The goal of the developers of Bear Creek Prairie was to build a community using ecologically sensitive development and building methods. The Bear Creek Prairie site was one of the few pieces of undeveloped land within the current city limits, and its development seemed inevitable. The owners, Andy Guti and Sherri DeRousse, wanted the beauty of the land to be preserved so they set out to find a way to build homes while protecting a significant portion of the site. After considerable research, including visits to numerous communities around the country and input from ecologists, city planners, environmentalists and neighbors, Andy and Sherri decided the goal was worth pursuing.
The concept of a "Conservation Community", as outlined in a booklet by Village Habitat Design of Atlanta, provided the framework for Bear Creek Prairie. In Conservation Communities the homes are clustered in one portion of the site while the remainder is preserved for the benefit of the residents and the environment. The city of Columbia's Zoning Ordinances, allowing for Planned Unit Development (PUD) districts, provided the vehicle for the project. The purpose of a PUD "is to enable innovation and flexibility in design and to promote environmentally sound and efficient use of land." This zoning was a good fit for the Conservation Community concept and provided the planning method to accomplish those goals.
During a two-day workshop in June of 2004, co-sponsored by the Department of Architectural Studies at the University of Missouri and the Missouri Department of Conservation, the process of designing the site plan for the community began. The charette, led by Professor Michael Goldschmidt of the UMC Architectural Studies Department, along with nationally recognized ecologist Steven Apfelbaum of Applied Ecological Services, and village planner Greg Ramsey of Village Habitat Design, included potential residents, neighbors, city staff, and MU faculty and students.
The charette began with all participants touring the site. Steven Apfelbaum pointed out that the field full of flowers and grasses in the middle of the site was, in fact, a remnant prairie that had never been cultivated. What had seemed like the ideal area for development quickly became a focus of preservation. The prairie will be an asset to the residents, local wildlife and ecology, plus an important piece of the low impact stormwater design. The charette culminated with a preliminary site plan that met the goal of clustering homes to preserve a large portion of the woodland and prairie.
"It was a delight to discover the existence of a never-cultivated prairie during the design charette for Bear Creek Prairie Conservation Community. Even more gratifying is to know that this spectacular prairie will be preserved for the future residents and for the entire community. The sensitive, low-impact design of this project should be seen as a model for future developments."
Steven I. Apfelbaum, M.S.
Principal Research & Consulting Ecologist
Applied Ecological Services
Preserving much of the natural landscape while building homes was the primary goal. Of equal importance was the desire to design a neighborhood that would encourage interaction among the residents. The concept of a "Conservation Community" provides the framework to accomplish these goals. In conservation communities the homes are generally clustered around common green spaces that everyone can use and enjoy. This encourages interaction among residents while retaining use of wooded and open areas for trails, gardens, gathering areas, and other amenities.
Another important guiding principle was energy conservation. With energy costs increasing rapidly, energy efficiency becomes vital. Through the innovative use of certain materials and techniques energy cost savings accrue throughout the life of the home. Even simple no-cost building techniques such as proper solar orientation can help reduce overall heating and cooling costs.
Reducing or eliminating negative environmental impacts during and after site development and construction also guided the design of Bear Creek Prairie. This is accomplished with "low impact development" (LID) techniques. Rather than collecting and conveying stormwater runoff through storm drains and pipes, LID-designed sites use natural vegetation and small-scale treatment systems to treat and infiltrate stormwater runoff on-site, close to where it originates.