Published Monday, July 29, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 3:47 pm
community design rules
World-Herald editorial: Right design balance for Omaha

Omaha has a reputation for being both forward-looking and practical. That balanced approach is the one our city needs to take in working with companies about the appearance aspects of their new construction.

A recent news article by The World-Herald’s Erin Golden explained how Mayor Jean Stothert’s administration is giving thought to community design issues in light of complaints about the city Planning Department’s heavy-handedness in regulating some development projects during the previous administration.

Stothert has rightly directed the Planning Department to send the signal that the city intends to work with businesses and other entities in productive ways rather than inflexibly dictating to them. The new planning director, when he or she is named by the mayor, no doubt will be making that goal a top priority.

That’s good. Omaha cannot afford to join the list of U.S. cities with reputations for excessive planning regulations and bureaucratic arrogance that choke off development opportunities. Cities need growth.

At the same time, there’s no question that community design standards, when properly formulated and reasonably implemented, have great public value.

Omaha proves it. Look at the attractive appearance and thoughtful design of such developments as Midtown Crossing and Aksarben Village. Those complexes illustrate what forward-looking cities should aim for when it comes to pragmatic design standards.

Being business-friendly needn’t mean tossing aside sensible appearance requirements.

Across the country, there are many economically successful cities that use community design requirements and have impressive examples of new development that incorporates attractive, locally appropriate designs.

Omaha’s appearance standards were developed through wide-ranging community discussions and have served some key needs. They set out a coherent, citywide appearance approach. They put an end to cookie-cutter box-store designs for new construction. And they require that attention be paid to the particular design needs of individual neighborhoods.

Mayor Stothert says that in the wake of the concerns voiced over the Planning Department’s past actions, it’s time for a new round of discussions on the particulars of Omaha’s design standards and whether they need to be adjusted.

That’s a sound idea. When the City Council voted unanimously in 2007 to approve the specific design requirements under the Omaha By Design initiative, the idea was for the standards to be regularly scrutinized and, when needed, modified.

When it comes to community appearance standards for Omaha, these are some main ingredients for success: Nurture consensus on basic standards. As differences crop up between the city and developers on specific projects, negotiate responsibly to address them. Have city regulators handle matters professionally and diplomatically.

With such an approach, Omaha can strike the right balance.

Lori Jenkins, charged as accessory in 4 murders, waives speedy trial
Iowa State servers hacked, nearly 30,000 SSNs at risk
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
2nd District House race: After 8 terms, Lee Terry knows how D.C. works — and doesn't
Bellevue man is killed at Minnesota dance hall after South Sudanese basketball tourney
Spring corn planting still sputters in Nebraska, Iowa, other key states
Nebraska banking and finance director to retire
19-year-old killed in one-vehicle crash at 72nd & Shirley
Gov. Heineman vetoes bill to ease restrictions on nurse practitioners
U.S. Senate race: State Auditor Mike Foley defends Shane Osborn against ad campaign
Public defender to represent Nikko Jenkins in sentencing
Mid-America Center on track for lower operating loss
Bluffs City Council approves dozens of new numbered street lights
National Law Enforcement Memorial Week set for May
Ted Cruz backs Pete Ricketts' campaign for governor
Omahan charged with 5th-offense DUI after street race causes rollover
2 blocks of Grover Street closed
Safety board report blames pilot error in 2013 crash that killed UNO student, passenger
Omaha man accused in shooting ordered held on $75,000 bail
2 men charged with conspiracy to distribute meth held on $1 million bail each
Waitress who served alcohol to teen before fatal crash gets jail time, probation
La Vista plans meeting on sales tax proposal, 84th Street redevelopment
6-mile stretch of Highway 75 is the road not taken
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Millard school board bans e-cigarettes from all district properties, events
< >
Breaking Brad: Into the claw machine! Florida kid follows Lincoln kid's lead
In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a child climbed inside a claw machine. Hey, Florida kid: Nobody likes a copycat.
Breaking Brad: Even Chuck Hassebrook's throwing mud!
The Nebraska campaigns have turned so ugly, Democrat Chuck Hassebrook lobbed unfounded accusations at an imaginary opponent.
Breaking Brad: Kraft wiener recall is business opportunity for TD Ameritrade Park
Instead of returning the wieners, TD Ameritrade Park is calling them "cheese dogs" and charging double.
Breaking Brad: Photos with the Easter Bunny are so 2010
In a sign of the times, most kids ran out of patience waiting for a photo with the Easter Bunny at the mall, just snapped a selfie and went home.
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
A World War II veteran from Omaha will return this week to Europe to commemorate a tragedy in the run-up to D-Day.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Steam-A-Way Carpet Cleaning
$50 for 3 rooms and a Hallway up to 600 square feet
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »