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Thread: Street walls requirements in economic downturns

  1. #1
    Cyburbian lilschmidty's avatar
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    Street walls requirements in economic downturns

    Our Land Development Code requires street walls along all unbuilt required building lines in Form Districts. We have experienced a negative backlash to this requirement from developers due to the high costs of construction. The Land Development Code was adopted almost 2 years ago and the street wall requirement was not a negative issue then.

    My question is, how have you dealt with street wall requirements especially during hard economic times? Have you waived the requirement, kept it, or modified it? On one hand street walls are important for creating a building envelope, but on the other hand the cost could kill some projects.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    The cost could kill some projects? How substantial of a wall do you require? The incremental cost is likely only a very minor fraction of the total project cost. There are likely two things going on here:

    1) The developer is looking to cut "unecessary" costs all over. This may be reflected in a desire to eliminate the street wall, use cheaper materials, reduce landscaping, etc. Give way on the street walls and expect that other requirements will also be challenged.

    2) The developer is really challenging the form. Finding tenants right now is tough. It is even harder when you have an urban form of development. The few retail and service businesses still expanding tend to favor a highway-oriented design with parking in front or at least next to the building, and very visible.

    It will likely be at least three years before we see any significant retail/commercial development in most parts of this country. You have a choice of maintaining your standards and perhaps losing some of the limited development that may occur during this time. Or you can revise your standards and perhaps get some development.
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    Dan Staley's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post

    The cost could kill some projects? How substantial of a wall do you require? The incremental cost is likely only a very minor fraction of the total project cost. You have a choice of maintaining your standards and perhaps losing some of the limited development that may occur during this time. Or you can revise your standards and perhaps get some development.
    Agreed.

    What may be happening here, in my view, is some folks are scared. When some are scared, they hunker down and revert to familiar things*. Familiar things may be things like cr*ppy suburban design with parking lots in front, unfortunately.

    So, does everyone panic and revert to the old ways, although change was good at one time? Built environments are lasting. Does the Council want to be remembered for building ugly places?

    -----


    * We are starting to see studies that quantify this phenomenon. No links to save flame wars, but psychology is starting to figure out how our brains fire wrt ideology and politics and patterns therein.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian lilschmidty's avatar
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    I agree that the cost of a street wall is significant when looking at the overall costs. However, we require street walls for redevelopments that expand over 50% of the building area. Street walls are required to be constructed of a masonry material and be between 6 ft and 8 ft tall.

    Whether this requirement is "killing" projects may or may not be true, but it has been brought up in at least 3 different projects. But I wouldn't classify our form districts as the most desirable locations for commercial and retail either.

    The intention of street wall requirement, in my opinion, is valid in creating a building envelope in our form districts. However, I believe our council is pro-development and favor the developer's arguments over staff's.

  5. #5
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Just some clarification - is this "street wall" actually a part of the building or simply a masonry buffer wall to shield the parking area(s)/loading area(s)?
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  6. #6
    Cyburbian lilschmidty's avatar
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    The street walls are intended to fill the gaps between buildings on the required building line or the build to line. They can conceal parking lots, but their intention is to create the streetscape.

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    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Hearing that, perhaps an alternative to maintain the intent of the code is to allow for shrubs/plantings to provide the "street wall" effect. Planting could be much cheaper and more amendable.

    I would choose your battles wisely (especially if you think the council could override you) and give some on simple buffer walls but certainly not on the actual buildings (provided there are zero lot line requirements for the actual building).
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I agree with Mendelman's suggestion. You could consider options to the street wall, such as landscaped areas or pedestrian amenities, or alternative wall materials such as iron fences and shrubbery. Personally, I do not think that a blank, eight-foot high masonry wall is much of an improvement over a parking lot anyway. It is not all that friendly to a pedestrian on an adjacent sidewalk.
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    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by lilschmidty View post
    Street walls are required to be constructed of a masonry material and be between 6 ft and 8 ft tall.
    Eight feet tall is pretty huge! That would be illegal here. Six feet is our max for fences and walls.

  10. #10
         
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    I agree with others here.

    Landscaping (berms, hedgerows, etc.) looks better, is less costly, and is easier and cheaper to repair/replace upon being damaged.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian lilschmidty's avatar
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    Thanks for the suggestions.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    Hearing that, perhaps an alternative to maintain the intent of the code is to allow for shrubs/plantings to provide the "street wall" effect. Planting could be much cheaper and more amendable.

    I would choose your battles wisely (especially if you think the council could override you) and give some on simple buffer walls but certainly not on the actual buildings (provided there are zero lot line requirements for the actual building).
    I think that the scale of development needs to be referenced here too. The development I believe the OP refers to is a turn of the century main street type area.

    narrow, deep lots. conventional main street. I think open fencing would be an acceptable alternative or at the very least some dense and well maintained shrubs.
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