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Rooted in Green

The Campbells are the greenest family I know. Quick to call themselves “nurserymen,” the Lincoln, Neb.-based nursery operators’ love of the environment—and their need to sustain it—is not driven by “green guilt,” but from a century of tending the land.

Four generations of Campbells have cultivated Lincoln earth since 1912, growing their business from a neighborhood nursery to multi-unit garden-center retailer and greenhouse production operation. However, a recent foray into real estate development has propelled a family company deeply rooted in the landscaping and garden business into the role of mixed-use developer.

Village Gardens (see story on page 168) isn’t just a visionary mixed-use project showcasing retail, restaurants and entertainment in a Main Street setting, with hotel, office space, a community component, residential and the kind of landscaping that only an upscale nursery can design—but it is the Campbell family’s way of stewarding a 300-acre piece of ground it has owned for decades.

On the property, Nebraska’s first high-hazard dam to be approved as a “fuse plug” dam structure is being constructed. (A fuse plug of a soil concentration is built into the dam, which then blows in the event of an overflow. Having a fuse-plug dam eliminates the concrete structure and will allow the Campbells to “green” the dam with grass and permissible plant materials.) Four of the residential builders are green certified and a new cul-de-sac design features pocket parks with a detention basin that will retain water for up to 24 hours before slowly releasing it into the storm-water system. A series of detention ponds will build capacity to 40% of what the city needs to detain for the entire watershed basin. Cooperation with the local public works department has resulted in successful experimentation with various silt barriers. “One of the advantages of our work in the landscape business is that we have long implemented silt barriers,” Carrie Campbell Grimes, director of development for Village Gardens and a fourth-generation Campbell, told me. “We understand how important it is to catch silt before it enters a detention pond.”

Green is clearly such a part of the family’s DNA that building sustainability into the mixed-use project was never in question. “We’ve been in the nursery business since 1912 in Lincoln,” said Campbell Grimes, “so obviously we have a vested interest in the community’s future. Anything that we’re going to create with our landscapes or with Village Gardens is something that we want to make sure is going to leave Lincoln a better place for years to come.”

The Campbells are unique in that their greenness is bone-deep, but the family’s sustainable efforts aren’t singular within the shopping center industry. Developers, as a whole, are surprisingly savvy about sustainability. To compile the all-green real estate coverage this month, I e-mailed several hundred shopping center developers, requesting that they tell me about their green projects. The scores of responses tells me that, while shopping centers may not be as green-smart as many of today’s office spaces, they’re rapidly closing the gap.

© 2014