Monday, November 9, 2009

15 Years After An Expensive Master Plan

Back in the mid'90s there was a movement to expand the Urban Service Area because the developers and builders were running out of land. There was a long and protracted battle before the Planning Commission and eventually it was decided--and expansion with a new way of looking at development.

The Expansion Area would be designed around two major concepts, the preservation of streams and drainage ways to eliminate flooding and promote greenway trails and linkages to civic amenities and the establishment of various community centers, each with a transition area into the surrounding residential development.

The greenways and the connecting walking/biking trail systems are largely taking place, in part due to the EPA suit and the consent decree(yet to be finalized). The community centers, well not so much.

The community centers were envisioned to be places for social gathering, associated somehow with structures of auditoriums or meeting halls(schools, churches or park style shelters), a small amount of retail and a residential component which ideally could be mixed with the retail(think Chevy Chase Shopping Center as it was, not as it is now). They were to be a central gathering place for the newly developing neighborhoods, accessible by foot or bike and would eliminate the need for an automobile to get to a neighborhood meeting. This was forward thinking, planning for peak oil without actually saying so.

There have been four CC/TA zones created in the expansion area so far. The first one developed is at the intersection of Polo Club Blvd and Todds Rd, or at least the proposed intersection with it not having been connected as yet. The end result here is a collection of townhouses and an anticipated gas station/food mart at the proposed corner. There are several large churches with property(10 acres or better) immediately adjacent and yet lacking any direct connectivity to the neighborhood.

The second is at the intersection of Polo Club and Man o' War Blvd. The plans here call for townhouses(again) some retail and presently several large lots and no specific proposals. What has been built is a gas station, pharmacy and bank. No townhouses or trails or anything else. I am starting to see a pattern here.

The third is located on Newtown Pike and Providence Parkway(north of Stanton Way and the Cracker Barrel). There is not much here right now but the approved plans say a gas station, several one story shops and a grouping of restored farm buildings centered around an antique dealer. The residential component is again several townhouses (not yet built).

Our latest to be developed is at Hays Blvd and Sperling Dr., near the elementary school. The mixed use shopping/residential was to encourage connectivity between the school , the shopping and other civic activities in an area nearly in the exact center of the development. The latest thoughts of the developer are some apartments behind the school, more single family lots and... get this... a pharmacy and a gas station on the corner. What a novel concept. Why did we not see this coming?

The residential zones of the expansion area (EAR 1, 2 & 3) were set up with a wide range of densities, anywhere from 3 units per acre up to 24 units per acre(with density transfer rights) or 18 without the transfer rights. As yet, the development density fifteen years into the plan is approximately between 3 and 4 units per acre, or just about what we were developing before the expansion plan was approved at great cost.

A new way of planning? Maybe not. I think it has been a zero sum game and maybe Pogo said it best, "We have met the enemy, and it is us."

1 comment:

Ahavah Gayle said...

What the Planning Commission should have done starting 30 years ago is to require that every residential unit be within a reasonable walking distance of groceries, etc., and prohibited the development of acres and acres of inaccessible neighborhoods that are, if one is forced to walk or bike, miles from the nearest shopping center. But they weren't that smart, and still aren't.

Why, everyone will always be able to hop in their SUV and get two weeks worth of food at a time, right?