recent recognitions include Best Place to Raise an Outdoor Family (2019), Silver-Level Ride Center (2018), and Favorite Travel Destination (2018). These recognitions show how valuable the City’s surroundings and recreational opportunities are for tourism and marketing. Preserving and growing our natural assets serve to improve our economy, in addition to the overall health and wellbeing of residents and visitors.

City and County Parks and Recreation Departments and organizations like the Roanoke Regional Partnership and Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge have collaboratively marketed Roanoke as an outdoor recreation destination. As a result, Virginia’s Blue Ridge tourism industry generated $850 million in travel expenditures in 2018. Continuing to expand and promote these efforts will continue to create a driver of tourism and economic activity in the region. This needs to be balanced with local capacity, as volunteers perform most maintenance of local trails and amenities. Strategic administration of maintenance, funding, and marketing will ensure the health and longevity of Roanoke’s recreational assets.

Action Items:

  • Strive for outdoor recreation accolades that are a best fit for the City
  • Increase marketing and programming for all age recreation within the City and surrounding areas
  • Build on partnerships and connections with the Park Service, Roanoke Outside, and the Appalachian Trail to better share resources
  • Market Roanoke as the largest urban area along the Blue Ridge Parkway and AT
  • Improve wayfinding within the City for visitor connections to outdoor recreation
  • Provide funding and capacity to meet recreational demand

Roanoke Parks and Recreation maintains 60 parks, 90+ miles of greenways, and provides thousands of recreational opportunities each year. While amazing progress continues to be made, data shows that there can be a discrepancy between residents’ actual and perceived access to parks. Equitable consideration needs to be given to the needs of all residents to reduce barriers to recreational access.

Action Items:

  • Implement the steps outlined in the City’s Parks and Recreation Master Plan
  • Ensure recreational spaces meet the needs of all residents, regardless of age or ability
  • Provide funding and capacity to ensure regular maintenance of all outdoor amenities
  • Explore options for urban camping and partnerships for developing a campground within or near the City
  • Increase walkable access to parks, greenways, and village centers for all residents (0.5 mile)
  • Maintain, expand, and enhance, trails and greenways (natural and paved), while protecting and reducing disturbance of vegetation
  • Incentivize new development to aid in establishment of recreational River access points
  • Expand and market the City’s blueway
  • Encourage appropriate, river-facing development along the Roanoke River
  • Improve access to the City’s blueway for water recreation through removal of low water bridges and increasing the number of access points

Natural outdoor destinations are often shared amenities. Current partnerships between public and private sectors need to continue and expand in order to maximize the benefit of joint regional assets. 

Action Items:

  • Extend greenways to surrounding localities
  • Partner to explore connections between City trails and the Appalachian Trail
  • Partner with local higher education institutions to develop outdoor and environmental programming and opportunities within the City
  • Partner with neighboring localities to identify and protect viewsheds

Priority Six: Clean and Beautiful City

Community satisfaction is associated with the physical beauty of an area. Maintaining an attractive city increase property values, encourages business, and improves neighborhood perception. Increasing City led programs and supporting community efforts for beautification will create opportunities for social interaction and foster a sense of pride among residents.

Maintaining a visually appealing city is a community effort. Providing the needed support and resources to encourage community led cleanup activities creates neighborhood pride. Equitable distribution of resources and enforcement represents concerted interest in all areas of the city.

Action Items:

  • Provide funding for equitable maintenance of all neighborhoods in all city service departments
  • Implement beautification programs along thoroughfares and medians
  • Ensure nuisance abatement codes are enforced equitably in all neighborhoods
  • Reduce visual clutter created by utilities and outdoor advertising
  • Empower citizens to create community driven programs that create a sense of pride in all neighborhoods
  • Participate in national beautification programs such as Keep America Beautiful

It is estimated that public and private organizations spend $11.5 billion annually to clean up litter. Indirect costs of littering include reduced property values and public health risks. Litter often ends up in rivers and streams, then eventually the ocean. The Roanoke River and 11 of its 13 tributaries are currently impaired due to pollutants. Increasing efforts to reduce pollution will help to protect the health and safety of the public and the environment.

Action Items:

  • Enhance cleanliness and marketability of the Roanoke River and its tributaries
  • Provide various types of waste and recycling receptacles throughout the City and outdoor recreation areas
  • Identify and implement innovative litter and waste collection strategies
  • Support citizen led cleanup efforts
  • Improve awareness and enforcement of litter laws
  • Foster a culture of accountability and environmental stewardship
  • Continue City maintenance and cleanup of public spaces

Low income and minority populations have traditionally been burdened with close proximity to intensive and undesirable land uses. Environmental justice is defined as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.” In order to boast a clean environment, the City needs to control pollution with special consideration to traditionally marginalized population.

Action Items:

  • Exceed state and local air quality standards
  • Reduce the number of impaired waterways within the City
  • Implement dark sky lighting measures in targeted areas
  • Better market the City’s Brownfield Redevelopment program
  • Increase protections for vulnerable populations when locating intensive uses

Americans produce 4.51 pounds of waste per person per day. Over 50% of this waste ends in a landfill. Alternatives for waste disposal can have environmental benefits such as energy recovery and emissions reduction, in addition to reducing the costs associated with waste storage.

Action Items:

  • Incentivize business to use biodegradable and recyclable products
  • Explore opportunities for a city composting program
  • Increase access to public recycling bins
  • Continue to improve maintenance of City serviced waste disposal and recycling
  • Provide resident and business education on the City recycling program
  • Provide easily accessed “zero waste” options to citizens and businesses for all waste streams: solid, traditional recyclables, electronics and electrical materials, household hazardous materials, vegetative waste, etc.

Priority Seven: Green Convenience

Green Convenience is about increasing the availability of sustainable options and therefore increasing the number of sustainable choices made by residents on a daily basis. Education and advocacy are the two major tools for achieving this priority.

Consumer research has shown that shoppers think that brands have a responsibility to make positive change and that shoppers prefer brands that help them be environmentally friendly. Sustainable products are not only good for the environment and the consumer’s conscience; they are also good for sales.

Roanoke has been making strides towards sustainability through adoption of a number of green initiatives. The actions of the City should continue to serve as an example for the greater community and should continue to encourage environmental awareness and accountability.

Action Items:

  • Implement the steps outlined in the City’s Climate Action Plan
  • Require a level of green building certification for new public buildings
  • Require permeable surfaces for any City funded developments or improvements
  • Continue collaboration between City Departments to ensure projects meet sustainability goals during site plan review
  • Continue to create and exceed goals for sustainability, including reducing waste, emissions, and energy usage
  • Incorporate renewable energy in new lighting projects

Education and community interaction are needed to ensure residents and visitors understand and appreciate the environment, and have the ability to make informed decisions for the future.

Action Items:

  • Partner with school systems and educational institutions to provide environmental education
  • Create an environmental education center
  • Reinstate a permanent Clean and Green Committee to collaborate with nonprofits and businesses
  • Collaborate to continue and expand the operations and marketability of the Clean Valley Council

As a Dillon Rule state, the City is limited in its ability to enact local legislation. In order to advance local environmental protections, it is vital that the City advocate for policy changes at state and national levels.

Action Items:

  • Advocate for state improvements to environmental policy, including financial support for the EPA and grant opportunities
  • Continue to seek the ability to implement a ban on plastic bags and single use wastes
  • Enact policies to reduce carbon footprints

Dillon Rule

In a Dillon Rule state, localities can only exercise powers explicitly expressed to them by the state. As such, the City must petition the state legislature to enact new laws granting localities permission to create any regulations not already granted.

Natural resources are shared resources and require a collaborative approach. Just as ecosystems are interconnected, so are the actions of neighboring localities. A concerted effort is needed to accomplish regionally beneficial goals.

Action Items:

  • Partner/consult with surrounding localities on policy
  • Attract and develop related environmental support industries within our Regional Planning District to promote sustainability research & technology innovations

Background

Our natural environment must be considered carefully as the city steadily grows and works to diversify its economy. Much of the community’s quality of life and our ability to attract business, tourists and new residents is based on the beauty of our valley. Future growth and development must factor the preservation of important natural area and the interaction of our built and natural environments, particularly with changes in our climate.

Natural Environment

The theme of Harmony with Nature aims to “Ensure that the contributions of natural resources to human well-being are explicitly recognized and valued and that maintaining their health is a primary objective.” Roanoke’s natural environment is one of its most attractive assets. The   City’s proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains and connection to resources such as the Roanoke River, Blue Ridge Parkway, Appalachian Trail and Smith Mountain Lake create a unique natural vibrancy within an urban framework. The approach Roanoke takes in caring for its natural resources is vital to the quality of life for current residents and the marketability of the area for attracting new residents and businesses.

Parks and Greenways

The City’s 20 miles of greenways and trails were identified as a vital community resource throughout the City Plan 2040 planning process. Greenways and trails provide a way for the community to connect with each other and with their natural environment. Access to parks and outdoor activities helps to improve the physical and mental health of the community. Outdoor exercise provides “greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement; decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression; and increased energy” when compared to indoor activity. In 2019, the Parks and Recreation Master Plan was adopted as a component of City Plan 2040. The Parks and Recreation Master Plan shows the popularity of Roanoke’s recreational amenities and highlights important areas of improvement. The Plan’s “Big Moves”  include addressing aged recreation centers and neighborhood connectivity for the greenway system.

Outdoor Recreation and Tourism

Roanoke saw record growth in the lodging industry in 2018. Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge, the Roanoke Region’s destination marketing organization, recorded a 9% increase in demand for hotel rooms, which correlated with a record number of sporting events in the area. The region is quickly becoming a destination for outdoor enthusiasts. The annual GO Outside Festival was attended by over 38,000 people in 2018. Roanoke was designated a Silver Level Ride Center by the International Mountain Biking Association in the same year. Events and recognitions are drawing more visitors and creating new economic activity through tourism. Meeting new demand for recreational space, while maintaining current facilities and protecting natural resources, will be a challenge for the future.

Water Resource Management

In 2018, Roanoke’s rainfall eclipsed previous records with 62.45 inches, exceeding the normal average by over 20 inches. While that was a remarkable year, even more startling is the increase in the frequency and severity of flooding over recent decades.

Chart showing the increasing number of Roanoke Flood events 1900-2020.

Source: National Weather Service

While most of the increase can be attributed to changing weather patterns, flooding is exacerbated by increasing impervious surface like parking lots. Impervious surfaces prevent absorption of rainfall and causes runoff to concentrate much faster into drainage systems and natural watercourses leading to higher peak flows and flooding.

Flood prone areas in the city are identified on Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maps.  These maps may not accurately represent flood potential as rainfall frequency and intensity increases and as better topographic data and analysis tools become available. In fact, recent mapping of the Roanoke River has identified that the most critical flood prone area, the floodway, is larger in many areas than current maps indicate. FEMA is beginning a process to update the maps for our region (upper portions of the Roanoke, Dan and Yadkin Rivers). This process will result in new flood maps in or around 2025 that may show more flood prone areas than currently identified.

In order for Roanoke to adapt to these changes,reduce flooding, and better manage land use in flood prone areas, a  comprehensive approach is needed to:

1) Identify and adopt strong policies to reduce impervious surfaces, specifically strategies to reduce existing pavement.
2)  Ensure new development manages stormwater appropriately and consider how stormwater is managed for redevelopment and retrofit
3) Develop an informed policy for managing development in floodplains and floodways.
4) Advocate for such policies at the statewide level.  Water that floods does not respect municipal boundaries.

As more stormwater flows, there is increased concern for water quality. The Roanoke River and 11 tributaries are impaired, or do not meet water quality standards. Maintaining and improving water quality, air quality, and other measurable aspects of the natural environment is needed to ensure the health of current residents, and imperative in preparing for future threats to environmental quality.

If we want to improve water quality, then we need implement policies that prevent and eliminate sources of water pollution:

  • Maintain performance standards for erosion control during construction.
  • Maintain standards to manage and treat water runoff from new impervious surfaces.
  • Implement practices to treat runoff from existing impervious surfaces and in existing drainage systems.
  • Maintain existing riparian buffers and create new ones.
  • Increase tree canopy
  • Implement stream restoration projects.

Climate change

Cities across the globe are experiencing rising temperatures, changes in weather, and other negative effects due to climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit in a century. While projections may be subject to critique, the existence of climate change induced by human activity is no longer seriously debatable. The inevitability of climate change makes it necessary to mitigate the effects which, in Roanoke, are most obviously manifested by more frequent and more severe flooding. The City has a responsibility to contribute to the effort of slowing climate change through policies that align livability with sustainable practice.  The City of Roanoke’s Climate Action Plan will accompany the priorities, policies, and actions of this plan to increase measures of sustainability and options for resource conservation and protection.

Tree Canopy

Trees provide vital public services, including improving water quality, improving air quality, temperature control, water absorption, habitat provision, in addition to providing beauty. In 2010, Roanoke’s tree canopy coverage was 47.9%. This met the 40% goal laid out in the Vision 2001-2020 comprehensive plan. However, Roanoke’s tree planting budget was significantly reduced in 2008. Since then, the City has relied on local groups and nonprofits to help with the City’s tree work. A 2019 study on tree canopy distribution revealed that Roanoke’s now has 26% tree canopy coverage. In order to maintain and grow the City’s tree cover, the City needs to increase its efforts in tree protection and tree planting. 

Map showing percentage of tree canopy by neighborhood in Roanoke, VA. The majority of neighborhoods have 20% or less tree canopy. South Roanoke and Garden City neighborhoods show 40-60% canopy. The highest concentration is Mill Mountain with 80-100%.

Source: DATA SHEET: TREE CANOPY DISTRIBUTION IN ROANOKE CITY USING THE VIRGINIA STATEWIDE LAND COVER DATASET. Marcus F. Aguilar, Ph.D. 2019

Priority One: Sustainable Land Development

As a city with limited developable land, it is crucial for development to occur sustainably and with consideration for the natural assets within the area. A holistic approach to land development will ensure future development is both durable and adaptable to future uses.

Energy efficient and waste reductive development creates longer lasting buildings, reduces pollution, and helps to preserve natural areas, which is a benefit to the developer and overall community. There are several organizations that offer different levels of green building certifications. However, it can be difficult to entice developers to apply for these certifications as the certification process itself can be costly and time consuming. Creating and incentivizing a local green building standard can encourage green building and sustainable site design practices without a costly certification process. Through simpler recognition and promotion, this type of development can become more common within our community.

Action Items:

  • Adopt a City Green Building and Site Design Standard that promotes durability, sustainability and environmental compliance in building materials, site design, landscaping, energy efficiency, and health during all stages of development
  • Improve indoor air quality and energy efficiency through creation of a City building benchmarking system defined by Department of Energy metrics and indoor air quality goals
  • Create incentives for green roofs on new buildings and retrofit of existing buildings
  • Continue to require pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure as part of new development plans to create a connected system
  • Remove all minimum parking requirements from the zoning code; adopt a simplified mechanism to control excessive parking (e.g., maximum coverage)
  • Encourage development that respects natural topography
  • Use innovative practices to promote compact development
  • Implement new measures of oversight to ensure development standards are properly maintained over time

Retrofitting buildings with sustainable design elements can be difficult due to the nature of older structures and preexisting regulations, such as those associated with Historic districts. Incentives for redevelopment projects need to be tailored to entice individuals to take advantage of them.

Action Items

  • Implement tax credits for reducing pre-existing parking lots/impervious surface
  • Implement tax credits for utilizing renewable energy or increasing energy efficiency
  • Identify and promote ways for Historic property owners to adapt to green building standards
  • Encourage building benchmarks at point of sale
  • Incentivize compliance with the City Green Building and Site Design Standard
  • Improve knowledge of green building opportunities through public education and outreach
  • Implement new measures of oversight to ensure improvements are properly maintained over time

Historic Properties

Preserving and reusing a historic building also preserves and reuses the embodied energy of the building. The embodied energy of a building includes all the energy used to grow, harvest, manufacture, and transport any materials used in the building, as well as energy used for service and labor. Using pre-existing materials is the most sustainable method of development.

Sustainable land development addresses more than physical structures. Considering the location of development ensures protection of the City’s natural assets. Preservation of sensitive lands and habitats maintains diversity and environmentally significant environmental features.

Action Items:

  • Protect and promote native plant species in landscaping requirements and as part of projects in sensitive lands or natural habitats
  • Identify sensitive lands, natural habitats, and species within the City and create practices to protect and encourage connections between them
  • Continue to update the River and Creek Overlay District and maintain riparian corridors as part of the City’s natural habitats and sensitive lands
  • Assess parks for conversion of underused turfgrass areas to new forested areas

Biophilia refers to the innate connection humans have with the natural environment. Biophilic design serves to addresses this connection by incorporating natural elements into cities, architecture, and other areas of design. Increasing opportunities for the community to interact with its natural surroundings improves physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Action Items:

  • Encourage development that is oriented to waterways
  • Incentivize private recreation and civic yard space through development standards
  • Identify and incentivize preservation of quality green space in development projects

Quality Green Space

Quality green space can also be referred to as activated green space. Outdoor spaces that contain vegetation and furniture or amenities are more likely to be used, and therefore provide greater benefit to the community.

Impervious surface contributes to high temperatures, increased water runoff, and pollution. Reducing the amount of impervious surface within the City improves stormwater management by allowing for more vegetation which in turn adds aesthetic benefits and temperature regulation. The city’s policies and standards for development and infrastructure  should be updated to reflect our desired results.

Action Items:

  • Remove minimum parking requirements
  • Encourage space saving parking measures, such as shared parking and parking decks, through incentives and zoning requirements
  • Increase permeability requirements as part of parking standards (.e.g, permeable pavers, infiltration strips, rain gardens)
  • Replace dated standards, such as impervious surface ratio, with measures that reduce impervious surface while encouraging desired compact development patterns
  • Update development standards to increase permeability for existing large areas of impervious surface, especially in industrial and commercial districts
  • Incentivize replacement of impervious surface with permeable material
  • Use a land tax to discourage excess impervious surface
  • Encourage parking lots to be removed or repurposed into civic space, green space, and other interactive uses
  • When impervious surface is unavoidable, promote disconnection and permeable pavers to reduce storm drain runoff

Priority Two: Tree Stewardship

Roanoke has successfully met its goal of 40% tree canopy determined by the last comprehensive plan. While this progress is noteworthy, vegetation within the City is in constant fluctuation. Trees provide an array of services including water absorption, air filtration, temperature control, as well as aesthetic benefits. Protecting and expanding the tree cover allows the City to continue benefitting from these natural services.

40% tree canopy coverage has been a widely accepted benchmark for communities. While this is considered an admirable minimum, community characteristics need to be taken into account. In order to maximize the ecosystem services provided by trees, such as temperature regulation, 40% coverage needs to be met per block. Much of the City’s tree canopy is concentrated in natural areas like Mill Mountain . In order to experience lasting benefits, tree canopy needs to be increased and with targeted dispersion throughout the city.

Action Items:

  • Increase funding for the City’s urban forestry program
  • Expand and improve the City’s tree planting program
  • Assess parks for conversion of underused turfgrass areas to new forested areas
  • Achieve recognition beyond that of a “Tree City”
  • Create an incentive program for residential tree planting
  • Perform a tree assessment and promote tree planting in areas with less coverage to encourage even distribution of canopy
  • Create a healthy and diverse tree canopy through the City tree list and tree assessments
  • Increase tree planting requirements with consideration to “right-tree-right-place” in streetscape improvements and developments with large areas of impervious surface

Increasing the City’s tree canopy not only requires new plantings, but protection of existing tree stock. Many trees are on private property, and the best way to ensure their longevity is through education. Residential and commercial educational programs and certifications will ensure a healthy wealth of trees within the City.

Action Items:

  • Fund maintenance and protection of the City’s existing and growing tree stock
  • Promote tree education certification for businesses and utilities within the City (Right tree right place)
  • Require tree education for appropriate City employees and contractors
  • Expand the influence and efforts of regional stewardship organizations such as Roanoke Tree Stewards, Master Naturalists, Master Gardeners, Trail Crews, and other similar organizations
  • Engage in national environmental celebrations (Arbor Day and Earth day) citywide to increase resident education and involvement
  • Partner with schools and institutions for education opportunities and tree planting initiative

Landscaping requirements are one of the City’s tools to protect the public health, safety, and general welfare by incorporating vegetation and screening into the development process. Increasing tree requirements and improving enforcement of landscape maintenance are part of the City’s role in tree stewardship.

Action Items:

    • Encourage trees within close proximity to hardscaped areas
    • Promote tree canopy adjacent to watercourses
    • Monitor adherence to landscape requirements and replacement of lost landscaping through various methods such as bonds
    • Protect mature trees in new development projects and assess ways to protect mature trees throughout the City
    • Revise development standards to ensure better growth and survival of trees and landscaping (e.g., interior tree planting requirements in conjunction with parking requirements)
    • Promote native tree species in landscape requirements
    • Assess ways to protect mature trees and overall tree canopy through various methods such as forest conservation plans

Priority Three: Water Resource Management

Record rainfall in 2018 in addition to global weather events have brought attention to the negative effects resulting from climate change. As these changes occur, the City needs to adapt the way it manages its water resources and approaches stormwater management. This requires implementation of innovative practices that reduce runoff in addition to protecting local rivers and tributaries.

Storm frequency and intensity is expected to increase as a result of climate change. The City needs to reduce its contribution to climate change and also adapt to these expected increases through innovative, sustainable methods.

Action Items:

  • Update design standards to reflect changes in rainfall intensity
  • Prioritize construction of BMPs over less sustainable stormwater infrastructure as part of City projects
  • Promote innovative practices in stormwater management
  • Ensure a systems approach that balances current capital improvement projects with future climate goals

Green Infrastructure allows for management of stromwater by utilizing natural, sustainable practices as opposed to hardscaped engineering practices. These measures improve safety and quality of life by mirroring natural water cycles.

 Action Items:

  • Continue to foster collaboration between the Planning Department and Stormwater Division to ensure a comprehensive approach to the Stormwater Management Program
  • Create a green infrastructure metric in line with the Roanoke City Stormwater Management Program
  • Re-evaluate stormwater control measures and BMP’s to improve incentives for green infrastructure
  • Monitor and report percentage of green infrastructure projects annually
  • Review the stormwater manual and regulations with an expanded stakeholder group that includes the addition of representatives from zoning, utilities, and the commissioner of revenue

Best Management Practices (BMP)

Stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs) are techniques that will best manage stormwater quantity and quality on a site, based on unique site conditions, and planning and engineering requirements.

BMPs involves site development design that incorporates the most suitable techniques, or combination of techniques to best manage the anticipated stormwater flow and quality based on an evaluation of site conditions and planning requirements. While a combination or system of BMPs should be included in site designs for the most effective stormwater management, it is preferable that the overall site design be based upon the protection of existing natural resources and hydrological features, with these features incorporated into the overall site design with little or no disruption.”

State law allows the purchase of stormwater credits in other communities. This exchange reduces the efficiency of local stormwater management systems. In order to improve local performance, the City needs to reduce the number of stormwater credits purchased in other communities and increase the on-site management of runoff. Additionally, the stormwater utility fee must be structured to reflect individual runoff contributions. This change would incentivize the use of sustainable alternatives to stormwater management.

Action Items:

  • Amend state regulations so local nutrient credits are required to be used for mitigation projects in the Roanoke region
  • Explore methods to reduce the negative impacts of the stormwater credit system through stormwater fee evaluation and code changes
  • Increase visibility of stormwater fee
  • Tier stormwater fee to reflect individual impact on runoff and better incentivize stormwater reduction credits (i.e., apply it to paved areas but not productive buildings)

Local water bodies perform various functions within the community, including water provision, outdoor recreation, and being a habitat for local species. As such, they need to be protected. Education will be a key method for creating an understanding of and appreciation for water resources within the community.

Action Items:

  • Conduct an overall study and planning document that assess flood potential, natural assets, land use, and other factors along our streams and rivers to develop consistent conservation strategies and appropriate development standards that minimize potential for damage
  • Improve the water quality of the Roanoke River and tributaries through flood management and pollution reduction, with a focus on the three primary pollutants, bacteria, sediment, and PCBs
  • Increase informal education and awareness efforts (e.g., artwork on storm drains)
  • Establish partnerships to create an adopt a storm drain program
  • Partner with Roanoke Outside, schools, and other organizations to increase outreach, education, and river access
  • Strategic acquisition of floodplain and/or better establishment of riparian buffers
  • Improve management of yard waste to mitigate negative impacts on the storm drain system, such as congestion and pollution

Waterbodies are interconnected resources that serve multiple communities. As such, a cooperative approach is necessary to ensure that shared assets are protected and sustained.

Action Items:

  • Promote a regular meeting on water management through WVWA members
  • Encourage water conservation and plan for a lasting water supply

The natural functions of floodplains serve to store and convey water, as well as protect water quality. While it is important to protect these functions, appropriate development can be allowed, and already occurs in some areas of the floodplain. A holistic approach to floodplain management involves balancing appropriate development with natural services in a cost conscious manner.

Action Items:

  • Develop a floodplain management plan to determine appropriate future land use in flood prone areas
  • Perform regularly updated studies of storm frequency and intensity in order to maintain accurate data and predict potential changes in flooding
  • Expand the City’s Stormwater Utility Flood Mitigation Program in order to reduce repetitive flood losses and re-establish natural flood plains
  • Use greenways as a floodplain management tool
  • Protect the natural function of undeveloped floodplains

Priority Four: Clean Energy and Transportation

Two large contributors to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions are energy production and transportation. Improving the options for and safety of alternative modes of transportation reduces emissions in addition to improving air quality. Allowing for a wider range of energy sources, specifically renewable energy sources, creates a resilient city by improving environmental quality and energy sustainability.

With one local energy provider, it is necessary to incentivize the use of renewable energy and consider opportunities for new energy sources.

Action Items:

  • Improve and expand incentives for the use of renewable energy
  • Expand solar electric power generation with measureable goals of kilowatt hours
  • Work with the Regional Transmission Organization to purchase renewable energy

Improving incentives and public education on local energy programs will increase residential use of renewable energy. 

Action Items:

  • Improve public outreach, education, access and support of fixed renewable energy programs
  • Continue and expand the City’s tax incentive program for energy efficiency
  • Identify areas with potential for renewable energy generation to ensure cohesion with priorities for greenspace and increased tree canopy
  • Encourage development of renewable energy generation in underutilized spaces

In order to increase use of sustainable transportation, infrastructure for these modes need to be improved and expanded. This includes increasing the sense of safety for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users through education and better accessibility.

Transportation is the second largest source of energy consumption within the U.S. and the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions. Allowing travelers to reduce their transportation footprint contributes to a more sustainable lifestyle and a reduction in overall carbon footprint.

Action Items:

  • Increase sidewalk connections and maintenance
  • Improve crosswalk safety (street design, cameras, lights, signs)
  • Update bicycle lanes and related facilities (e.g., bike boxes) to be painted and separated from vehicle traffic where infrastructure allows
  • Improve community transportation ratings for transit, walking, and cycling
  • Increase the number of electric vehicle charging stations through EV ready building incentives and find innovative ways to map their locations
  • Improve public transit to meet the needs of the community
  • Educate all transportation users on the various modes, with a focus on motorists’ education of pedestrian, scooter, and bicycle rights and safety
  • Increase law enforcement against dangerous driving behaviors and motorists that fail to yield to other modes of transportation
  • Provide education on safe routes to schools through RCPS
  • Expand energy efficient and emission reducing policies for management of city vehicles
  • Support technology, strategies, and businesses that improve access to more sustainable modes of transportation, such as Ride Solution

Priority Five: Outdoor Recreation

Roanoke has a large list of recreational accolades that continues to grow. Some of the more recent recognitions include Best Place to Raise an Outdoor Family (2019), Silver-Level Ride Center (2018), and Favorite Travel Destination (2018). These recognitions show how valuable the City’s surroundings and recreational opportunities are for tourism and marketing. Preserving and growing our natural assets serve to improve our economy, in addition to the overall health and wellbeing of residents and visitors.

City and County Parks and Recreation Departments and organizations like the Roanoke Regional Partnership and Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge have collaboratively marketed Roanoke as an outdoor recreation destination. As a result, Virginia’s Blue Ridge tourism industry generated $850 million in travel expenditures in 2018. Continuing to expand and promote these efforts will continue to create a driver of tourism and economic activity in the region. This needs to be balanced with local capacity, as volunteers perform most maintenance of local trails and amenities. Strategic administration of maintenance, funding, and marketing will ensure the health and longevity of Roanoke’s recreational assets.

Action Items:

  • Strive for outdoor recreation accolades that are a best fit for the City
  • Increase marketing and programming for all age recreation within the City and surrounding areas
  • Build on partnerships and connections with the Park Service, Roanoke Outside, and the Appalachian Trail to better share resources
  • Market Roanoke as the largest urban area along the Blue Ridge Parkway and AT
  • Improve wayfinding within the City for visitor connections to outdoor recreation
  • Provide funding and capacity to meet recreational demand

Roanoke Parks and Recreation maintains 60 parks, 90+ miles of greenways, and provides thousands of recreational opportunities each year. While amazing progress continues to be made, data shows that there can be a discrepancy between residents’ actual and perceived access to parks. Equitable consideration needs to be given to the needs of all residents to reduce barriers to recreational access.

Action Items:

  • Implement the steps outlined in the City’s Parks and Recreation Master Plan
  • Ensure recreational spaces meet the needs of all residents, regardless of age or ability
  • Provide funding and capacity to ensure regular maintenance of all outdoor amenities
  • Explore options for urban camping and partnerships for developing a campground within or near the City
  • Increase walkable access to parks, greenways, and village centers for all residents (0.5 mile)
  • Maintain, expand, and enhance, trails and greenways (natural and paved), while protecting and reducing disturbance of vegetation
  • Incentivize new development to aid in establishment of recreational River access points
  • Expand and market the City’s blueway
  • Encourage appropriate, river-facing development along the Roanoke River
  • Improve access to the City’s blueway for water recreation through removal of low water bridges and increasing the number of access points

Natural outdoor destinations are often shared amenities. Current partnerships between public and private sectors need to continue and expand in order to maximize the benefit of joint regional assets. 

Action Items:

  • Extend greenways to surrounding localities
  • Partner to explore connections between City trails and the Appalachian Trail
  • Partner with local higher education institutions to develop outdoor and environmental programming and opportunities within the City
  • Partner with neighboring localities to identify and protect viewsheds

Priority Six: Clean and Beautiful City

Community satisfaction is associated with the physical beauty of an area. Maintaining an attractive city increase property values, encourages business, and improves neighborhood perception. Increasing City led programs and supporting community efforts for beautification will create opportunities for social interaction and foster a sense of pride among residents.

Maintaining a visually appealing city is a community effort. Providing the needed support and resources to encourage community led cleanup activities creates neighborhood pride. Equitable distribution of resources and enforcement represents concerted interest in all areas of the city.

Action Items:

  • Provide funding for equitable maintenance of all neighborhoods in all city service departments
  • Implement beautification programs along thoroughfares and medians
  • Ensure nuisance abatement codes are enforced equitably in all neighborhoods
  • Reduce visual clutter created by utilities and outdoor advertising
  • Empower citizens to create community driven programs that create a sense of pride in all neighborhoods
  • Participate in national beautification programs such as Keep America Beautiful

It is estimated that public and private organizations spend $11.5 billion annually to clean up litter. Indirect costs of littering include reduced property values and public health risks. Litter often ends up in rivers and streams, then eventually the ocean. The Roanoke River and 11 of its 13 tributaries are currently impaired due to pollutants. Increasing efforts to reduce pollution will help to protect the health and safety of the public and the environment.

Action Items:

  • Enhance cleanliness and marketability of the Roanoke River and its tributaries
  • Provide various types of waste and recycling receptacles throughout the City and outdoor recreation areas
  • Identify and implement innovative litter and waste collection strategies
  • Support citizen led cleanup efforts
  • Improve awareness and enforcement of litter laws
  • Foster a culture of accountability and environmental stewardship
  • Continue City maintenance and cleanup of public spaces

Low income and minority populations have traditionally been burdened with close proximity to intensive and undesirable land uses. Environmental justice is defined as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.” In order to boast a clean environment, the City needs to control pollution with special consideration to traditionally marginalized population.

Action Items:

  • Exceed state and local air quality standards
  • Reduce the number of impaired waterways within the City
  • Implement dark sky lighting measures in targeted areas
  • Better market the City’s Brownfield Redevelopment program
  • Increase protections for vulnerable populations when locating intensive uses

Americans produce 4.51 pounds of waste per person per day. Over 50% of this waste ends in a landfill. Alternatives for waste disposal can have environmental benefits such as energy recovery and emissions reduction, in addition to reducing the costs associated with waste storage.

Action Items:

  • Incentivize business to use biodegradable and recyclable products
  • Explore opportunities for a city composting program
  • Increase access to public recycling bins
  • Continue to improve maintenance of City serviced waste disposal and recycling
  • Provide resident and business education on the City recycling program
  • Provide easily accessed “zero waste” options to citizens and businesses for all waste streams: solid, traditional recyclables, electronics and electrical materials, household hazardous materials, vegetative waste, etc.

Priority Seven: Green Convenience

Green Convenience is about increasing the availability of sustainable options and therefore increasing the number of sustainable choices made by residents on a daily basis. Education and advocacy are the two major tools for achieving this priority.

Consumer research has shown that shoppers think that brands have a responsibility to make positive change and that shoppers prefer brands that help them be environmentally friendly. Sustainable products are not only good for the environment and the consumer’s conscience; they are also good for sales.

Roanoke has been making strides towards sustainability through adoption of a number of green initiatives. The actions of the City should continue to serve as an example for the greater community and should continue to encourage environmental awareness and accountability.

Action Items:

  • Implement the steps outlined in the City’s Climate Action Plan
  • Require a level of green building certification for new public buildings
  • Require permeable surfaces for any City funded developments or improvements
  • Continue collaboration between City Departments to ensure projects meet sustainability goals during site plan review
  • Continue to create and exceed goals for sustainability, including reducing waste, emissions, and energy usage
  • Incorporate renewable energy in new lighting projects

Education and community interaction are needed to ensure residents and visitors understand and appreciate the environment, and have the ability to make informed decisions for the future.

Action Items:

  • Partner with school systems and educational institutions to provide environmental education
  • Create an environmental education center
  • Reinstate a permanent Clean and Green Committee to collaborate with nonprofits and businesses
  • Collaborate to continue and expand the operations and marketability of the Clean Valley Council

As a Dillon Rule state, the City is limited in its ability to enact local legislation. In order to advance local environmental protections, it is vital that the City advocate for policy changes at state and national levels.

Action Items:

  • Advocate for state improvements to environmental policy, including financial support for the EPA and grant opportunities
  • Continue to seek the ability to implement a ban on plastic bags and single use wastes
  • Enact policies to reduce carbon footprints

Dillon Rule

In a Dillon Rule state, localities can only exercise powers explicitly expressed to them by the state. As such, the City must petition the state legislature to enact new laws granting localities permission to create any regulations not already granted.

Natural resources are shared resources and require a collaborative approach. Just as ecosystems are interconnected, so are the actions of neighboring localities. A concerted effort is needed to accomplish regionally beneficial goals.

Action Items:

  • Partner/consult with surrounding localities on policy
  • Attract and develop related environmental support industries within our Regional Planning District to promote sustainability research & technology innovations

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