Gilbert's 'green' viewpoint evolves - East Valley Tribune: News

Gilbert's 'green' viewpoint evolves

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Posted: Saturday, September 6, 2008 6:25 pm | Updated: 11:32 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The words Gilbert and green have gone together since the community was founded as an agricultural center on a railroad line in the first years of the 20th century.

But "green" has definitions that change with the times. In Gilbert, it used to mean lots of grass and trees; now it means lots of blue recycling bins, swirly light bulbs and recreational hubs built around lakes that slowly filter treated wastewater back into the groundwater table.

"There's a conception of 'greening' as it extends in from the larger population that has to do with energy efficiency and sustainability," Town Councilwoman Linda Abbott said.

But can these dual images take root in a desert?

Much of the town's landscape is noticeably grassier than what's found in other recently built-out areas of the East Valley, which have, to varying degrees, embraced the low water xeriscaping ethos.

Morrison Farms and other housing tracts set among lawns and white picket fences seem patently un-Arizonan, which is part of their appeal.

"Everybody likes Gilbert because some little part of it reminds them of where they came from," Councilman Steve Urie said.

This look came about in large part due to a general plan adopted in the 1990s, which placed a lot of value in open space in general, and grassy open space in particular.

The idea was to preserve Gilbert's agrarian lifestyle, Urie said, with an emphasis on acre lots. But it soon became clear what people were really after were the symbols of the agrarian life: the downtown water tower, the windmills at Power Ranch, the picket fences at Morrison Ranch and elsewhere, Urie said.

"They liked the alfalfa fields, they liked to be able to ride their horses along the canal," Urie said.

But now, the definition of green is evolving with the rising profile of environmental concerns around the world, with an emphasis on renewable resources and sustainable living.

The success of the town's two existing riparian areas at drawing bird-watchers, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts to the ponds used for water recharge has officials talking about ways to develop a cluster of attractions at or near a third water recharge site. That site is expected to have an emphasis on nature and wildlife education.

Gilbert is known as a young community, which may be part of the reason recycling and other eco-conscious approaches have seen success. The recycling department's educational programs regularly visit the town's schools, trotting out the "Debris Marie" mascot, a fuzzy blue recycling can costume.

Town spokesman Garin Groff said the kids often know most of the drill by the time the presenters come around, and the recycling officials "have to keep Debris Marie hidden, because if they don't the students will get so excited they can't concentrate on the rest of the program."

Since 1996, Gilbert has required all artificial lakes and parcels larger than five acres to be sustained with nonpotable water. Until recently this had to be reclaimed sewer water supplied by the town, but on June 24 the council amended the town code to allow property owners to get untreated water from other sources if none was available from Gilbert.

About the same time, the council approved a development agreement covering much of the 950-acre Cooley Station project, which wanted to use untreated irrigation water from the Roosevelt Water Conservation District.

Larry Morrison, a former councilman who sits as chairman of the task force, said the lushness of the look planned for Cooley Station and the broader Gateway area can work if it's done right.

Morrison said his only concern was potential risks of using nonnative plants in the area.

"With the right plants adapted to the kind of region we live in, you don't run that risk," he said.

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