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Proposed changes put completion of Riverside Plan in jeopardy

Wednesday, May 8, 2013 by Ramon Ramirez

The East Riverside Corridor Regulating Plan could be facing major, last-minute changes that could take the years-in-the-making project back to the drawing board. Council Member Chris Riley is working up a punch list of adjustments for Thursday’s Council meeting that will modify the compatibility provisions in the plan in light of what he sees as a boom in single-family properties.


“We understand that single-family home ownership is a long-term goal for the Riverside corridor,” Riley said at Tuesday’s council work session, “We have taken steps to apply for more of that but at the same time we have concerns about achieving the density targets needed.”

An imbalance in the potential for future urban density versus single-family residency is what Riley’s office – and according to Riley, project stakeholders – see as the chink in the armor that could reset everything with the oft-delayed project. Council Member Laura Morrison and Mayor Lee Leffingwell called Riley’s third-reading revelations a “major philosophical shift.”

“There have been trade-offs and consequences to get where we are now,” Leffingwell said, “It could affect decisions that we’ve already made – you’d almost have to revisit the entire plan if you were going to go back and do this.” 


Council Member Bill Spellman chimed in: “I believe that’s called a nuclear option.”


Leffingwell conceded, “Well, it seems like that’s probably what you’d have to do . . . If you want to redesign it and re-do it I don’t have a big problem with that.”


But Morrison did, as plans to create this zoning district have been under way for four years and the public hearing closed last November. She argued that density planning along East Riverside – from working in future flexibility for urban rail to grandfathering fast food drive-throughs into the plan to avoid wide-scale redeveloping – has already been weighed into this ordinance.


“I think (current plans) gave some folks a comfort that we weren’t going to sort of be maximizing density everywhere, there’s some rationale.” Morrison said, “We have a lot of people at the table supporting what we have now.”

Riley differs.


“If we’re confident that we’re easily going to hit all those density targets and have successful rail and thriving urban districts in each node then there’s no cause for concern,” said Riley, “On the other hand we have heard from stakeholders who have been deeply involved in the process that in fact when you look at the parcels that are actually available that it will be very challenging to achieve the kind of density targets that you think are necessary in order to support that kind of urban environment.”

Riley’s central point is that the corridor has seen evolving circumstances over the last four planning years that may have rendered it fundamentally stale. And now, stakeholders are concerned about a plan that has been delayed for approval in Council three times already this year, and may not get anywhere before more development occurs. According to city planner Erica Leak, change is happening either way, it’s just a question of its implementation rules – and that’s what makes a solution so pressing.


“There have been some properties that have already been taken off the table for high density development and other that may develop that way,” Leak said.

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