A recent set of amendments on the Rt. 1 sector plan has generated an interesting debate among the city residents.
According to this Diamondback article, points of contention have emerged over County Council Chairman Tom Dernoga’s proposal to block the implementation of “form-based codes” in the North College Park area, north of Greenbelt Road (Rt 193).
Form based zoning puts the development process on a fast track by focusing on the form-factor of the development structures instead of their contents:
Tradition has declined as a guide to development patterns, and the widespread adoption by cities of single-use zoningregulations has discouraged compact, walkable urbanism. Form-based codes are a tool to address these deficiencies, and to provide local governments the regulatory means to achieve development objectives with greater certainty – Wikipedia
Last November, I attended a seminar on the mixed use zoning. In that seminar, M-NCPPC planner Chad Williams said unless a plan is put through rigorous public hearings etc., the approval process may take as little as 7 months under the mixed use zoning law, as compared to a minimum of 2-3 years that it currently takes.
District 2 councilman Bob Catlin is particularly unhappy with the proposed amendments. He states, “I’m not terribly happy with the revisions. In many ways, they make redevelopment more difficult.” Catlin also raised concerns about a proposed revision that would restrict redevelopment on parcels of less than half an acre. The DiamondBack reported,
Successful implementation of form-based codes transformed downtown Arlington in less than a decade. Without a form-based code, it took nearly that long for a single apartment building, the Mazza Grandmarc, to earn the county’s approval, Catlin pointed out. In many cases, the proposed impediments to development seem like small snags. For instance, a zoning change in North College Park could add a cumbersome process for adding retail.
The RethinkCollegePark blogger David Daddio is not happy either. David blasted amendments such as these and blamed it all on politics: “For the non-planners among us, form-based codes are a modern zoning tool that allows more consistency and predictability in the development review process while largely taking the opportunity for politicization by elected officials out of the planning process. They also force developers to stick to the plan.” David writes on his blog, titled ‘Squashing the vision’.
“What we have now is a highly politicized process with all this grandstanding at the end, and it creates a situation where developers don’t want to build because they don’t know what they’re getting into,” Daddio said. “Developers don’t have faith that they can get anything through in College Park,” he tells the Diamondback in an interview.
North College Park resident Bob Seward thinks that form based code is essential to create a walkable community: “I used to live in Arlington and now live in North College Park. Form based code also allows for the creation of actually walkable sidewalks and walkable communities. That was my experience from Arlington. We desperately need that and other things in North College Park. Supporting and using a form based code could help us more easily get there.”
On the other side of the spectrum, District 1 council member Christine Nagle opposes the form-based code and is concerned about the lack of public input in such zoning process. “When I see a fast-food store, I want to know that it’s going to look like a fast-food store”
Council member Patrick Wojahn also questions the applicability of the form-based code and thinks such zoning won’t have any application in north College Park anyway. “The two blocks between Indian Ln. and Lackawanna don’t really offer enough room for a form-based code proposal” – he wrote in an email.
Irrespective of the opinions on the form-based code, no one seems to be happy with the ultimate Route 1 traffic even after the proposed changes are adopted. The county council had its public hearing on the amendments on April 6. The Gazette covered the event and reported an interesting remark made by a north College Park resident:
Your plans don’t talk about congestion … yet you build more high-rises and bring more congestion in, said resident Winston Hazard, whose testimony was applauded by the more than 50 residents in attendance. “This makes no sense to people who live in College Park
Update [ 4/23/2010]
Chad Williams of the M-NCPPC emailed me with the following comments on the form-based zoning process. Thanks Chad.
A form-based code, and specifically Subtitle 27A, the Urban Centers and Corridor Nodes Development and Zoning Code of Prince George’s County (the subject of the seminar), does include a more administrative review process, but there is a substantial public input process leading to the implementation of these tools, and (especially in Subtitle 27A) there is still a public role, which may range from notification to active participation. There won’t be as many public hearings per se, but there is still a substantial public component for our new mixed-use tools.
On the property size restrictions during redevelopment, he said:
The amendment calls for one and one-half acres for this “restriction,” and it is more of a minimum acreage requirement to allow for developer-driven rezoning to the Mixed-Use Infill Zone; it does not preclude or restrict redevelopment on parcels less than this size.
The fact that so many participants in the sector plan equate building thousands of beds next to campus with adding to Route 1 congestion shows fatally flawed thinking. How were these students getting to campus before the high rise apartments were built? By helicopter? Probably 90% were driving. Recent traffic counts show that University View generates little vehicle traffic on Route 1 during the am and pm rush hour.
The upcoming closing of Jordan Kitt’s Pianos will surely result in less traffic and congestion on Route 1. Perhaps we should celebrate when a business leaves College Park.