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Thread: Do you ever feel embarrassed enforcing dumb standards?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Do you ever feel embarrassed enforcing dumb standards?

    Approaching 3 years at my municipal job, it is just now dawning on me that when I review site plans there are many times that I feel embarrassed enforcing our dumb standards - this especially happens in the area of parking. We have the traditional minimum standards that create the big parking lots most people hate (or at least most planners hate - I really think most non-planners here don't even notice them they are so ubiquitous). Just yesterday I hated to force a new church to have a much larger parking lot than it probably needed. Anyone else get this feeling? Does your government have any standards that are so backward that you can't bring yourself to enforce them?
    At my previous consulting job things were different because usually our local government clients recognized the badness of many of their development standards and wanted something more intelligent.
    Not sure if this should go here or Friday Afternoon forum.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Why don't you draft a memo to your supervisor or director on some changes that could make parking for instance, more pedestrian friendly or take up less space. Be prepared for him to assign you the task of doing more research or even drafting up an amendment.

    Good luck, I left a job after 6 years because my supervisor wouldn't change the ordinance to meet today's newer standards and there were parts that I don't believe were enforced properly either, but "that's the way we've always done it", and he was only in his 40's, to early to have that attitude!

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Thanks for the advice, which is much more constructive than me coming to a website to whine. My "yeah but..." response, though, is that this is such a slow-growth town (not by choice) that the thought of changing anything spooks the city council. We might lose out on a Chili's, you know. Our comp plan consultants brought up parking stuff last year and not a word of it made it into the plan.
    I wouldn't still be working here but for local family obligations.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Lyburnum View post
    Thanks for the advice, which is much more constructive than me coming to a website to whine. My "yeah but..." response, though, is that this is such a slow-growth town (not by choice) that the thought of changing anything spooks the city council. We might lose out on a Chili's, you know. Our comp plan consultants brought up parking stuff last year and not a word of it made it into the plan.
    I wouldn't still be working here but for local family obligations.
    Most developers I've worked with have been thrilled that they don't have to build mammoth parking lots. Remember, and bring this up in your arguments, that more concrete poured is really expensive. Corporations and developers have an incentive to provide adequate parking: they need customers. However, municipal codes usually require more than is needed, and that cuts into the developers' bottom lines.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    I have sincerely asked people to sue us over stupid code provisions.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    I have stood up to dumb codes - parking and signs are the two biggies. My biggest win was a sign size vs. speed limit code. Tiny signs on 55 mph roads cause problems. The same sign on a 25 mph road is ok. We did means testing with the police. It was a hit with the chamber of commerce and the sign nazis.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    i sometime think my city is the king of stupid codes. mostly because we react to situations. we actually looked at an ordinance requiring shopping carts to be removed from the streets. after further review we found 2 carts in the street and 1 person complaining.
    What i finally got started here was writing a list of code complaints and getting them reviewed once a year. our council isn't afraid of change, they just get easily confused when you throw one thing after another at them

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Wide Residential Streets

    Maybe its a Western thing, but I find the most embarrassing standard that I have to continually fight -- I'm an urban designer and land planner --, is ridiculously wide neighborhood street standards. Wide neighborhood streets contribute to speeding and greater incidents of fatal accidents principally involving children.

    I often talk to municipal planners about the possibility of narrowing their street standards to create a more attractive, safer neighborhood. Every one has said that they personally support the narrowing of streets but aren't willing to fight the City Engineer, Fire Marshall and likely City Council over it.

    The other thing I run into a lot are setbacks -- front, side and rear --, that are way to deep or wide. The municipal planners will agree that the setbacks work against good neighborhood design, but aren't willing to do anything to try to change them.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by smccutchan1 View post
    Maybe its a Western thing, but I find the most embarrassing standard that I have to continually fight -- I'm an urban designer and land planner --, is ridiculously wide neighborhood street standards. Wide neighborhood streets contribute to speeding and greater incidents of fatal accidents principally involving children.

    I often talk to municipal planners about the possibility of narrowing their street standards to create a more attractive, safer neighborhood. Every one has said that they personally support the narrowing of streets but aren't willing to fight the City Engineer, Fire Marshall and likely City Council over it.

    The other thing I run into a lot are setbacks -- front, side and rear --, that are way to deep or wide. The municipal planners will agree that the setbacks work against good neighborhood design, but aren't willing to do anything to try to change them.
    The Engineering, Fire, and Building standards often hamstring our opportunities to develop interesting or practical neighborhoods. It will certainly take a massive top-down approach to cause flexibility or alternative codes to be adopted by the aforesaid departments.

    I've past battled this when proposing urban development standards for an urban, developed area. If redevelopment was to occur in the slow-growth city, we certainly didn't want the urban areas to morph into a haphazard patchwork of suburban and urban type developments. It took well over a year, but the top-down approach built strong momentum and we were able to successfully adopt the development code, integrate changes in building, fire and engineering standards, and get massive community buy-in.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Every one has said that they personally support the narrowing of streets but aren't willing to fight the City Engineer, Fire Marshall and likely City Council over it.
    I don't think we shy away from a good fight; just we want a chance to win. It takes an approach as suggested by boiker...and the engineer to take a vacation. Could someone post a photo of a rusting fire truck at the end of a narrow street because it could not get through?

  11. #11
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    ^^ The things that gets me about the standards for streets:

    Engineers: Admit the fact that the very fear bred by every science fiction movie has come true. By pursuing standards to make an automobile's life easier, you have admitted that the "machines are now in charge."

    Fire Deptartments: No one will think to purchase a smaller, more efficient fire engine that can go through narrow streets easily. Instead the over-grown boys at the helm of fire districts must constantly strive for bigger toys. I mean, our district put a bond issue up a couple years to get a ladder truck. The Dept. ran a camplaign of fear to get it passed. But one thing... I think the tallest building in town is 2 stories. We have an abandoned grain elevator, but that's it. This ladder truck has been used only for exhibitions for the children.

    Of course, the evidence of planning for a not-so-common incident is evident every day...

    Sorry, back to the topic.
    As a closet Libertarian, I am often found at a crossroads when defending some codes with which I personally do not agree. Some of these codes are celebrated by Planner's Planners.
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by zmanPLAN View post
    Fire Deptartments: No one will think to purchase a smaller, more efficient fire engine that can go through narrow streets easily. Instead the over-grown boys at the helm of fire districts must constantly strive for bigger toys. I mean, our district put a bond issue up a couple years to get a ladder truck. The Dept. ran a camplaign of fear to get it passed. But one thing... I think the tallest building in town is 2 stories. We have an abandoned grain elevator, but that's it. This ladder truck has been used only for exhibitions for the children.
    As a former FF I would like to respond to this a little. According to DOT standards Fire Trucks are no larger than any other truck on the road. As you should know Zman if a vehicle is wider than 8' 6" is required to have a wide load banner. Fire trucks are not, in fact some newer models for older cities are built on narrow wheel base to get around. What usually is the issue with the FD is on the scene you need to be able to park multiple apparatus near each other for the hoses and the man power to work. A engine will have to be near the front door because the typical preloaded hose roll is 150' (3 lengths of 50') and you also want the ladder truck to be positioned nearby to vent the roof and windows they typically are 75' to 105' but have limited lateral distance based on weight.

    I do think some Res codes are overkill, especially on smaller subdivisions, I believe in a scaled down approach where the main entrance is wider than the secondary and side streets.

    Also, a good fire truck engineer should be able to put that truck anywhere with a little help from a back up camera or another firefighter guiding him in.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tide View post
    Also, a good fire truck engineer should be able to put that truck anywhere with a little help from a back up camera or another firefighter guiding him in.
    I've also had a Fire Mashall tell me that they will get to the fire--even if it means hitting/pushing cars to make room or driving on sidewalks.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    All the time... sigh. Parking ratios too high. Design review too restrictive. Its fun to enforce inclusionary zoning, though, esp. when people don't pay their buyouts in time and we threaten to revoke Certificates of Occupancy on unsold condos!

  15. #15
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Well.....

    Quote Originally posted by boiker View post
    I've also had a Fire Mashall tell me that they will get to the fire--even if it means hitting/pushing cars to make room or driving on sidewalks.
    And then there are the "other" fire departments that actually carry weenies and marshmallow's for consumption at the next structure fire......also known as ye olde volunteer fire department
    “The way of acquiescence leads to moral and spiritual suicide. The way of violence leads to bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. But, the way of non-violence leads to redemption and the creation of the beloved community.”
    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
    - See more at: http://www.thekingcenter.org/king-ph....r7W02j3S.dpuf

  16. #16
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    wow! start off with stupid codes and end up bashing fire fighters and engineers...i think that shows where some of the stupid codes are coming from. i can't get around the fire dept because all the engines in the metro area are standardize so they can provide mutual aid...which means the residential streets must be 24' wide, or was it 30' anyway, the 35' wide street works fine. Also, our dept. doesn't like to fight fires from a main streets, so fire lanes are required on all buildings - there goes the build to line.

    off topic, the best "other" fire dept. is a nearby volunteer. The chief gets a little money for running the show, and uses his private business, a garage, to maintain the equipment...i'm sure there's a charge for that...finally, his garage also has a liquor license as a bar. Makes for a good mechanic and fireman (actually i'm just jealous)

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Random Traffic Guy's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dvdneal View post
    Also, our dept. doesn't like to fight fires from a main streets, so fire lanes are required on all buildings - there goes the build to line.
    We've been hit with this one several times lately, very annoying. A building fronting a 6-lane divided 35 MPH street or a frontage road, sometimes with decel lanes into driveways, apparently needs another fire lane since they don't want to block the street.

    Of course with the admittedly better incident management that has spread across the area, the FD responds to auto crashes to block extra lanes with the big truck, on the same street. But no, you have to keep the street clear when there's a structure fire next to it.

    Then P&Z or council doesn't allow variances on landscape buffer even if the fire lane is grasscrete, so there's a double hit.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    In most of my municipal planning career, the fire department regulations were impossible to understand and unevenly applied -- and they always fought us on roadway design and commercial site design. Sometimes I honestly felt that the FD was just thinking up reasons to say "no".

    Until I came to my current position, where we work really closely with the fire department on design issues and they, more often than not, help us. They apply the rules with common sense, they figure out ways to achieve good design without sacrificing safety, and they support the planning ideals that we strive toward.

    I can hardly believe it. I honestly believe it's because they are really knowledgable on the codes and aren't just applying them -- they understand the reason they exist and how to properly enforce. Currently, we have the biggest planning/fire department love-fest that I've ever experienced.

    Yeah...we have some dumb ordinances that make me cringe to explain when I work with developers or sweet homeowners who are just trying to fix up their place. We have a face brick requirement and an anti-monotany requirement (huh??). Our stormwater requirments are imposed by a regional district and they are rigid and difficult for me to administrate. I think my biggest battle, though, is that our zoning ordinance is really old and out of date. R-1 zoning all over the place with no consideration for different neighborhood character. It's hard to explain to Grandpa that he can't tear down his garage and put up a new one without a variance for setbacks or that Grandma can't have her front porch without a variance because the oridnance doesn't even cover the subject or allow the encroachment.

    I've got so much work to do....

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