Thursday, March 23, 2006

"Infill" tration v. Sprawl

(I love it…infill tration. It isn’t mine. It came from a letter in the March 2006 issue of Planning magazine.)

What defines the soul of a community? Is it the living patterns of people or the relationship between multi-dimensional forms in relation to space over time? I think it is a combination of both.
Within Chesterfield are many diverse communities; each with its own distinct character. People that have lived in a community for years easily recall a time when the visual characteristics of the community were different.
Change is inevitable and humans are usually hesitant to embrace it. As the county grows, logic dictates and the Comprehensive Plan suggests, development be guided to infill areas. The costs associated with extending facilities and services beyond planned areas create problems for both taxpayers and government officials. No locality can afford to recklessly abandon any particular area in favor of the next, best, bigger trend. Eliminating blight is far more expensive than preventing it.

However, there are problems associated with infill tration as well. The existing residents have little say in what happens to their surroundings. Additional noise, traffic, loss of privacy (if site location and design are poor) and the shrinking of everything green have a significant impact. I think it is a territorial thing. “Not in my backyard” is overused. I think it would be beneficial for local officials to investigate the reasons behind the concerns.

There is a middle ground. Safety needs to be paramount and the system should be fair to the existing residents and the development community; even if it means denying a rezoning, conditional use, variance, or site plan when necessary.

Oh, by the way… Could we PLEASE stop abusing deferrals? Can we adopt an ordinance that places stringent criteria on when a deferral can be used? Couldn’t the “standing” test be used as a template? Ordinances …a topic I will visit soon.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Are older communities forgotten as revisions are made?

How is it possible that society has changed to the extent that we allow (or sometimes encourage) zoning decisions that are so obviously wrong and are detrimental to the residents of a community? Case in point: A community was zoned over 30 years ago. In 1994, with the re-codification of the ordinance, the zoning of this community was reaffirmed. All is seemingly well in the community. Until…One fine day, a developer and the Planning Commissioner for the Clover Hill district presented the community (association) with plans for a drugstore with a drive-thru. During the presentation, said Planning Commissioner stated “zoning can’t be changed” (as quoted in the community paper) and was not the purpose of the meeting. He went past the point of presenting, clear to advocating for said proposal which by the way, is not as supported by the residents as they led us to believe.

The purpose for both the Comprehensive Plan and local ordinances is to protect the public, provide well designed projects with proper land use transitions, and promote balanced communities, among other things. The zoning on this property is incorrect; I will leave that issue for another post.

No reasonable human could look at this as protection. It will endanger the residents of this community and slaughters the notion of proper land use transitions. (The property and main entrance to the drugstore adjoin a graveyard that has been connected to this community since the 1950s)
That aside, zoning is changed every month, to say otherwise is indecent and a blatant abuse of position by a public official.

So, what would be wrong with a sunset clause for zoning to ensure the needs and well-being of the public are addressed? It would need to be fair to all property owners’. Yes, it could be. The law is clear that when purchasing property no one is ever guaranteed of zoning. Do we not have the ability to look at older communities that were zoned 20-30 years ago, examine the patterns of development, community needs, and base land use decisions on what will be a benefit for, and not a danger to, that community? Or is it that we do have the ability…it simply isn’t an issue those in position want to deal with?
Either way, if we don’t make it known that there is a problem within a community it can not be solved.