Master-Planning a Daunting Landscape

People / Places / May 31, 2013

The assignment must have seemed as challenging as scaling the 876-foot-high face of the New River Gorge itself:

Develop a master plan for Wild Rock, a new community on a 655-acre plateau high above the New River, covered in native sandstone, forest and streams, all spread out across a wildly diverse topography.

And make it sustainable.

“It’s absolutely stunning – it’s a daunting landscape,” says Warren Byrd, partner in Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects.  “The client wanted to develop an outdoor-oriented, sustainable set of homes where people might want to live full time, and not just for second homes.”

Byrd looked and listened hard at what the land had to say, because the client wanted the property treated sensitively, minimally and well.

He responded with a set of guidelines for development in what he calls a pattern book.

Miles and miles of tracks and trails are as least disruptive as possible.  The community plan is relatively loose, and based primarily on natural structure.  The idea was to understand features like a stream corridor and let the community grow out of it, rather than trying to force something onto it.

“We gave it guidelines for setbacks,” he says.  “Each property lot – with stream, valley, trees or forest – has a certain setback to respect the view inside to out and outside to in.  People want a view of that gorge, but you don’t want people looking up at houses from down there.”

The guidelines offer direction for siting a home, and knit access lanes into topography with as little impact as possible.

Equally important is the issue of stormwater management, since every drop of water at Wild Rock ends up eventually in the New River, the Ohio River, the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.  Guidelines address that issue also.

“Every step of way, you can slow the problems with water by managing the stormwater on site,” he says.  “You can collect and harvest rainwater from the house with minimum impact.  For the aquifer and the sandstone, it’s important.”

Water can be managed with pervious surfaces, native plants and cisterns below grade, collected or infiltrated slowly.  “It’s incremental – you could do it on one site, but if you do it on 30, it adds up,” he says.

For a development the size of Wild Rock, that’s critical.  The initial phase of its development currently calls for 50 homes.  Eventually, there could be as many as 100 up on the plateau.

And each will have an impact, good or bad, on the watershed below.

For more on Nelson Byrd Woltz, go to

For more on Wild Rock, go to

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Mike Welton

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