As you may be aware, I'm the town planner for a small town of about 1,300 residents (and increasing by about one person a day), located about 15 miles west of downtown Orlando. A town this size has a planner because local officials felt that they are stewards of a very special, unique place -- they're not anti-growth, but they want to ensure that the character that drew residents here isn't threatened by the spectre of growth. They've seen what has happened to other towns in a similar situation -- special places that lost their sense of place when growth took over -- and they don't want to see that scenario repeat itself here.
However, there seems to be a sense of hopelessness among my planning commissioners; that market forces are too strong to prevent lowest-common denominator growth, despite very tough architectural design, landscaping, signage and site planing regulations. Here's what I'm facing.
1) There's no sewers, mostly because earlier leaders thought it would increase population densities, and thus destroy the unique "small town character" of the place. Residential development is mostly medium-to-high end single family houses on 1/3 to 1 acre lots -- no apartments, no duplexes, no townhouses. No sewers precludes low-end residential development, so in a sense that strategy worked. A town address is seen as very desirable.
2) The town is essentially "landlocked," with little room for annexation and growth -- a county line on one side, a culturally and economically independent satelite city of Orlando with a predominant "Southern rural working class" demographic on the other. We'll max out at five square miles, of which two are undevelopable because of wetlands and town-owned open space.
3) There's only one major east-west street running through my town. That street leads straight into the working-class town, with development along the corridor there being dominated by "mechanical commercial" uses -- auto sales, RV dealers, heavy truck dealers, vehicle repair, auto body shops, tire stores, flex-space for mechanical trades, and so on.
4) The commercial district along that major east-west road is essentially a blank slate -- a few old billboards (that are being amortized away), a lumberyard, and a gas station. That's it.
5) Most of the inquiries I've been revieving regarding development along that corridor in this town are for "mechanical commercial uses." No restaurants, no retail, no office, no nothing but uses related to objects powered by internal combustion engines. Oh yeah ... storage, too, but that's prohibited in commercial districts in the zoning code. Why these uses? The natural extension of the strip from the next town over, and the lack of sewer. Auto dealers don't need sewer.
6) Also, most of the interest is from small "mom and pop" developers -- no large regional or national developers. The locals fight us on our design requirements -- "We don't have the money, and in (the next town over), they don't need all this fancy architecture and landscapin' -- I can do a metal buildin' there!"
7) Due to the overwhelming interest of vehicle-related uses that want to locate here, and the complete lack of interest by those interested in non-vehicle related uses, we implemented a moratorium on vehicle-related development. Vehicle related uses congregate, and if too many of 'em get in too soon, we're looking at a new, unavoidable "Auto Row." I'm rewriting the zoning code, and I'm looking at a cap -- 25% of commercial front footage for vehicle-related uses. However, it might not be a long term solution -- without sewer, commercial land isn't viable for many other uses.
BTW, in the works before the moratorium was imposed -- four auto dealers, two motorcycle dealers, and two gas stations. They can continue with their projects, but no new vehicle related uses can be submitted.
8) We're not considered "rural," so forget grants for sewer construction in rural communities. Demographics are ticking upward, so forget about grants for infrastructure improvements for disadvantaged communities. Our budget is tight, and we're already taking out bonds to pay for a charter school and new town hall. We can't afford to pay for sewer on our own, and the property owners that would benefit aren't interested; they're being courted by the gas stations and auto dealers as it is.
9) That east-west road has incredible traffic counts -- 45,000 VT/D. However, the numbers don't work in the eyes of those doing site location for mid-end retail and dining. Traffic, yeah. Access, yeah. Rooftops ... getting there. However, there's almost no daytime employment, and the demographics of "the next town over" suck us down -- drywallers, auto mechanics and roofers don't eat at Applebees, Chilis or TGIF, or shop at Pier One or Barnes and Noble.
I've got some thoughts, but I want to hear what you think. Is it our destiny to become a new "Auto Row?" Can we avoid it? Have any other communities been in our shoes?