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Group to study Design Standards amendments

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

Last week’s meeting sponsored by Council Member Brewster McCracken to discuss amendments to the city’s commercial design standards came with a spreadsheet that looked remarkably similar to the format of the spreadsheet used to revise the McMansions ordinance.

Of course, the McMansions ordinance revisions took 17 meetings and dozens of hours of grueling discussion of minutiae, such as zipper walls, duplex standards and attic space. Could McCracken’s committee be headed in the same direction with its own proposed amendments to the design guidelines?

The two groups – McMansion and commercial design standards – certainly will bear some similarities. As was demonstrated last week, there is good reason to put both developers and civic leaders in the same room to discuss common development issues. And this task, like the McMansion review, started with a smaller sub-group combing through the ordinance for needed clarifications.

All those issues were outlined in a 12-page draft, dated May 23. Issues raised for clarification included the definitions of new construction versus redevelopment; distinctions of on-street and head-in parking on different types of roadways; the requirements for building placement on different roads; clarification of internal circulation routes within development, and the like.

Last Thursday night’s meeting with civic leaders, however, was far less structured, more of an informal brainstorming session on the conceptual issues that needed to be addressed in potential amendments to the commercial design standards.

Putting commercial and residential development side-by-side means issues that are not a problem in other developments, McCracken noted. For instance, new density in the suburbs is going to lead to more structured parking. That’s a first outside the downtown core, McCracken said, and it means that the issues of screening, height, noise and light must be addressed from a suburban viewpoint.

Density is intended to encourage pedestrian-oriented development, and that brings other issues with it, too, such as sidewalk connectivity, building compatibility and block lengths. And neighborhoods also raised points about the effectiveness of proposed solutions: For instance, the Heritage neighborhood created a small-lot proposal to provide more “neighborhood scale” development. So far, the neighborhood has no taker, leading civic leaders to complain that the only kind of retail that developers appeared to want to pursue was big. 

A second handout at last week’s meeting outlined some of the issues that the committee could consider in the implementation of higher density in suburban areas: the location of infrastructure; the impact of additional parking; the visual impact of parking, windows and lighting; the noise impact of speakers, music and delivery trucks; and the importance of maintaining property drainage.

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