Monday, April 03, 2006

Fresh Air and Light

A recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer titled "Sunlight concerns cast shadow over condo plan" talks about shadows cast by new condo towers and the concerns raised by neighbors.

There are comments in the article that we should be considering in our town while we still have places downtown where fresh air and sunlight reach the street level:

Access to sunlight and fresh air is increasingly being considered in urban planning and building design. It is not yet part of Philadelphia's zoning code, said Thomas Chapman, acting executive director of the city Planning Commission.

Some architects, however, say the wrong question is being asked.

"The question is the project itself," said William P. Becker, a Center City architect and chairman of the Design Advocacy Group, a group of architects, planners and citizens that encourages excellence in building design and construction.

"If you live in a city, sometimes your property may get cast into shadow, and I don't mean to trivialize that," Becker said. "I think what people are really reacting to is the fact of this building's absolute height... . It's a shocking change from what has been in that area."

Becker said Design Advocacy Group is preparing recommended changes for the way the city evaluates and approves construction projects.

The group's vice chairman, architect Alan Greenberger, said it wants to encourage more public input on major projects rather than Philadelphia's system that gives developers an "absolute right" to build as long as they comply with zoning codes.

One reason for the anger about the Barnes Tower is that the public learned of it only when demolition notices were posted on the hotel late last month.

Because the tower proposal already meets zoning requirements, a zoning hearing was not needed.

Greenberger noted that, in Boston, any project bigger than a certain size must be reviewed by a civic design commission.

Even though the commission cannot veto a project, Greenberger said, "there is a thorough public review of all the project's merits and demerits... . It's a very interesting system that lets the public get involved."

Here in Sarasota we have been doing the opposite; we have been moving toward making it simpler and easier for the developers to propose and build any building with little opportunity for public input and comment.

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