Friday, February 26, 2010

Live Blog Feed: ESLC Annual Planning Conference

Panel Discussion: "Getting Good Growth"

Overcoming Barriers to Infill, Compact Growth and Complete Streets

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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.

11:00a.m.-The panelists are:

Richard E. Hall, AICP, Secretary, Maryland Department of Planning
Joann Genova, Developer
Nicole Lacoste Folks, Esq, AICP, Black Dog Law LLC
Margo Bailey, Mayor, Town of Chestertown
Jon Arason, AICP, Director, City of Annapolis Planning & Zoning Dept.

11:06a.m.-Ok, we are underway again here at the conference. Secretary Richard Hall is introducing the panelists right now.

11:10a.m.-Jon Arason is taking the floor now to talk about community and character in infill design. Most cities and towns are experiencing new development on land annexed and infill development. It is important that all development is representative of the core values of the city. Jon will talk mainly on context-sensitive infill.

Annapolis Comp Plan quote: "The city's growth and economic vitality does not depend on the outward expansion of its borders." Arason says he always tried to annex as much as possible to allow for Annapolis growth, but now he must accept that Annapolis will not annex further. Now the focus turns to infill. Annapolis has had traditional neighborhoods from traditional rigid zoning for too long, now the need is for flexible zoning. The majority of the zoning in Annapolis is currently R2.

Rigid zoning ordinances with mandatory setbacks, etc. limit the success of infill projects.

11:16a.m.-Infill Development Example: A bank wanted to build in a residential neighborhood. Arason told the architect that if the bank wanted to preserve the existing building on site to make it a bank they could all meet the next day, if the plan was to tear down the existing building and build a new big box building--Arason would meet with them in 6 months.

Arason and the Annapolis Planning Department has asked developers to do context studies with regard to infill projects to take into account community character. They were able to preserve a 1907 hospital building in downtown Annapolis.

The pendulum seems to be swinging back toward 'streamlined' development. Political support lagging for good design. It is important to understand those elements that distinguish your jurisdiction, not sacrifice quality for the sake of development.

11:21a.m.-Arason continues. . . .
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.
11:23a.m.-Richard Hall now takes the podium again commenting on an Annapolis project that was incredibly walkable in its site design. Hall commends Arason and Annapolis for such a project.

11:24a.m.-Nicole Folks is at the podium now to speak. This is her 3rd year at ESLC's APC. Nicole comments on how we need to have developers in the audience to hear the good things we are talking about. Folks is a land use attorney working in the MD area. Folks' clients are small business owners, land developers, lenders, charter schools, and homebuilders. Nicole says that in the past everything was focused on greenfields development: find new land, make a plan, get it passed. But now things are changing. . . . . . thus the topic of her lecture today--promoting infill development.

11:28a.m.-Folks comments,
If attractive financing and incentives are made available developers will come--but make sure your comprehensive plan is current first.
She offers the 'carrot and stick approach' to promoting infill development from the private sector perspective.

What are some factors developers look at while shopping for land?

-land values
-population base
-employment and/or academic centers
-energy & gas prices
-public transportation options

11:31a.m.-Nicole says, "Show me the Money!" Banks are not lending like they did in the past right now. Developers must have in hand: 1) strong and balanced pro forma, 2) good relationships with lenders, 3) forward looking market studies, and 4) doesn't hurt to have lots of cash in hand. Market studies are very important during this economic climate. Banks are looking at market studies a lot more given the economy.

HUD is the biggest lender right now for developers given the fact that banks are not lending.

Time is money. Expedited permit and plan approval processes are great tools to use to incentivize the right kinds of development projects. Waivers are also useful especially with regard to parking. Baltimore City code allows long-term lease agreements with other parking providers within 300 yards of the site. Parking is not required on-site in Baltimore City.

11:36a.m.-Carsharing is being used by a developer to try to provide an adequate alternative parking arrangement for an infill development in Baltimore City. Nicole's client is actually purchasing cars to provide carsharing for his site.

Arts and Entertainment Districts are big in Baltimore City as well. If development will encourage arts and entertainment in the district, developers are given carrots. Incentives are also in place for TOD. Baltimore also has recently implemented one of the most restrictive 'Green Building' laws in the country. Baltimore City put in place fast-track approval incentives for developers who choose to 'build green.' Nicole has a client now who has chosen that route.

Another big issue with regard to supporting more infill development is stormwater management regulations. At times such regulations can serve as huge hurdles to infill proposals.

11:41a.m.-Joann Genova is now at the podium. She is a local developer and will talk a little bit about some of her recent projects. Talking about what a development is and what it isn't. Genova says, "It is about the people who use it and its surrounding community." Joann mentions an adaptive use project on North Harrison Street in Easton, Md. The land owners wanted to do a retrofit of an old, historic downtown house. They met various hurdles throughout the process that make the project somewhat of a "budget buster," but the project did succeed and will soon be featured as one of Easton's historic restoration houses.

11:50a.m.-Joann is now talking about an Easton project on Aurora Street. This was an infill project with double density requested. It is a residential strip that would have fit well with the downtown feel of Easton. The project had approval from the Easton Planning department and the variance committee. The density application was denied after a neighborhood association complained that the project would be blocking view of adjacent property. The association was also opposed to higher density. They feared establishing a poor precedent (allowing higher density). So the project died. The key question is how do we garner public support for downtown infill projects? How can public engagement and education be improved?

11:55a.m.-Joann is offering practical advice from a development point of view.
- Know what you are getting into, don't assume you are being told everything. Ask the tough questions.
- Hire architects and builders that are familiar with local codes currently being used. Plans/specifications should address ADA and Fire Codes clearly. Assumptions cause problems and delays.
- Hire your own contractors to do soft testing, building inspections, etc. They work for you. Never use reports from previous owners.
-These simple common sense steps will help keep costs down, keep delays to a minimum, etc.

12:09p.m.-Margo Bailey is speaking now about her town's experience with development. They as well as many other on the Eastern Shore are not afraid to say no when a development proposal is not up to par.

Margo ends with: "We have a chance in Chestertown to do something that reflects us now and we want it done now!"

And a quote from Ed McMahon, a well known smart growth advocate "You get what you ask for!"
12:14 p.m.-Richard Hall is now facilitating discussion on questions from attendees.

12:22 p.m.-Margo Bailey is emphasizing the importance of joint planning with county government. As mayor in Chestertown she feels that the town and county are on the same page in terms of growth objectives, smart growth, vision, long-term plans, etc.

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