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Panel looks at development standards along Waller Creek

Monday, January 25, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

Members of Waller Creek’s Citizens Advisory Committee took a look at the development standards on Waller Creek last week, pulling apart some of the recommendations and talking through issues such as height and density, as well as affordable units and the creek-side appearance.


A final draft of the Waller Creek Master Plan is scheduled to go to Council in June, a process that begins with the presentation of the master plan to the Waller Creek Citizens Advisory Committee on April 6. A town hall meeting on April 7, then a series of board and commission meetings through April and May will follow that presentation.


A portion of last week’s meeting was devoted to feedback on the proposed Waller Creek creek-side development standards. Those would be the standards for development within the Waller Creek district.


As Urban Officer Jim Robertson explained, the Waller Creek tunnel project will have three inter-related deliverables: the master plan; the development standards; and the cost estimate on the above-ground project components.


The development proposal was intended to “effectuate the master plan,” to be an implementation tool toward the Waller Creek goals, Robertson said.


Robertson briefed the committee on the development standards at its last meeting in December. The development standards are intended to dovetail with the master plan. Members asked that the item be put back on the agenda this month so that commissioners could offer feedback.


Commissioner Jeb Boyt, who offered the most input and has served on the Downtown Commission, appeared to be wrestling with squaring up what the development standards would actually look like when applied to development both along the shoreline and in the surrounding blocks.


For instance, Boyt asked how the recommendation to shift several properties from CS zoning to CBD zoning might make the blocks look near Eighth Street. Robertson noted that the CS zoning category was a highly intense zoning category used along major arterials and highways, one that would both be too permissive and not permissive enough. While no one wants automobile businesses along Waller Creek, CS limits of 60 feet in height and a low floor-to-area ratio may not encourage the most appropriate development for the blocks along Waller Creek.


In terms of standards that might “crowd” Waller Creek – a point raised by Planning Commissioner Saundra Kirk – Robertson noted development standards such as setback, step-backs and how the project was supposed to meet the street were intended to create a more pedestrian friendly atmosphere. At the mouth of the Waller, closer to Cesar Chavez Boulevard, the width of the creek was wider, and that width would make some of the buildings seem less crowded, Robertson said.


Robertson also added that the plan intended no exceptions to the Capital View corridors, which would likely constrain height on some properties.


In other points raised at the meeting included:


·       Commissioners split on how to deal with a recommendation to require reviews of the cocktail lounge conditional use permits. Boyt didn’t want to discourage live music venues. Kirk liked the provision and suggested it was a topic worth discussing. Robertson said the goal was not to discourage venues – no existing exceptions will be amended – but to prevent serious proliferation.


·       Commissioner Kathy Tovo reiterated her concern about maintaining the affordability of the housing authority’s Lakeside Village. Lakeside Village, with 164 units, is an aging affordable housing project that caters to seniors. Tovo, recognizing the value of the property if it was redeveloped, has suggested that affordable housing be maintained on site. Boyt added that the suggested recommendation could even be that there be a higher than one-to-one replacement of affordable units on site.


·       Chair Linda Guerrero of the Parks Board was worried about the shading effects of tall towers in proximity to Waller Creek. The commission had some discussion about tower orientation and setbacks. Robertson said the goal, with the particulars of the development standards, was to maximize the views from the towers, as well as the light and air passing through them.


A number of commissioners indicated they wanted to submit comments on the development recommendations in writing. Robertson suggested a Monday deadline for comments, which would give the consultant time to incorporate them. Committee member Ted Siff clarified, however, that even if comments had a deadline, the plan might continue to undergo changes up to the Council vote.


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