Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Will the Smartcode be modified to reflect Lawrence's needs?

Questions for Placemakers

1. Pace of growth of retail space and of housing stock

Like many cities nationwide, Lawrence has a lengthy history of building retail space faster than the growth in demand for that space. This produces "dead malls," usually older shopping centers, blighting their surrounding neighborhoods. In an effort to reduce losses on these properties, owners are leasing space for office uses, spreading the problems of an over-built market from the retail sector to the office sector.

Like many cities nationwide, Lawrence also has a lengthy history of building housing faster than population growth. The new units tend to be located at the perimeter of the city. The result is an out-migration from the older neighborhoods. In these older neighborhoods, owner-occupied units are being converted to rentals, neighborhood schools are being closed, homes are deteriorating, and value is being lost.

The Smartcode being proposed appears to rely on zoning and the development of infrastructure to set the pace of development. This fails to recognize the problems that Lawrence is confronting. Will the Smartcode be modified to include specific provisions permitting the City to regulate the pace of growth of retail space and housing space, seeking balance between the growth in supply and the growth in demand?

2. Revitalization of downtown and older neighborhoods

Lawrence has invested millions of dollars to foster the revitalization of its downtown. A few years ago, the City built an $8 million parking garage to be financed, in part, by tax revenues from new mixed-used development. The new development did not materialize because of insufficient demand for the space. The taxpayers are now carrying the debt on that garage. Other downtown developments are confronting difficulties landing retail tenants. Yet, the City has permitted competing shopping centers to be developed at the perimeter of the City.

Lawrence has also invested millions of dollars to foster the revitalization of its older neighborhoods, especially in the east and north sides of the City. However, these efforts have not brought sufficient new investment into these neighborhoods to stop their decline and bring about their revitalization.

How will the Smartcode ensure that sufficient investment is directed toward the downtown and the older neighborhoods and not siphoned away to new shopping centers and new subdivisions?

3. Public input on development proposals

Citizens in Lawrence are concerned about the timing, location, design, public sector cost, traffic impact, market impact and other implications of new development. Citizens know that real estate development is complex, with many and varied implications for different parts of the community. The Smartcode appears to provide for very rapid movement from a development proposal to a building permit, with little or no opportunity for public review, input, and negotiation. This process seems to assume that every development implication has been anticipated and properly accommodated in TND charrette process. This seems improbably in the extreme.

Will the Smartcode be modified to provide for citizen review and input on significant development proposals, with decision by the City Commission?

1 comment:

Deborah said...

We appreciate your willingness to participate in these 'stakeholder' meetings being conducted by PlaceMakers Consulting, and look forward to hearing more from you on the matter as this project moves forward towards a city commission vote.

I believe that it's important to distinguish between the recommendations being made by this consulting agency (hired at taxpayer expense via City Commissioner Sue Hack's request, and strongly supported by the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce) and the sustainability group hosted by a successful city grant, featuring land planners and architects from all over the country.

PlaceMakers Consulting was hired specifically in response to the earlier group's recommendations, which are still in process of being finished and presented to the city, and most of which was not supported by local developers.

What I find particularly disturbing of the hiring of a consulting agency known for its developer-friendly policies, is the quiet little amendment attached to the SmartCode proposals being made of "fast-tracking" most, if not all, future development without public input or review.

This amendment has nothing to do with SmartCode and everything to do with manipulating the role of the Douglas County/Lawrence Planning Commission, not to mention neighborhood associations, community input and public scrutiny of developer's actions.

What is more troubling is that, despite the abundance of input by the public, almost nothing of this consulting agency's proposal has been modified (since, after all, their paycheck depends upon pleasing developer-friendly interests).

Oh, BTW, how *interesting* is it that a South-of-River HUGE development is being proposed smack dab where a modified SLT eastern leg would go, if developers, county and state officials stopped trying to block the completion of this important trafficway?