Friday, May 14, 2010

My Position on CVS And The Downtown

There has been an awful lot of things said about the proposed CVS in downtown. For the record, I am against the current building and any design that allows an expanse of parking and a drive through within sight of the street. Most critics are correct in saying that this is an important intersection but all intersections downtown are important.

The committee that worked on the Downtown Master Plan identified it as a "gateway" to downtown, but that is subjective. "Gateways" serve to announce that you are approaching the business district and give a fairly good impression of the skyline, if one exists. These "gateways" are always shifting outward from the center of town and I can remember when it could be declared at Main & Rose. I feel that when they built the Woodlands condos that it moved to Main & Woodland and, honestly, it could be moved as far as Main & Walton.

The present make-up along E Main St., from Walton to Midland, consists of mainly residential and office uses set back from the street a short distance and NO parking other than the entry to the Woodlands. The only other street we have like this is N. Broadway. Every intersection along here is important and care should be taken to avoid any suburban type redevelopment. Care should also be taken on E. High St., from Woodland to Rose, as it redevelops.

"Gateways" should not announce that you are entering a wide , multi-lane roadway, designed to get you through town, but a calm, pedestrian oriented, business lined street. And, since "gateways" are a shifting location, any planning for new development should be aimed at a future idea of how the intersection will function. Planning for a past condition seems a bit pointless.

A part of the Downtown Master Plan is to revert our one-way streets back to two-way streets which would make this not just an entry, but an exit for both Main and Vine Streets. None of these three streets (Main, Vine and Midland) should look or act like a speedway. If I recall correctly, the plan called for Midland to be lined with new 4-7 story buildings facing the Thoroughbred Park. That, in itself, would change the nature of Midland.

Just as driving is not a right, its a privilege, neither is parking and although parking right at the door is something that we have come to expect, that privilege does not come cheaply.

I made a quick, cursory look through the Plan the other day and did not see any part of it that referred to either the enhancement or the elimination of parking facilities. I also realize that parking requirements in the downtown zones do not exist. Off-street parking, in the downtown area, was provided by the private sector since the days of the horse and buggy. Have you ever counted the number of livery stables on the Sanborn maps from the turn of the last century? There were several on every block and none of them were run by the local government. Local businessmen made money off of them. Even in those days parking was not free. These days developers say that they cannot make a project work without a government financed parking facility. Government now provides various of mass transit modes and the parking facility with which they compete, which makes no sense to me.

The subject of design guidelines is also another sticky morass through which to tread. What kind of guidelines would be best for Lexington? Form based? A rigid code? Some sort of "design czar"? A professional panel? Something of a hybrid ? Ask a dozen people and get a thousand answers. Some officials think that we should have design guidelines in place already although NO official action has been made to create or enact such guidelines. A few of our current Council members, and one in particular, are well suited to head up the task of getting such guidelines onto the local agenda, yet NO ONE has. Ironically, these are the same ones who cry foul when developments don't meet the non-existent, mythical guidelines.

Should the guidelines govern just the downtown or should they cover the entire urban area? We currently have a couple of ND-1 zoning overlays that impose some guidelines and several other areas are considering them. Is that the right path to take? One again, many ideas and few simple answers. There is a special set of rules being developed for the Infill and Redevelopment Area which spans the downtown and the "first ring" subdivisions. How will city wide design guidelines affect them?

Lexington has never had a distinctive style for which it is known except for the rolling horse farm landscape, and that just doesn't translate well into urban design. Most of our subdivisions, though "modern" when they were built have become somewhat dated over the years and some have asked if they will ever become the "historic districts" of some future generation. I would ask if we are planning and designing for the needs of today or the needs of the future? Have we become such an uncaring throw-away society that we don't think about how our children will use the buildings that we put up today? Our parents put up buildings that would outlast them while we put up ones that will not make it to our old age.

These are the things that we should think about and worry about, right up there with climate change and peak oil/energy depletion when we propose thing for our city and particularly its downtown.


lexdan said...

"Have we become such an uncaring throw-away society that we don't think about how our children will use the buildings that we put up today? Our parents put up buildings that would outlast them while we put up ones that will not make it to our old age."

Right on. One of the things that so offended me about Centre Pointe was that the expected lifespan of the project was 40 years. The Webb's lawyer Darby Turner said that at the Courthouse Design Review Board meeting that approved the demolition of the buildings on the block.

One of the buildings they tore down was built in 1826. Abe Lincoln may have shopped there.

Streetsweeper said...

"Abe Lincoln may have shopped there."

That is a good supposition. It is a real truth that a larger number of folks DID shop there. The very real fact is that practically no one was shopping there in the last few years. For all the hoopla about the entertainment activity on that block, in the last 15 years the activity level was constantly falling. (You are right, it is nothing at the present time but now there is a prospect for some type of new progressive activity.

The Serial Rider Chronicles said...

Great post. I think after Centre Point every building proposal will be examined under a microscope. I can't say that I really care what that building would look like. It wouldn't be any less a "sore thumb" than the renovated building at Mill and Vine St. (its so random to me). You have some points for me to consider.