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Thread: Help articulating reasoning for no commercial

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Help articulating reasoning for no commercial

    Hi, all.

    Here's the situation. The state has seen fit to build a new interstate exit on the fringe of my town. We already have three interstate exits, all looking equally tacky with typical highway commercial clutter.

    The new exit connects the interstate to a scenic highway with a natural ridge on one side and a valley on the other. The area is mostly rural with practically no commercial development.

    The planning department envisions preserving the ridge and creating something of a recreation corridor connecting two parks that are on opposite ends of the highway with a context-sensitive (read: curvy and steep) bicycle trail.

    Since the state's announcement, several landowners have put their land up for sale, anticipating typical commercial development at the exit.

    We don't want any more of that kind of development, of course. However, the problem I'm running into is with articulating exactly why we don't want any more of that. The standard line from the Planning Director is simply "we don't need more commercial strips" and "it's important to protect the ridge".

    I share those same concerns, and they are precisely why we're not proposing commercial near the exit in our long-range corridor plan. I'm organizing and leading the public presentation (followed by a workshop and weeklong open house). I've become "the face" of this process. When the landowners hear our vision, they are going to be hacked off undoubtedly. We will use the public input to adjust the plan, but my feeling is that our mayor and Planning Director will not back down on the "no additional commercial" thing.

    So my question for those of you more experienced with working with the public is this: How do I carry the message of "no additional commercial" to a group that could become hostile and defend it when the reasoning provided by the mayor and PD is somewhat vague? I have discussed this ad nauseum and am still left with this sense that I'm not going to be able to hold our ground well.

  2. #2
    Here is a section from Reno, NV's code.

    "Section 18.12.1608. Visually Prominent Ridgelines.
    Potential visual impacts of development containing ridgelines identified on the "visually prominent ridgelines and related landforms" map shall be mitigated with site design, structure locations, and/or architectural treatments. Techniques to mitigate visual impacts may include
    preserving ridgelines as open space, providing setbacks from ridgelines and other visually prominent areas, height limitations, structure colors consistent with the natural environment, architectural treatments, or similar techniques. If mapped ridgelines are primarily developed on properties surrounding the proposed development, a similar development pattern may occur subject to design provisions of this section."

    It might give you a start. There is also a section on Hillside development and protections that they use. Depending on the time frame for construction, you might see about a moratorium in the area while you study it.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I think there is an economic argument to be made as well if you already have a lot of this type of development in your presence. The rocky Mountain Institute has a nice set of publications (well written, accessible by non-professionals) that talk about economic sustainability and other approaches that discourage (notice they don't expect to totally do away) allowing too many outside-based chain commercial activities that pull financial resources from a town/city. Chain stores have this impact (which, again, is not to say that in measured quantities they don't serve a need) because after paying for operating expenses and salaries, the profit leaves the community. Contrast this with local businesses where profits go into the owners' pockets who then spend some of that money within the same urban area. This is a much healthier economic situation than one dominated by businesses based outside of the area.

    The big commercial enterprises you find around interchanges and highway exits also tend to have significant and negative environmental impacts (drainage issues, pollutant runoff from parking lots, potential of leaky gas tanks, etc.) and they do little to enhance pedestrian activity or even bicycle-based connectivity within the areas they often divide during construction. That could be another argument.

    Anyway, here is a link to the publications pages at the Rocky Mountain Institute. They have other info that may also be of help regarding environmental impact, transportation issues, etc.: http://www.rmi.org/sitepages/pid177.php
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  4. #4
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I am constantly telling people that land is a commodity. As with any commodity, its value depends on demand and supply. If there is too much commercial land, it has little value. The result tends to be scattered development pattern and poor quality, and businesses that do not perform well because there is no concentration of retail.

    I encourage communities to plan land uses based upon an assessment of how much commercial square footage (and its likely configuration)they can support. Three or four days worth of work should be enough to assess how much existing commercial space demand and supply there is, and to make a convincing argument regarding the actual need for new commercial development. It would even be a foundation for a good retail economic development strategy.
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  5. #5
    Dan Staley's avatar
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    You need to be careful. You have no business telling people they can't sell their land, and if you don't do this right it'll blow up in your face. Interstates and exits mean development. So if you don't want development along the exit - like almost any exit in the country near any town - then there had better be something good there. The implied issue in jkabrown's answer gets at the problem: make the development look good. Can you capture the scenic byway and preserve view corridors instead of the entire, complete view?

  6. #6
    Cyburbian KSharpe's avatar
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    True, you can't prevent people from selling their property. But people should not assume a windfall just because an interstate is built adjacent to them. There are plenty of good reasons for restricting development in certain locations- protecting natural resources, keeping development compact, etc. What type of development process do you have? Here, you have to qualify to develop land, and we have a series of qualifiers to determine if development is appropriate.
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  7. #7
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Would potential commercial development in this location meet the location's current zoning? Will the comphrensive plan for your municipality (presuming there is one) require amending?

    If the current zoning doesn't permit commerical development right, any developer will need to get the property rezoned, which would require approval by the muni and should be consistent with the comp plan.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

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  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    This is somewhat of a complicated matter.

    The town I work for had no planning at all until the early 1990s, and even then it was only zoning and subdivisions. The town does have a comprehensive plan. However, the CP was created as a whole, rather than a patchwork of sector plans.

    The current Director and Mayor want that process changed. They want to create sector/neighborhood plans, which would then replace the respective parts of the CP until eventually the entire CP is made up of detailed sector/neighborhood plans.

    Re zoning -- At present, the zoning map indicates residential zoning at the intersection.

    I'll post more later.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan Staley View post
    You need to be careful. You have no business telling people they can't sell their land, and if you don't do this right it'll blow up in your face. Interstates and exits mean development. So if you don't want development along the exit - like almost any exit in the country near any town - then there had better be something good there. The implied issue in jkabrown's answer gets at the problem: make the development look good. Can you capture the scenic byway and preserve view corridors instead of the entire, complete view?
    I'm not sure how you got the idea from my initial post that I would be 'telling people they can't sell their land'. I also never wrote that I 'don't want development along the exit'.

    For the purpose of a long-range corridor plan, we are considering the land uses that would be most sustainable in the long run. A commercial interstate strip is, in the opinion of our city leaders, not a sustainable use. Along a 30-mile stretch of interstate highway that includes our town, there are 12 such exits.

    We are proposing a mix of uses along the corridor. If this plan is adopted as part of the comprehensive plan by the City Council, then future zoning and rezoning requests would be considered in light of the plan. Only the City Council has the authority to offer an explicit final say-so in what can and cannot occur. I'm just developing the land use plan that will guide them.

    To answer your assertion that I would be 'telling people they can't sell their land', my response is this: As a planner, I have no authority in real estate transactions.

  10. #10
    Dan Staley's avatar
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    To answer your assertion that I would be 'telling people they can't sell their land', my response is this: As a planner, I have no authority in real estate transactions.

    Apparently I was unclear on your intent, as I was confused by the We don't want any more of that kind of development, of course. However, the problem I'm running into is with articulating exactly why we don't want any more of that. The standard line from the Planning Director is simply "we don't need more commercial strips" and "it's important to protect the ridge". statement, in addition to your How do I carry the message of "no additional commercial" to a group that could become hostile statement. Apologies.

    Here is my argument: People have plans. If it appears as if you are changing those plans [evidenced by the We don't want any more of that kind of development, of course], and the message of "no additional commercial" to a group that could become hostile, then what planning wants to do won't fly. Therefore, you want to get in front of the issue and work with the landowners to help them market their property in a way that meshes with what the city wants.

    The city can't be seen as obstructionist, and if you work with the property owners - get them around a table and start talking - and have them understand what the vision is, then you'll have a greater chance of success - you'll be helping them. You need to sit down with the property owners before the open house. Find a neutral site (not your office) - do you have an economic development council? What about at their office?

    The key is to get everyone at the table and to get out in front of the issue. There's a solution in there somewhere. The process won't go forward if you are carrying a message of "no additional commercial" to a group that could become hostile .

    HTH.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    Thanks for the clarification.

    Your last post hits the nail on the head. I have not met with community members in advance of the upcoming events. I have met only with various government officials to discuss infrastructure, etc. I was specifically directed to go about this in this manner. It struck me as odd, and I have no intention of doing this kind of thing again. I feel like I'm about to go in front of people and spring a surprise on them, rain on their parade. That's why I'm quite sure there will be hostility. I would have never chosen to go about doing things this way.

    As an effort to try to gather as much input as I can without upsetting the boss, I have met with the city councilpeople who represent the area. I have also met with some recreational clubs, some of whose members live along said corridor.

    From the start, I pushed the idea of a citizen advisory panel, where citizens would take ownership of the plan. That flew over like a lead balloon.

    Quite honestly, the city is holding the upcoming workshops because I continued to push the issue. I think that a year ago, the planning department would have created a plan and passed it along to the city council, and the city council would have passed it after having a five or ten minute open floor.

    So, yes, we're not going about this correctly. But it is a step in the right direction. My hope is to bring a gradual change in attitude, one plan at a time. (And the attitude I'm talking about is how the city treats its citizens in this process, not how the citizens react to ideas.) I'm stuck in a paradoxical situation where I want the citizens to take the helm, but where I have to be a good soldier if my family is to eat.

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