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Preserving and Protecting While Expanding

by Larry Guengerich
Published on the American Institute of Architects website, April 2016

flood plainLandis Homes is a continuing care retirement community nestled within the pastoral landscapes and preserved farmlands of Lancaster County. It embarked on a Residential Living Expansion that focused on the remaining undeveloped portion of its 114-acre campus. As stewards of their surroundings, Landis Homes has grown to cherish its natural resources, believing that environmentally sensitive areas and rural, character-defining features must be maintained, protected, and conserved in order for its facilities and the broader community to flourish in the future. These values have proven to be influential in the design, development and marketing of the remaining campus area.

Landis Homes turned to trusted partners, RGS Associates – a local land development consulting firm, and LandStudies – a local Environmental Planning and Restoration firm, to design and implement a stormwater management and floodplain restoration plan to restore Kurtz Run, a stream running through the eastern portion of the property. Kurtz Run was degraded by centuries of historic human activity such as timber harvesting, milling, and farming. These activities caused eroding soils to make their way into lowlands and disconnected the stream from its natural floodplain substrate. With stewardship as a guiding principal, the goal of this project was to improve stream function and the ecological biodiversity of the site while making efficient use of the available land.

The floodplain restoration project addressed traditional infrastructure challenges relating to stormwater management regulations associated with the expansion of the retirement community. Now completed, the project effectively demonstrates how such restorations can provide significant on-site, as well as, regional improvements to water quality, stormwater management, groundwater recharge, flooding impacts, and recreational opportunities.

In additional to the water quality enhancements, the restoration effort will allow Landis Homes to remove two conventional stormwater management basins and replaced with seven additional independent living cottages. The result will be a more efficient utilization of land within a designated growth area, as well as vastly improved water quality over that of traditional stormwater management techniques. Future campus growth will also be poised to efficiently utilize this unique infrastructure improvement resulting in long-term economic net gain associated with the restoration project.

Dramatically increasing the site’s bio-diversity while serving as a low-maintenance aesthetic asset, the restored floodplain is planted with colorful, native vegetation to provide a seasonal succession of landscape interest. The wetland plants provide home and shelter to many species including migrating birds.

Although the floodplain restoration effort is the centerpiece of the community, other low impact development stormwater best management practices were also implemented throughout the campus, and include porous asphalt, rain gardens, and bio-retention areas. Underground cisterns and rain barrels are also integrated into the community so runoff can be reused to irrigate plantings and wash vehicles. However, it is the floodplain restoration initiative that has provided the greatest environmental benefits. This project increased floodwater storage potential, created 6.5 acres of wetlands, improved infiltration without increasing the potential for sinkholes, reduced stream bank erosion, and increased water quality benefits both on-site and downstream.

Photo credit: Nicole Seuffert, RSG AssociatesPhoto credit: Nicole Seuffert, RSG Associates.

The project received a Gold Achievement Award in the Best of 50+ Housing in Recognition of Sustainable Features at the International Builders Show in Las Vegas. The project was also recognized with an Innovation Award, one of the evening’s highest honors. Presenter Manny Gonzalez AIA, LEED AP, noted ‘The sustainable site features of the Landis Homes project was a prime example of a project that “pushed the envelope” of sustainability for its thoughtful integration of rain gardens, bio-swales, rain barrels and floodplain restoration in managing water resources.’

Pedestrian trails have been incorporated throughout the campus to offer residents direct access to community open spaces, encourage socialization with neighbors, and expose the residents to the beauty and functionality of a restored ecosystem. In keeping with the desire to create a sustainable community, Landis Homes chose to use porous asphalt for a large portion of this trail system. The porous asphalt provides a stable walking surface and promotes stormwater infiltration adding to the site’s water quality improvement initiatives.

Throughout the restoration, a number of environmental education opportunities arose, including tours of the site by students from both J.P. McCaskey High School and Temple University, as well as the Association of Floodplain Managers and the Pennsylvania Landscape and Nursery Association through the LandStudies Healthy Watershed Tours. The students and professionals visited Landis Homes to learn about the restoration, focusing on wetland design, floodplain restoration as a tool for stormwater management and upstream waterway protection effects on downstream water quality, and ultimately the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

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J.P. McCaskey High School students tour the site during the restoration.

Linford Good, Vice-President of Planning and Marketing at Landis Homes, speaks passionately about how the Landis Homes community’s residents have embraced this restoration as a centerpiece for their community; they cherish the commitment to stewardship that this innovative project represents. The colorful vegetation increases the landscape’s aesthetic appeal, and the increased habitat in the newly created wetlands provides visitors with abundant views of wildlife, including migrating shore birds which did not frequent the site prior to restoration. The stream and restored floodplain have created a campus that the Landis Homes residents, staff and the broader community enthusiastically embrace.

floodplain hybrid

Photo credit: Nicole Seuffert, RSG Associates.

About the Author:

For the past five years, Larry Guengerich has served as Director of Communications and Church Relations for Landis Communities, an aging services network located in Lancaster County. In this role, he works closely with the CEO and Leadership Team to develop communications strategies supporting Landis Communities’ strategic plan.  He works to extend the vision and mission consistent with the guiding values, and assists with planning and communication with a variety of stakeholders. He has been very involved with Landis Communities Steeple View Lofts project, a rental loft apartment building for people age 55 plus in downtown Lancaster, as well as serving as primary connection with local and regional Chamber of Commerce events. A 1989 graduate of Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA, Larry earned a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in International Development.  In 2003, he earned a Post Degree Diploma in Public Relations from Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, PA. He is an active member of the Public Relations Society of America and has completed leadership training courses through Values Based Leadership and Anabaptist Providers Group.  He has spoken widely in state and national conferences including at LeadingAge and LeadingAge PA conventions.