Sunday, October 23, 2005

Action, Inaction and Reaction

There are three pointed articles referenced in Planetizen.

The first is an editorial in the Palm Beach Post concerning the New Urbanist project to advise on planning for the Gulf Coast rebuilding after Katrina. The editorial gives insight into the current state of West Palm’s satisfaction with their 10 year old downtown master plan developed by Andres Duany:

The governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, has turned to Miami architect Andres Duany to lead the rebuilding of Gulf Coast communities destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The mayor of West Palm Beach, Lois Frankel, has turned to Miami architect Bernard Zyscovich to undo the work of Mr. Duany, whose firm wrote the city's downtown plan more than 10 years ago.

Mayor Frankel probably would dispute the line at the beginning of this column accusing her of trying to undo Mr. Duany's successful downtown master plan. There's too much political peril if she is viewed as too closely aligned with developers who want to gut the code.

Mr. Zyscovich and Mayor Frankel are correct when they say that Mr. Duany's plan did not anticipate builders buying and leveling whole blocks under standards aimed at reviving vacant niches.

Mr. Duany argued that the old downtown code had to be ripped up, for which Mr. Zyscovich — in an Oct. 5 session with city commissioners — mocked him. The ripping was really aimed at ending a system that allowed developers to negotiate height and building form. That's what they mean when they say the old plan had no predictability. Mr. Zyscovich confused predictability with monotony. The system had been so flexible that a few big waterfront buildings absorbed downtown's tenants, leaving vacant buildings and lots in the downtown core. Predictability aimed to restore balance but couldn't eliminate bad architecture. Neither approach can claim to do that.

In an article discussing New York, Over-development: Planning, Not Rezoning, Is The Answer, we read:

The real problem with downzoning to stop overdevelopment, or upzoning to encourage development, is that they both avoid any serious planning, both in each neighborhood and in the city as a whole. They don’t allow local residents and businesses to address serious concerns they have with everything from housing needs to traffic, because zoning regulations are limited to use and density controls.

From the LA Times is a story about voter recall of elected officials that continue on a growth path that residents do not appreciate:

Inland Voters Use Recall as a Way to Slow Growth

But the swarms of newcomers, and the traffic and crowding that follow them, have ignited pockets of rebellion.

Recall supporters in Muscoy followed the lead of outraged residents in Murrieta, where voters last spring ousted the pro-growth mayor in the city's first-ever recall. Residents of Palm Springs, Temecula, Redlands and Norco also have skirmished recently with elected officials or developers over growth.

The city's unbridled growth so infuriated a group of activist residents that they recalled Mayor Jack van Haaster in May, and nearly booted Councilman Kelly Seyarto.

"The residents found [they] couldn't relax for a second or somebody stuck in a project on you," said attorney Ed Faunce, a former spokesman for Rescue Murrieta, the recall group that sought to address the problem of snarled roads and safeguard open space.

Sarasota is not the only place with growth issues. Similar issues are apparent throughout the country

Developers pushing the envelope on trying to make the maximum return at the expense of community; zoning that controls density and makes the development process "predictable" at the expense of uniqueness and sense of place; planning that listens primarily to the "wants" of developers with disregard for community input; a downtown master plan that was a good example of community planning was gutted when the plan was translated into zoning code - particularly the Burns Square decision to throw out all the community planning effort that had preceded.

As Sarasota continues to change rapidly, we see more and more frustration from citizens and civic groups, and in media stories and editorials with an inability to act on the basis of community vision. The voices of the citizens are growing louder. They deserve to and must be heard.

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