Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Main/Union Gateway Site Plan Approval Appeal Vol. 2

Last night I was privileged to attend and observe the monthly hearing and deliberations of the City Planning Commission as they related to a potential overruling of Zoning Director Art Ientilucci's decision to allow a standard Fastrac Gas Station/Mini-Mart layout at a gateway site zoned Center City-Main Street.

The prepared statement made by Roger Brown before the Commission has been transcribed to relate the official proceedings. Following this, three private citizens spoke in favor of the Site Plan rejection application. Points ranging from the charge of the Zoning Board to provide only the 'minimum relief necessary,' curb cuts for example, to the improved community watch situation created by properly fenestrated and populated buildings close to the sidewalk.

It would of course never be Fastrac's intention to place windows and doors on the street if somehow forced to build to the frontage. As a result it is argued by their architect (who was honestly proud of his 'design' of a cookie-cutter gas pad), that the police department themselves would object to something built to their understanding of a higher design standard. This is no understanding at all.

The public comment portion against the RRCDC's actions also included a lawyer who having exhausted her legal claims (and blasting through the comment time limit not once or twice, but thrice), began to spew emotional conjecture involving children inflating their bicycle tires at magical air pumps not denoted in the site plan. Immediately following this, Fastrac's Real Estate Director touted his organization's neighborhood engagement which was indeed admirable.

The most notable testimony, whether applicable to procedure or not, was given by five Marketview Heights residents. While not always rooted in logic or understanding of design, their support for the Fastrac Market as a neighborhood asset was undeniable. This concerns me to great degree. My following comment is likely to be minconstrued as what synonymized my appearance at the hearing with representing the interests of ArtWalk or Park Avenue (despite the likelihood that I was the only attendee of the meeting who arrived and departed by bus), but Fastrac promised these people a grocery store and they will be delivered condiments, chocolate, corn chips, and beer. They have one built-in advantage in an otherwise troubled living arrangement, the proximity of the fresh food/bargain food core of a five county region, the Public Market yet either yearn for or feel trapped by the dominant motoring paradigm.

My purpose here is not really to criticize neighborhood denizens, especially not ones so motivated to participate in hearings so I shall move on to the deliberation session.

Ultimately much of the testimony on both sides was immaterial. A checklist of items that legally could allow the Planning Commission to overturn the Zoning Director's decision were the only criteria that were up for vote though remarks of regret were made by various commissioners about process components that are worth mentioning.

Vice-Chair of the Commission Steven Rebholz expressed not only concern that the language of the actual ordinance needed to be tightened up with respect to the inclusion of more explicit design guidelines and that this is something the City Council would need to consider in future amendments to the Master Plan. He also opposed the sentiment of the pro-Fastrac contingent regarding the concept that another gas station combo would "fit in" with a Wendy's, Monro Muffler, Delta Sonic, etc. I believe his statement was on the order of the idea that 30 years of bad decisions have been made in the area, and subsequently how do you push for standards? His final concern involved the fact that the Commission had already made two different recommendations against the design plan and was consterned regarding the fragmented approval procedure that effectively ignored his group's input.

Commissioner Heidi Zimmer-Meyer lamented the development demand climate and the difficulty of imposing design standards in terms of its ability to dissaude developers. She cited similiar density destruction on the stretch of West Main Street immediately beyond the Inner Loop.

As for the vote, Checklist item 'R' was a multiple criteria item with certain sub-criteria that simply didn't apply in this instance (for example, Does the development compromise the utilization of a waterfront area). While some of items in this section sounded like the type of language invoked by the Design Center's Appeal, the Commission did not find enough other items significantly compromised to vote in favor of the appeal.

I'd like to thank all who helped in the effort whether by digging up form-based municipal codes and imagery of alternative gas station design or physically attending the meeting in support of the Design Center's application. I appreciate your concern and interest regarding the impact of the built environment.

1 comment:

Bob and Tia said...

Since I'll be deleting the temporary quick post from the night of the meeting, I'll repost the comment made by urban explorer:

"This is a miscarriage of due process. The situation never should have reached this point. The Director of Zoning should have been free from political interference to deny this ill-conceived site plan in the first place. He is a trained professional and certified planner and should be free to process projects based on their adherence to established plans. Anyone who believes the Director of Zoning was not forced to approve this project is naive. Shame on Mayor Duffy. Shame on Carlos Carballada. The Mayor is up for re-election this year; let's make respect for established plans, respect for the professional opinions of city staff, and respect for the appropriate process an election issue."