A Natural Features Inventory (NFI) was conducted for the City of Rochester Hills by Niswander Environmental in 2004 and 2005. The NFI was completed as part of the Master Land Use Plan Update completed by McKenna Associates, Inc. The NFI identified steep slopes, floodplains, wetlands, watercourses, woodlands, and Priority Natural Areas within the City. GIS-based maps of the City’s natural features were generated as part of this NFI. The NFI was undertaken with input from the Oakland Land Conservancy, Oakland County Planning, Clinton River Watershed Council, Rochester Hills Planning Commission/City Council, and the public.
Available GIS data were compiled from various sources to develop an initial base map of possible existing natural features. General natural resources information was obtained from Oakland County Planning, Oakland County Soil Survey, Clinton River Watershed Council, SE Michigan Greenways Initiative, Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment Wetland Inventory, National Wetland Inventory, and aerial photo interpretation. In addition, City-specific information was obtained from the Rochester Hills GIS database, 1991 Rochester Hills Natural Features Report for the Master Planning Process, and the Rochester Hills Master Plan 2001-2005.
A comprehensive field evaluation of all accessible natural features in the City was completed in the fall of 2004. Natural features assessment data were collected at 725 survey points and photographs were taken at 671 locations.
A preliminary NFI map was generated by integrating the field data into the GIS initial base map. Each survey and photo location was identified on the NFI map and the assessment data and digital photographs were then linked to each location. GIS coverages were then developed for each natural feature category. Attribute data, including feature type, size, quality, restorability, and other pertinent information, were linked to each individual natural feature category.
The natural features were then analyzed for significance to the City by developing qualitative criteria for site ranking. Determining significance to the City was based on evaluation of not only the quality of the natural resource, but also the site’s need for protection, threat of destruction, and relationship to surrounding land use. The natural features were placed within a Priority Area based on the points obtained in its criteria ranking.
The NFI created a baseline data set to that was used for the Master Land Use Plan Update. The NFI is designed to be a tool that can be used by City planning, engineering, and parks staff on a daily basis to evaluate projects and potential impacts to natural resources. Niswander Environmental evaluated the quality of the natural resources in order to provide guidance for the preservation, restoration, and management of the City’s open space. In addition, the NFI is intended to be used for determining if and how effectively the natural resources of the City are protected by the City’s existing ordinances and if changes or amendments to the ordinances would provide additional protection in the future.
The key of the NFI’s success is its implementation towards protecting the remaining Priority Natural Areas through existing and newly developed ordinances. This process has begun with the drafting of a Steep Slopes Ordinance in 2005, in which Niswander Environmental helped develop. In addition in 2005 the City passed a 10-year Open Space Millage and the NFI is being used to direct the land acquisition efforts. Thus far, five Priority One parcels totaling over 80 acres have been preserved by the City.