Thursday, December 09, 2004

Guest post on city planning

Has anyone seen the new News and Review? It has a big story about local bloggers but they are obviously missed the real story cuz there was ne'ery a mention of Heckasac to be seen. The blogs that got mentioned are like the Low Flying Owls of blogs, and I'm like the Knock Knock of blogs. Underrated!

This is an account of the recent city planning meeting about the J, K, and L street corridor. It was written by Erik DeKok who is a pro planner, so he's not just lofting when he talks about this stuff:

I would say that the turnout was quite good, probably at least 60 or 75 people. The same facilitator who did the October charrette/workshop was there to make the big presentation, but the Mayor of course started things off. She mentioned how she was “not surprised”at the ideas that came out of the October workshop. She also polled the room to see if anyone supportedthe rumored Wal-Mart proposal for Downtown Plaza. Everyone giggled, not a hand was raised, and she said something like “I thought so.”

But anyway, the facilitator did a pretty good job of summing up the results. A slick 14 –page color summary of ideas and graphics from the October workshop was distributed. People want lots more housing downtown,but not necessarily on K Street. For some reason,more of the groups chose J Street for new housing than K. But a lot of people also felt strongly about mixed-use on K Street, which I interpret (although maybe not necessarily the consultants) to mean housing or offices above ground-floor retail in the traditional urban format. A very strong desire was voiced for preservation and adaptive reuse of as many historic buildings as possible, and that also is not a big surprise. On the commercial / “catalyst projects”end of things, there was a strong desire for entertainment and restaurants as well on K Street, but housing was still voiced as the strongest use for the“catalyst” sites that had been predetermined by the City and/or consultant prior to the workshop. These are just some of the “16 clear areas of general consensus” that were enumerated out of the groupthink.

The consultant boiled the “16 clear areas” into “3 general directions” for the City to consider for revitalization of the JKL Corridors:

1.) J Street Housing, focusing on residential catalyst project will focusing retail and other infill on K Street, and no “catalyst projects” on K;

2.) Residential/Mixed-Use Catalyst on K Street,focusing mixed-use (retail & housing) catalysts on K,with other possible housing catalyst projects on J;

3.) Destination Nodes on K Street, which would involve“major destination-oriented catalyst projects” on K,“complemented by housing on J”.

After the presentation, there was about 45 minutes of question & answer time. There was, of course, concern voiced about what to do about affordable housing &displacement of SRO & homeless folks. And as was voiced strongly in the October workshop, a strong insistence about moving the Greyhound depot to the planned Intermodal Transportation Facility at theAmtrak depot, and doing it right away. Many felt that some of the transportation ideas were misinterpreted. Some felt that maybe putting some auto traffic back onK wouldn’t be so bad, and that the general scheme ofc onverting some north-south streets from one-way back to two-way needed to be analyzed in the context of the greater downtown traffic patterns, as was done for the broader Central City Two-Way Conversion project.

A few interesting developers showed up. Moe Mohanna,the guy who owns a ton of property along K between 7th and 9th, was at both the workshop and the follow-upmeeting, although he didn't say anything publicly. A developer who is proposing another high-rise condo type building in the 30-40 story range started a major rant and rave about how the real problem was not vision or what people wanted, but the “red tape” that people needed to “help us” get rid of to get more housing downtown. Anna and I chuckled, it was so blatant, and there was a lot of murmuring in the room at that point. Similarly, another investor/developer type (I believe from Rubicon Partners?) basically stated that land use and visioning were o.k., but that the City really needs to just focus on economic development and let the market do its thing downtown.Finally, a vocal woman spoke up and basically stated that downtown needs to have unique urban development that doesn’t necessarily compete with suburban development by providing the same chain or destination retailers, but allows for organic,appropriately-scaled urban streets. That brought out a round of applause.

It will be interesting to see which of the “3 generaldirections” the Mayor / Economic Development staff chooses. I would expect they choose #3, just because they have a fixation with bigger projects and keeping those investors & developers with deep pockets happy.My gut feeling is that these so-called “catalyst projects” are masquerading “urban renewal” projects that will involve some eminent domain and “land assembly”, but hopefully that can be avoided. I like#2 better. I think the bottom line is they really need to listen to the strongest voice coming out of these meetings, and that is that Downtown needs to be a place that is primarily for the people who want a truly urban, non-homogenized central business district. Big box retail, shopper-tainment, and other suburban-format uses are probably best left to cling to the strip malls and power centers popping up outside the grid. Give us an urban food market at the Greyhound site, a la the Ferry Building in San Francisco, or an urban arts center or culinaryinstitute at 10th & K. But please… leave CineArts,Pottery Barn, and all the over-priced /under-performing chain restaurants out of downtown.

Finally, I didn’t get a sense of exactly what will happen next. I don’t think they really have a “plan of action” that is coherent and integrated with everything else happening Downtown. I’m a little skeptical about this whole thing, because the City’s Planning staff were basically not involved in conceptualizing or shaping these workshops (yes, I’m biased, I do work for that Department!). There is an officially-adopted Central City Community Plan that,along with the City’s General Plan and the Zoning Ordinance, sets the City’s vision and policy framework for land use & development. Changes need to be made to these plans, no one would argue, but the question is how. The Mayor and Economic Development staff would be wise to feed the results of these workshops into the General Plan revision process, which the City’s Long Range Planning team is beginning next year, and they should include a Central City CommunityPlan revision in this process as well. Maybe a separate Downtown Maser Plan is needed (this was one of the “16 general areas of consensus”), but it should be integrated and have a relationship to plans for the rest of the Central City.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Erik! Very interesting...