Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Maybe DC can learn that it has something that developers want

One of the things I am getting even more worked up about than usual are the disparities between neighborhoods in terms of negotiating community amenities agreements in association with new development. If a neighborhood has good leaders and organizational capacity, and/or if the developer is community-oriented and somewhat honest, then a community can get some benefits that have long-term impact. Otherwise, as I say, "they get negotiated out of their underwear and they don't even know it."

I will be writing more about this later as it is subject of some testimony I'm working on for January.

But I came across this article today from the AP Business Wire along the same lines, "Cities Getting Perks From Redevelopers." Interestingly enough, the example the article provides is about a high-income community asking a developer to add functionality to a development--making a "pretty" pond capable of functioning as an ice rink in the winter. From the article (emphasis added in bold):

Developer Rick Caruso didn't blink when leaders of an upscale suburb made their unusual request: Could the lake he was planning as part of a multimillion-dollar retail and dining center double as an ice rink? Caruso spent a few hundred thousand dollars to build the rink — and landed favorable terms on a 90-year-lease for a public lot adjacent to a performing arts plaza. "It's an expensive undertaking," Caruso said of the rink. "But it's well worth it."

The rink, which opened last month, is one example of how some cities are asking — and getting — perks from developers who see gold in rejuvenated urban cores and other high-demand areas. Motivated by reduced redevelopment funding and armed with improved negotiating savvy, select communities nationwide are getting concessions from public-private partnerships.

Cities "realize they have something developers want," said Maureen McAvey, senior resident fellow with the Urban Land Institute. "They are able to ask for more."
This is also relevant to today's earlier blog entry entitled "When you don't believe you're really 'world class,' you make bad deals."

If you don't believe you have something that developers want, you are sure to get nothing in return.

There are a couple issues with the amenities process:

(1) We need to distinguish between what I think of as city-wide vs. neighborhood amenities, and ensure that residents of the city as well as the neighborhood benefit from developments;
(2) Many "city-wide" amenities (green building, employment-source agreements) trumpeted by developers are "merely" best practice and developers shouldn't get much traction for such offerings;
(3) the proposed amount of additional square footage resulting from variances, exceptions, and PUD bonuses be calculated and disclosed in a separate easily-understood filing, so that community organizations and stakeholders understand the basis on which such amenities are to be negotiated;
(4) training needs to be provided to community stakeholders to ensure that they are on equal footing when dealing with such agreements.

The disparities are striking, and a disservice to residents of the District of Columbia and the neighborhoods within the city.

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