Multi-modal Design I Appreciate

Thursday, February 19th, 2009


Today’s Chapel Hill News carries an interesting story from Jesse DeConto on concerns circulating around the misfire (not to sugarcoat it) known as East54. The story, which was as much about how the “dense/tall growth at any cost” Council majority’s vision is running up against reality, as it was the anonymous “I could be in Atlanta or Charlotte” East54.

OK, even though I wasn’t thrilled with East/West Partner’s “virtualization” of Chapel Hill, I did credit them for committing to meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) standards (though Council wasn’t clear on what to do if the project didn’t meet those goals).

But does that justify such a pedestrian (to be nice) heap?

I expressed my concerns about the trade-offs – minimal setbacks, in-lieu monies instead of affordable square footage, height on Highway 54, traffic patterns, etc. – but was in the minority as the project sailed through an orchestrated “public review” (count me in as one of East/West developer Roger Perry’s “vocal minority” that unfortunately points out that the current sustainability political palaver is parading sans clothes).

Though the story tried to be balanced, it appears, as reported here to have raised the hackles of a few folks.

I understand the realities of today’s news media but I really wish the CHN had spent a bit more time using the “wayback machine” to contrast today’s political posturing from the more “veteran” of the Council folks (including those up for re-election) with what they stood for when they were more than happy to push East54 (and Woodmont) right on through based on a strange read of sustainability.

More on that later.

Bill Strom, following his usual strategy of playing to his “expertise” in transportation, said

“It’s a change in the development pattern, but the guiding principle there is that it is at a regional rail stop,” said Strom. “In order to get federal and state support for these projects, you have to have density organized in a way that promotes ridership.”

Yes, approval of that pile of nondescript architecture, looming over the Glen Lennox neighborhoods and serving as the “de facto” gateway to Chapel Hill, was justified by a rail stop coming sometime mid-century.

This is what passes nowadays for cogent analysis.

In any case, I’d rather leap off the train ala “Slumdog Millionaire” than alight on East54’s commercial doorstep.

Is there an alternative I believe is better?

Sure. Look east to Durham’s new multi-modal public transit station which will serve the Bull’s ballpark, the “white elephant” (Durham’s County jail), Downtown Durham and the American Tobacco complex. Downtown shopping, the Durham Performance Center and Theater, the Durham public library and Arts Guild is not that far away.

The glass heavy design (not sure the role environmental concerns played there) would not be fitting for Chapel Hill but every time I drive by the construction site (finishing this month) it seems like the unfolding design complements Durham’s retrofitted Downtown. Of course, like other Durham projects, the budget was blown – not unlike Chapel Hill’s Town Operations Center.

Central. Convenient. Complementary to its urban environment.

More on Durham’s multi-modal transit station backstory from the Urban Planet forums.

Election 2007: Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

This year the NRG decided to vet the candidates via email. In 2005 they held interviews and presented the audio responses. Trying to be thorough, I went a bit overboard this year. Figuring no one would want to wade through 10 pages of answers, I tried to boil down this final response to the NRG.

In its Comprehensive Plan, Chapel Hill is committed both to denser urban development and to protection of existing neighborhoods. Do you see any conflict between these goals and what do you feel is the best way to achieve them?

There are trade-offs, thus conflicts between the goals of high density and neighborhood protection.

To start, in any discussion of density we need to establish the limits of growth. I’ve been using the concept of “carrying capacity” as a guide.

Carrying capacity is a multi-dimensional evaluation of an ecosystems ability to maintain a particular population. In biology, this usually means water, food and habitat. In Town, we need to add, for instance, the ability for to maintain a diverse and healthy socio-economic balance within our community. We all can’t live in million dollar condos or pay an extra couple hundred bucks in taxes each year.

We don’t currently assess density to that level of detail. I believe we should at least start thinking within those terms as it will help us create a more sustainable outcome.

Another general problem with our comprehensive plan is that our process for upgrading our goals as our understanding improves is broken.

We need to implement a continuous review process, as suggested by the former chair of the Planning Board, to review our goals in light of achievements to-date, successes and failures. Not only do we need to be more nimble in managing our Town’s comprehensive plan, we need to be much more inclusive in drawing upon our community’s expertise.

Three recent omissions in our planning process provide examples of where we need to improve.

(more…)

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