Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Look At The New Comprehensive Plan - Part 2

Continuing the look at the 2013 Comprehensive Plan.  Today we will look at some of the tools being considered.

The concept of Complete Streets has found a home among the Planning staff if not in the hearts and minds of most neighborhood residents. The Complete Streets program encourages our city streets to become what they have been for centuries – except this last one – a place for all of our residents to use for getting around town. A good design can reduce auto trips by allowing access by foot or other means. That same good design also means that there is someplace of necessity/desire within a reasonable traveling distance, otherwise the usefulness declines.

Complete Streets should not be solely about including transportation and beautification amenities. They need to include convenient neighborhood destinations which allow residents with one another in ways beyond a wave as they speed to work or collect the mail from the street side box. Walking to a corner diner or tavern bound many a neighborhood together that few understand today.

The Plan does speak to the issue of traffic speed and pedestrian safety. “Traffic speeds dramatically affect a pedestrian’s actual and perceived sense of safety...” only states one side of the equation. Pedestrian activity and resident attention can also dramatically influence the care that motorists need to exhibit for safe operation of their vehicle. Many neighborhoods have abdicated their streets to the motoring public since they need their cars to anywhere themselves. If you want to create a successful neighborhood, create a series of places for the residents to go and a way for them to get there safely.

Successful neighborhoods can have a variety of housing types.

Take Ashland Park as an example. For years the typical image of Ashland Park was of a single family subdivision built from the early 20th century but the area is riddled with duplexes, apartments and mother-in-law suites. They are all hiding in plain sight and designed so as to not call attention to their different purposes. Driving by, one would be hard pressed to tell the difference until you get to the sections built after the '30s.

Why do today's apartments have to look so different from any other housing style? By the same token, why do renters seem to care so little about their dwelling place be it an apartment or a house? Is a walkable, connecting focal point someplace where renters can blend with the neighborhood? Today's method of relegating apartments to the massive complexes on the major corridors removes valuable intra-neighborhood cohesiveness as well as diluting what could be a vibrant focal point or two.

The Plan text is not wrong when it says,
These neighborhoods will have a clear sense of place when the following standards are met:
Inviting streetscape
Varied housing choice
Abundant private and public open space
Neighborhood focal points
Quality connections with parks, schools, and stores
The question is- How do we strengthen the fabric by reweaving from the existing thread rather than trimming back to apply a possibly ill fitting or mismatched patch?

With that in mind, take a look at what the Plan says about the focal points of a neighborhood.
Neighborhood Focal Points
The character of a neighborhood is made of more than a collection of bricks and shingles. Character encompasses a broad array of qualities. A focal point can be a gathering point such as a park, a shopping center, a community center, or public square. To the extent possible, new residential development should be developed to accommodate future sites by allowing for easy integration into the neighborhood and allowing for easy, multimodal access from the neighborhood instead of development that turns its back on a community center.
The last sentence, again, is written from the perspective of whole new developments, but the thoughts expressed in the first part apply full well to aiding in the strengthening of existing neighborhoods.

I have only come to realize lately (and it may have been the Kroger zone change) that stores in the shopping centers on corridors may wish to engage the neighborhood, but turn their dirtier side to those they wish to engage. By catering to the auto-bound shopper, they have lumped all of their customers in a single, lone category. I wish that I knew how to begin reversing the situation.

Small area planning

The use of small area plans has been around since the 1973 Plan even though planning areas have existed from the 1963 version. The '63 areas were divisions of the urban area and split by the city limits boundary which made planning for logical unit quite difficult. The 1973 plan, being post merger, allowed greater continuity in looking at whole neighborhoods under one legislative jurisdiction. Most of the small areas planned then were for developing subdivisions and leaving many a transition of uses to go uncontrolled.

Small area planning is now going to be applied to strengthening our declining or transitional neighborhoods to bring about neighborhood stabilization and revitalization rather than guiding growth and development. Surely there must be growth of some sort to make some of these areas desirable.
Desirable communities in Lexington possess a number of characteristics, including access to transportation, jobs, and quality food.
The above statement about desirable areas is basically true but the access described is mostly resident provided and areas which lack it fall into the candidacy for an area plan.

I think that it should be noted that three of the recommended areas for small area plans were developed between the planning areas of the '63 Plan and the SAP's of the '73 Plan. That could indicate a failure to do better implementation of those plans.

Development Incentives

There is included in this draft text some development incentives which, currently not adopted or in force, could allow great neighborhoods to be built (or rebuilt) where we now see just subdivisions.
Review the zoning ordinance for impediments to the development of successful neighborhoods with an eye towards retooling zoning categories that are not fulfilling their potential.
This could go a long way toward allowing and encouraging the natural development of neighborhood local focal points, which in turn can create more walkable communities.
Establish an objective and standardized process to evaluate new developments for neighborhood character that, if met, would expedite approval of the development.
While not saying so, I expect that NOT meeting such a standardized character criteria will delay or prevent any approval of projects. This is not out of line with my thinking on CentrePointe since there is no established standardized process, now or 5 years ago.
Enable the Division of Planning staff to approve final record plats.
This, when used in concert with the above, will remove the Planning Commission from considering where the property line will go and may shorten the time necessary to implement approved plans. It should also be used to prohibit a lot pattern which does not assure true connectivity or density.
Convene a summit of financial and neighborhood development leaders in order to increase understanding of the financial costs and challenges to funding mixed-use, multi-family, and innovative developments.
Ensure that exaction fees are reviewed and revised to meet the infrastructure needs of the Expansion Area.
Establish partnership opportunities by funding the Land Bank and creating an affordable housing trust fund.
Pursue Federal and state funding for high-cost projects of a community interest, such as bridges and community centers.
Next, we will look at the environmental concerns

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