Thursday, September 30, 2010
Over the course of the last month, the Easton Star-Democrat newspaper has run several articles (1, 2) about the second phase of a suburban retail project on the west side of the town of Easton. The paper also ran a story this week on the debate representatives of Olive Garden restaurant had with Easton’s planning commissioners over their inability to adapt the architecture of their restaurants to Easton’s citizens’ expectations. Easton is one of a few towns on the Delmarva Peninsula with a relatively vibrant and healthy retail district at its center. The retail downtown is a tremendous draw for visitors from around the greater Chesapeake region. Easton is often featured in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun and even New York Times travel sections. The built environment in Easton is a major draw for tourists and contributes to the viability of the town’s retail and tourism industries.
The characteristics we’re talking about are:
• Buildings built close to the street
• Parking on the street or behind buildings – NOT in front of buildings
• Many openings (doors and windows) on the street facade of buildings
• Narrow street section with building heights in almost 1:1 proportion to street width (the purpose of this is to create a comfortable space for people, rather than an open moving district for automobiles)
• Street trees, bike infrastructures, benches and trashcans – important street furniture for attracting people
Washington Street, Easton, Maryland
These characteristics are known by us – if not by name, at least by sight – in relation to downtown areas just like Easton’s. However, they are not – and should not be – exclusive geographically to central areas. The decision to locate development further and further from town centers is a separate issue entirely. Development – whether retail, office, residential or otherwise – could still be designed to incorporate the characteristics listed above.
The new proposal for Waterside Village in Easton sheds itself of its initial effort to incorporate some of the principles of walkable retail urbanism (see the site plan and rendering from the web site to get a sense of what I’m talking about).
Waterside Village Site Plan (Waterside Village web site)
The fact that the proposed senior apartments replace office space is a reasonable decision. Residential space over office space is preferable as it extends the hours of active use in the area. Office hours are between 8:00am and 6:00pm and are similar to retail uses. Longer hours of activity increase safety, vibrancy and longevity of the site.
According to the Star Democrat story, “the architectural design and community space that was proposed for the buildings in the Westport Commons application would remain the same” and “the Westport Commons development proposal has not been withdrawn”. This isn’t to insult the quality of the Westport Commons proposal, only to say that the decision to place the senior apartments behind the Target building should take into consideration the context of the site, and not simply be a plan for another site, moved onto this plot of land.
The Town clearly sees they are worthy of better, as the commissioners have “expressed concern that the proposal was not consistent with design aspects of the town’s comprehensive plan.” Easton’s planning commissioners – in this instance – “recommend” the applicants make two changes. (You’ll recognize the recommendations from our earlier list of characteristics of high quality retail districts – like downtown Easton.)
The two recommendations:
• Make the development truly mixed-use; change some of the retail buildings from one-story to two, by putting residential units above retail.
• Move some of the parking to the rear or sides of the buildings.
As the commission noted, the comprehensive plan “encourages” residential space above retail. The ordinances governing Easton’s built environment could better reflect the principles laid out in their comprehensive plan. However, the developer making a contribution to the built environment has a responsibility as well.
Let’s recall that the ingredients of a successful and attractive retail area as we consider the following statement: “…the developers specifically avoided that formula because it would create competition with businesses in the downtown area, where residential above retail is frequently found.” Rather than worry about competing with downtown areas, edge retail should be a complementary district that may have room for larger tenants. Edge retail can still learn from and mimic the characteristics of downtown retail districts that shoppers love.
New suburban development – incorporating the design principles of traditional downtown retail districts.
In the Easton example, the developers argue with my suggestion by saying residential uses are “inappropriate” because they are only targeting 5,000-square-foot-plus “junior box” retailers. Countless examples – and all trends – are proving this wrong. It’s working in Pittsburgh, Vancouver and in hundreds of other developments (nicely presented by CoolTown Studios here). I’m not comparing a shopping center in Vancouver to one in Easton, but if it works at a large scale, it is unlikely that at a smaller, more human scale it should be any more difficult. I am confident that the creativity exists among small town developers in Easton and elsewhere that can craft a workable coexistence of retail and residences.
Mixed-use development in Vancouver, Canada with housing above big-box development.
Plan comparing typical rear-loaded strip shopping mall with parking in front versus innovative mixed-use shopping district (Ten Principles for Reinventing American Suburban Business Districts, Urban Land Institute, 2002)
The other request of the planning commissioners was for the developers to move some of the parking to the rear or sides of the retail buildings. The applicants responded that retailers would not want to occupy a store where shoppers would have to encounter trucks, loading docks and other back-of-house functions. This ethic is more likely applied by retailers than reflected by shoppers.
Retail set into a parking garage in a new development with features of a vibrant street (Ten Principles for Reinventing American Suburban Business Districts, Urban Land Institute, 2002).
When citizens in Easton or other towns want to complain about low density strip development and fields of parking lots, they look to their leaders. The burden of local leaders is being met as they adopt design guidelines and ask these probing questions of developers. It is the responsibility of those who develop retail on the edge to recognize that these types of single-use buildings set behind parking are the opposite of innovative, creative development that our Towns are asking for and we should expect.
Monday, July 26, 2010
Earlier this week, Grist posted an article on an evolving phenomenon that goes by the name ‘Agricultural Urbanism’. If your head just cocked to the side trying to understand how that isn’t an oxymoron – you aren’t alone. That’s how I responded when I first heard the term. I also reacted with quite a bit of skepticism. Take a look with me at some images from the articles. This is what passes for some type of urbanism:
In my next post I’ll talk about why I use the term ‘urbanism’ and why it’s relevant here. In the meantime, suffice it to say that I’m talking about the characteristics of buildings that are not only suitable for small towns, but those which characteristics of the great parts of towns that we love, right here on the Eastern Shore.
A quick look at Prairie Crossing’s site plan and photos will tell you this development would be better described as Agricultural SubUrbanism. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; ecologically and economically speaking isn’t it better to have fields of food or energy crops replacing turfgrass? Probably, but that’s a small and weak step toward integrating agriculture and urbanism without plainly sacrificing either.
By maintaining significant areas of contiguous farmland sustain a more vibrant agriculture economy. The very nature of integrating farmland into suburbia (and vice versa) takes land away from farming and contributes to less viability of the concerned farmland. Does that mean we should discourage farming that is integrated into the built environment? Not necessarily.
In theory, using in-town land for farming or building new projects with agriculture integrated simply spreads out the footprint of the town, village or city. If our goal is to have vibrant, walkable, sustainable towns, spreading out the development footprint is a no-go. A possible exception, both to the integration of agriculture into towns and the need for large tracts of rural land to sustain farming, is the high-value produce or value-added products like grapes for viticulture. Community gardens and vacant land reclamation (excellent example: GTECH Strategies’ Larimer site) are other opportunities to integrate agriculture into the town landscape.
The question is: how? Look again at the Prairie Crossing plans. Are their true opportunities for the average resident to walk or bike to everything they need? Is there any potential to replicate this project elsewhere? Is there a wise use of the land on the site? Compare this to a recent proposal from Charlottesville-area planner Daniel Nairn. Daniel has drafted up a ‘model block’ for Agricultural Urbanism. It might not work in every community – it was designed for a
Let’s think for a moment about why this block might have applicable lessons for Agricultural Urbanism on the
There is both a presumption and a legal framework that reinforce huge and unnecessary setbacks for buildings. These setbacks provide no benefits for human safety or welfare and only serve to erode the quality of streets as public spaces. Daniel’s block keeps buildings relatively close to the street (even with small front yards). This is a condition that exists in the heart of virtually every single town on the Eastern Shore from Betterton to
Mixed use does not mean having one huge swath of an enormous development devoted to commercial and another swath devoted to residential use (look again at the Prairie Crossing site plan). This does nothing more than encourage short-distance driving. Daniel’s proposal includes a corner market on the block (retail) and the integration of agriculture provides the opportunity for jobs within the block.
Use of Ancillary Space
Rather than use the block interior simply for parking or recreational space, Daniel proposes the block interior be primarily (and significantly) devoted to crops. There is little wasted space. As one commenter on Daniel’s post notes – an alleyway or structure for alleyways would be a nice addition, but I think there are obvious ways an alley could be integrated.
One of the issues I have with the block – for its application here – is the block size. The dimensions aren’t articulated in the post, but if we imagine that the block is something like 600’ x 600’, I would think a rectangular block (say 600’ x 300’ might be better suited to an
At 3 stories, the tallest building in this block would be short or comfortable in any town on the
This proposal offers 15 dwelling units per acre – which could easily be increased or decreased with any number of design adaptations. If, for example, the yellow or red (presumably brick) houses depicted in Daniel’s block were to replace the gray-blue apartments, the density would drop to 9 dwelling units per acre. That density might be more appropriate for smaller towns like Queen Anne or
The potential applicability for our towns is very interesting. Obviously, agriculture must not be a gimmick used to sell an unwalkable, unlivable places, but that where strategically implemented, Agricultural Urbanism on the
Jake Day is Town Planning Manager at
Monday, June 21, 2010
What do you think?
The Choptank Route; a different option with the same questions
Most of you are aware of Pepco Holding INC's. (PHI) recent announcement of a the Choptank Route - their proposed route through Dorchester County. The Choptank Route entails bringing the high voltage transmission lines underwater across the Bay, continuing up the Choptank River, coming on land north of the Cambridge Hyatt Regency and continuing over land into Vienna. PHI applauds the route selection and is in the process of gaining support for the new route - but many of the same questions remain unanswered.
Has the Need Been Established?
PHI has not established the need for the overall MAPP Project as the process remains in suspension at the state level. This suspension was at the request of the utility company with the understanding that the project would be revisited when studies were released about overall energy consumption and demand. Locally, many people do not realize the project is in suspension because of the continued efforts to secure rights of way and numerous presentations to gain support for the project. A statement such as "The power could go out by 2014" doesn't facilitate understanding the project or the address overall need for the MAPP project. The Office of People's Council, a Maryland State Agency that represents the utility rate payers of Maryland, called these types of tactics fear mongering.
Will this disrupt aquatic life in the Choptank River?
We don't know!
What are the environmental impacts of the Choptank Route? PHI has actively promoted the oyster studies they have completed and how the high voltage lines will not disturb historic or current oyster beds but fails to address other aquatic life that resides in the Chesapeake Bay or the Choptank River. There are more valuable resources in the Choptank River and Chesapeake Bay beyond oyster beds and how they will be affected must be addressed.
Is this Going To Impact MY Wallet?
YES! Even if the transmission line never breaks ground!
The original price tag for the project was 1.2 billion dollars, however the new Choptank Route could cost an additional $100-200 million dollars. Who will pay these costs? You, the consumer will. This project also has a 12.8% interest rate of return - that is for every dollar spent PHI will get that dollar back plus 12.8%. PHI has already spent over 4 million dollars to purchase properties in Dorchester County alone. All of which you, the consumer, will ultimately pay for.
There are too many unanswered questions to simply accept the Choptank River route as the right option to the MAPP line. Eastern Shore Land Conservancy will continue to ask questions about the environmental impacts, push for the highest levels of fiscal responsibility, and work at the state, regional and local levels to better understand the need for this project. Please don't stop asking questions and demanding the highest level of transparency for the process and answers to your questions.
Remember to flip the switch! You are the first step to energy conservation and it makes a difference!
Friday, February 26, 2010
Keynote Speaker: Ken Snyder, Place Matters
Overcoming Barriers to Infill, Compact Growth and Complete Streets
10:53a.m.-Welcome to our next segment at ESLC's 11th Annual Planning Conference. We are getting ready to start our next panel discussion in the next couple minutes. Stay tuned.
Someday the economy will improve and you want to ensure tha you remain competitive based on your unique assets. Don't sell out character in the long-term for short-term goals.
If attractive financing and incentives are made available developers will come--but make sure your comprehensive plan is current first.
Be sure to reload this blog website periodically to get new posts and additions to this post at the end!
9:11a.m.-We haven't started yet, but everyone is filing into the auditorium. We have approximately 100 people here currently.
9:14a.m.-Rob Etgen is giving introductory comments right now. He notes that this is ESLC's 20th anniversary. "This is going to be a big year for Eastern Shore Land Conservancy," says Rob Etgen. Rob thanks the sponsors of the event that many such as the Maryland Department of Planning, WILMAPCO, Shared Earth, AIA, and many others. Rob is talking about the theme of the conference today "About Town" and how that integrates with the multifaceted approach ESLC has regarding land conservation. ESLC supports downtown development in and around our towns.
9:21a.m.-Jake Day takes the stage now, thanking everyone for coming given the bad weather. Jake is thanking the staff at ESLC and sponsors for their work on this event. Jake explains that Jess Zimbabwe will lead off the conference and how later a panel will talk about "Getting Growth Good." The panel will include a mayor, local planner, and Secretary of the Maryland Department of Planning, Richard Hall, AICP.
9:30a.m.-MDP Secretary Richard Hall, AICP, is speaking now about LEED work and how we need to continue to develop that in Maryland. He mentions an NPR story on LEED scoring systems in California. Hall and MDP are proposing two bills this session in Annapolis: 1) creation of a Sustainable Growth Commission and 2) Sustainable Communities Tax Credit legislation. The tax credit legislation is to expand the program to assist in MD transit-oriented development, BRAC development, etc. Secretary Hall points out at least 8 state planners in attendance who came to the conference today.
9:36a.m.-Hall is commenting on HB 1141 currently and its importance to the state of Maryland and the Eastern Shore. The Secretary is now introducing Jess Zimbabwe. Here is a YouTube video of Jess:
9:45a.m.-Jess is talking about "The Role of Public Officials in Preserving Community Character." Jess mentions an article on planning and politics. The article proposes that politics should be taken out of planning, but Jess says political planning is natural. It's ok. One cannot necessarily separate politics from planning even if one wanted to, but the solution is better politics.
9:48a.m.-Jess mentions Joseph P. Riley, Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina as a kind of public official who gets it. Downtown Charleston was not always the beautiful place we see it as today. Jess explains that Riley found political, community, and financial will to spearhead redevelopment projects in Charleston.
9:50a.m.-Jess is talking about the Mayor's Institute on City Design and her experience working with cities around the country on redevelopment programs as well as transit-oriented development projects.
9:55a.m.-She does workshops for public officials to implement stable development in communities. Jess highlights national trends that apply to the Eastern Shore:
-There is little planning assistance available to most small communities.
-The natural resources and beauty of prime rural areas continue to drive development pressures from retirees, second home buyers, and long-distance commuters.
-Municipal revenue structures make communities overly reliant upon sales taxes and increased residential growth to deliver services.
9:59a.m.-Jess is talking about leadership. She explains adaptive leadership as leadership that is not influencing a community to follow your lead, but influencing a community to face their adaptive challenges.
10:01a.m.-Jess's 5 Expected Behaviors for Public Officials
1) Be choosy about development
Take a long-term approach to development, not a short-term approach. Don't be afraid to say no, but take the lead when you have a great opportunity.
2) Sweat the Small Stuff
Mayor Riley in Charleston, SC, in his travels across the country, took gravel samples from different places when thinking about what his city would use when putting in a water front gravel walk for residents as part of a community redevelopment project.
3) Work across boundaries
Work with towns and regional bodies because what happens next to you--impacts you.
4) Engage the Community
Make it clear that growth is going to occur in the community, but that it can happen in a way where everybody wins. Don't take a no-growth mentality, engage in the community planning effort to do the hard work necessary to make a better future for your town.
5) Insist upon a high quality public realm
10:08a.m.-Jess on the role of organizers in preserving community character. She has two tools here. Organizers are leading without natural authority, so how do they make up the gap? MLK in the civil rights movement specifically chose Selma for demonstration because of its potential for receiving national media attention.
Tool #1 Example: Transit Alliance Citizens' Academy (TACA)
Denver went full-steam ahead on TOD and transit investment and citizens were to some extent blindsided. TACA was formed to address regional-scale concerns about new TOD. Renters, homeowners, and small, local businesses had concerns about how gentrification and construction would impact their life in the area.
Tool #2 Example: Greenbelt Alliance (GA)
This group started much like the ESLC did. In 1987, GA changed focus to affordable housing as a way to prevent sprawl. People were moving out of the San Francisco Bay area for cheaper housing in the suburbs. They worked on infill, compact development programs. They do development endorsements and send people to attend hearings to speak on development proposals. They have Compact Development Endorsemnt Guidelines that include compactness, affordability, pedestrian facilities, transportation choice, green building, environmental considerations, community input, land preservation, sustainable parking, etc.
The GA has endorsed various developments in their area over the years creating a database of community development information useful to citizens.
10:10a.m.-Jess Zimbabwe finishes and asks for questions. Contact Jess at email@example.com or via phone at 202-624-7038.
Audience asks about how to work with local government officials and multiple jurisdictions. What success strategies ought we use? Jess says in Minneapolis-St. Paul region has a revenue sharing model for new development where municipalities share revenues from new development and work together on project management. She says regional governmental cooperation is very important.