The Benefits of Low Impact Development Design

19 April, 2023

4 Sustainable Solutions to Save Costs and Boost ROI

When a New Jersey-based developer leaned into its design team’s recommendation to recycle rainwater for irrigation at Patriot Station, it was an environmentally responsible decision. It was also good for business. Through rainwater harvesting, a common low impact development (LID) principle, the design team significantly reduced the size of onsite stormwater structures and allowed the development to include more units. In adopting the simple, low-cost LID design, the developer increased the property’s yield and value.

Examples like this continue to challenge a common misconception that sustainable land management requires high upfront costs and extends overall timelines. In reality, many LID practices involve minimal cost and effort to implement. Often, they can reduce overall project costs while minimizing the development’s environmental impact and adding aesthetic and educational value to the end-user experience. These strategies can also make an immediate impact on the return on investment.

Implementing LID Strategies with Minimal Effort

LID strategies don’t have to include complicated, high-tech systems. If you’re not sure where to begin, collaborate with your design team, including a site civil engineer and landscape architect, in the conceptual stage to consider how these sustainable engineering methods may benefit your project.

1. Recycle or Reuse Water On Site

In finding efficient ways to reuse water for your site’s benefit, you can reduce the amount of water that needs to be stored on site or released into an existing sewer system. Harvested stormwater can be used for many everyday needs, including toilet flushing, landscape irrigation, fire suppression, heating/cooling, washing, drinking, and more. (Note: Potential stormwater reuse options vary considerably from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Work with your design team to understand what’s viable for your site.)

Benefits of water harvesting may include:

  • Significantly reduced cost to bring water to the site
  • Reduced size, cost, and maintenance of onsite stormwater management structures
  • Reduced flooding and pollution downstream
  • Minimized degradation of the local environment
  • Improved landscape irrigation, resulting in healthier plants and reduced need for chemicals and pesticides
Stormwater Harvesting in Action
Mission Critical Facilities

For mission critical facilities, effective cooling is essential to keeping data center servers from overheating. End users pay a high cost to keep these large buildings cool. More developers are implementing sustainable cooling systems that reuse “gray water” – water that has not been treated and is not suitable to drink. This method can be more cost-effective than paying a water company for “potable water” (drinking water).

Two Drydock

At Two Drydock in Boston, MA, the Bohler team identified a way to creatively tackle the site’s stormwater management design while making use of unused space. In collaboration with the office building’s utility system designer, Bohler helped develop and permit an innovative rainwater reclamation system that stores and recycles runoff in a storage tank located underneath the parking garage ramp. The water is then filtered, pumped back to the roof, and used to cool heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) units. This year-round system reduces potable water usage while meeting the city’s stormwater management requirements.

Patriot Station

For Patriot Station in Chalfont, PA, Bohler’s civil engineering and landscape architecture teams collaborated on an irrigation system that recycles rainwater to water plants in the community’s landscaped areas. The solution significantly reduced the required size of onsite stormwater management structures, allowing the developer to add more units to the multifamily development. Years later, the plants are thriving, the community benefits aesthetically from the larger plantings, and the owner’s maintenance costs are lower than planned.

Patriot Station in Chalfont, PA


Patriot Station in Chalfont, PA

Robust plantings and foliage at Patriot Station in Chalfont, PA

2. Recognize Natural Features as Resources

Look for opportunities to leverage existing site elements, such as trees, ponds, lakes, streams, wetlands, or wooded areas that can act as amenities and integrate the unique character of the community. Preserving natural features may be a cost-saving alternative to replanting trees or adding and maintaining new water features. The integration adds beauty, shade, and emphasizes the authentic elements. It also creates personal connections and a more desirable product for future residents, tenants, and consumers.

Natural Features in Action

Your site civil engineer and landscape architect should collaborate to integrate existing natural features into the built environment, while achieving desired density and layout. In a residential development, for example, lots that border a tree line or water feature can be sold at a premium.

Brookside Community in Warrenton, VA

Home sites bordering an existing lake at Brookside Community in Warrenton, VA

Homes with lake and preserved trees in Fulshear, TXHomes bordering an existing lake and preserved trees in Fulshear, TX

The value of tree preservation is difficult to quantify. Trees provide necessary functions to maintain and bolster community health. They provide oxygen, evaporation, condensation, dehumidification, and temperature reduction. They also serve as wind breaks and stabilize and protect soils.  Their vast root networks provide significant water uptake resulting in reduced land development costs.

Established trees notably have much higher evapotranspiration rates than newly planted trees. In some places, preserving onsite trees may lessen the need for stormwater management.

Trees in a new community in Charlotte, NC

Beautiful mature trees preserved along a roadway through a new community in Charlotte, NC

3. Utilize Constructed Wetlands

Manmade wetlands mimic nature; they are an eco-friendly way to capture stormwater while improving water quality and supporting biodiversity.

Constructed wetlands may also be significantly more cost-effective to build than a concrete basin. Often, design teams can turn a constructed wetland area into an attractive amenity. This may bolster ROI by reducing construction costs, adding value through amenities, and contributing to the development’s overall sense of place.

Constructed Wetlands in Action
Einstein Medical Center

At Einstein Medical Center in East Norriton, PA, Bohler’s stormwater management design directed most of the runoff to a constructed wetland located at the front of the site. By designing a natural, sustainable, low-maintenance habitat around the wetland, the team seized an opportunity to turn the stormwater management solution into an amenity that supported the hospital’s overall vision. The design converted large unused lawn areas into meadow spaces that are more visually appealing to neighboring properties and typically will significantly reduce maintenance efforts and the amount of stormwater runoff that must be managed.

Einstein Medical Center in Montgomery, PA

A constructed wetlands stormwater basin adds aesthetic value to the Einstein Medical Center in East Norriton, PA

4. Reduce Stormwater Piping

Stormwater typically moves across sites using gravity. For sites without much elevation change, the cost to bury pipes to create a gravitational flow could be significant. By using green infrastructure design strategies such as rain gardens, open ditches, and bioswales to move water, your design team may substantially reduce pipe costs.

Reduced Stormwater Piping in Action
Ridgeville Distribution Facility

At a distribution facility in Ridgeville, SC, Bohler used open ditching and swales to guide stormwater throughout the large, flat site. The design minimized the amount of piping needed and reduced the cost of importing soil to cover the pipes. Keeping the grade as close to existing conditions as possible, the design also minimized earthwork, saving the client millions of dollars.

Distribution center in Ridgeville, SC

Open swales provide stormwater management at a distribution center in Ridgeville, SC

Additional Benefits of LID

If you’re not yet convinced that incorporating LID practices in your project is a smart choice due to their low cost, ease of implementation, and immediate value, there are still other reasons why you should consider them.

Sustainable development solutions are no longer simply a trend; they are often a necessity. With an increasing number of jurisdictions nationwide enforcing sustainability goals and investment companies evaluating environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors and resiliency strategies, it’s clear that these initiatives are here to stay. Even if your long-term development goals do not include achieving LEED, WELL, or NetZero certifications, integrating LID into your next project can still be highly beneficial. Here’s why:

  • Protect your investment. Many of the stormwater management systems being implemented according to current regulations are no longer sufficient. They are designed for “100-year storms,” which often are occurring every 10 years. Protect your investment by implementing more resilient solutions that can accommodate climate change impacts, shifting floodplain limits, and align with future stormwater regulations.
  • Regulation changes are coming. While each state may implement updated stormwater management regulations differently, they are rapidly evolving across Bohler’s footprint. By anticipating the coming changes and designing proactively, you may avoid costly redesigns and/or potential future impacts of an insufficient system. In addition, many jurisdictions offer tax credits or other incentives for contributing to local sustainability goals. Maintenance costs of “green infrastructure” can be significantly lower than traditional practices as natural processes often become self-sustaining.
  • Improve marketability. Differentiate your project in the market by creating a better end-user experience, while increasing the value of the properties facing open spaces or stormwater management facilities that double as amenities. Many LIDs create more welcoming and natural spaces, improving the overall health and allure of your project.
  • Cost savings. While some cost is obviously associated with implementing cisterns to collect rainwater or adding bioswales in your project’s sidewalks, these measures should reduce your standard stormwater detention system, resulting in significant overall savings. Consider that many LID measures can be worked into the budget by simply reallocating costs rather than adding more.

Additionally, many LID elements can result in future cost benefits, especially in cities with combined sewer systems. In Philadelphia, for example, sustainable designs that positively impact stormwater management can permanently reduce your water/sewer bills.

The Bottom Line

The concept of sustainable design is not new, and many developers acknowledge that it can offer significant long-term benefits to their projects. However, some developers may find it challenging to justify the initial investment required to incorporate sustainable design practices. With a multidisciplinary land development consulting firm like Bohler in place, developers can apply simple design techniques and see immediate returns on their sustainable design investments.

Rain gardens at Towson Row in Towson, MD

Rain gardens help to treat and store stormwater on site

A Holistic Approach

At Bohler, we take a holistic approach to land development planning and design. By including our landscape architects in the conversation as early as possible, we collaborate with clients and project teams to strategize how each individual project can capitalize on natural elements and identify opportunities to implement low-impact strategies.

See more about Bohler’s approach to sustainability.

Looking for sustainable solutions?

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About Steve Singleton, RLA
Steven Singleton Bohler Director Charlotte, NC

With a passion for helping clients bring their project vision to life, Steve brings decades of expertise in master planning, community design/development, urban planning, landscape architecture, and land development services to the table.

In the midst of the Southeast’s unprecedented growth, Steve has become a trusted partner in the industry. As a creative leader, Steve consults development teams on innovative design solutions, manages production teams, ensures quality deliverables, and serves as a construction administrative liaison. His project portfolio includes custom and production single-family residential, hospitality, mixed-use, higher education, and recreation facilities.

With his dedication to delivering constructible and profitable places, facilities, and communities, Steve has earned a reputation as a sought-after expert. He is committed to helping his clients achieve their goals, and his knowledge and expertise are invaluable resources to any project he takes on.

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