November's issue of Planning Magazine contained an article, Fixing the Mess We Made (http://www.planning.org/planning/201...ingthemess.htm), accompanied by a before/after image. The original site might very well be a fast food restaurant, given its size, configuration, parking, and drive-thru window. In the "after" image, four new two-story buildings line the street frontage. The design suggests that these are intended to be mixed-use buildings. It all looks very pretty, but is it at all practical? Let's do some math.
Eleven parking stalls line one frontage (#1). Most communities require a width between 8 and 9 feet, and a depth of perhaps 18 feet. We can be generous and say 10 feet by 20 feet. Additionally, there is a terrace that extends perhaps 10 feet to the sidewalk. The other frontage (#2) is all terrace and appears to be 30 feet wide by 160 feet long. In the "after" image, one building encroaches into a landscaping island at a parking lot entrance on frontage #1, and the building site encroaches into the former driving lane, which has presumably been reduced to one lane. So what do we have for a building site? Frontage #1 is 120 feet long and maybe 40 feet deep. Frontage #2 is 160 feet long and 30 feet deep.
All four buildings have at least a 5-foot separation from the drive-thru lane. The buildings on frontage #1 also have a 5-foot setback on the street side. This means that the buildings on frontage #1 have a footprint of perhaps 30 feet deep by 50 feet long, and the buildings on frontage #2 measure 25 feet deep by 70 feet long, or 1500 square feet and 1750 square feet respectively.
Perhaps this might allow for one ground floor office or retail use per building, and two apartments on the upper level. The trouble is, what uses will locate in such small footprints? The McDonald's lot on which all of this is supposed to fit, by comparison, is 3500 square feet. At best we might hope for a Subway and Supercuts - if they can afford the rent on buildings that would be very expensive to construct. But that's not all…
- What about McDonald's? Who thinks they would want to give up the parking, or would want to have four tall buildings screening them from view of traffic on the bordering roads? Who is going to want to live in the apartments five feet from the drive-thru lane and directly over McDonald's trash bins and kitchen vents?
- What about parking? An average of 1.5 cars per apartment creates the need for 12 stalls, while each of the four businesses will also bring in customers and employees who need to park. At lunch time, McDonald's likely needs all of the parking it can get, so where do you put an extra 30 vehicles? Ah, I see, the eleven stalls that have been lost were replaced with 7 on-street parking spaces.
- By the looks of it, this redevelopment concept eliminates between a half and a third of the green space on the site, replacing it with rooftops and concrete. I hope this location never gets any rain, because there is no place for storm water to go. By building out into the landscape areas of the site, it also appears that visibility has been dramatically reduced at the entrances.
In short, what we have here is a pretty picture that works just great, except for the fact that it is difficult to build economically, difficult to lease, highly objectionable to the owner of the lot, causes traffic and parking problems, is likely to cause flooding, and just generally ignores it surroundings. But it looks good rendered in soft colors.
Does that mean that we should not (in some cases) encourage redevelopment at higher densities and with a more urban form? No. But the most likely scenario is to level the site and start from scratch. Images like this excite some folks, but mislead them. Developers and others know this, and when they see these images in a plan they tend to dismiss the entire plan. Planners should know better, yet I see this sort of thing far too many times.