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.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Urban thinking, urban policy, and translating policy into law

Today's Post has a story on the updating of the Montgomery County Growth Policy, "Sea Change Set for MoCo Growth." Today's Gazette (the community newspapers published in Prince George's, Montgomery and Frederick Counties, owned by a different division of the Post), goes into the story in a bit more detail in "Urban thinking goes into proposed policy shift."

I haven't delved into any of the documents yet (see "Montgomery County ... Growing Smarter" from the Montgomery County planning department webpage) but I do find the direction that Montgomery County is going to be quite interesting, especially given the point made in the Examiner article, "MontCo short on undeveloped land," that in the developable area of the County (remember that the Montgomery County Agriculture Preserve, with strict development controls, is 150 square miles), only 4% of the land remains available for development.

It "attacks" the point of "transit oriented development" from the perspective of how does this type of development extend the quality of life, the livability for residents, and efficiency for businesses.

Too often residents think of TOD as a giveaway to developers, but given how development ought to be going forward, where transportation and land use policies and planning are linked, I think it would be better if we focused on how TOD helps us achieve community-strengthening objectives.

That seems to be the way that MoCo is going, if the Gazette article is to be believed. I like how they are proposing to link land use intensification based on its proximity to "hard" and "soft" infrastructure -- physical infrastructure, county services, transit, and amenities. From the article:

Developments within a half-mile of passenger rail or bus lines could be exempt from fees levied to help pay for transportation improvements. Developments farther from transit could be exempt from half those fees if they are built within a half-mile of 10 basic services such as a grocery, dry cleaner, library, park or fire station.

To qualify for the discounts, half of the square footage in the development must be housing and three-quarters of the footage allowed by zoning must be built. Also, the project must be more energy efficient and provide more affordable housing than standards now require.

The proposed policy shift is intended to reduce housing shortages in the county, which is running out of vacant, buildable land, planning director Rollin Stanley said.

At the same time, planners are recommending creation of a new, mixed-use zone to be applied to land around transit stations and about 100 strip shopping areas. Officials say that denser development with more housing should be built there to make more efficient use of infrastructure and reduce the number of miles people travel in vehicles within the county.

"Congestion levels will go up, but proportionally to the number of people [such projects] accommodate, it's less than the number of trips generated by the same number of people in less-urban areas," Stanley said.

Already the County links residential development approvals to seat capacity in the local schools, see "Montgomery, Md., Building Moratorium" from the Post. But the point about transit-linked development leading to a reduction in congestion overall is important. Development, under most legal scenarios, will come, if the underlying zoning allows it. But just because zoning allows it, doesn't mean that the development will efficiently use and/or extend infrastructure.

The difference between what DC does and what Montgomery County does is telling. DC's Comprehensive Plan reads well, but mostly is full of platitudes, because the legislative and regulatory structure to translate platitudes into law often is not engaged. It's somewhat different these days with the Comprehensive Zoning Review process.

Even so, there are many many gaps between what is proposed for the Zoning Code--which is hard and fast law--and what the Comprehensive Plan suggests, especially in the areas outside of what the Zoning framework covers.

I guess one advantage of the state-locality relationship is that most states have well developed land use regulatory processes, whereby localities are required to do comprehensive planning, and if the state has a well developed infrastructure, plans and zoning and economic development policies and laws are required to be congruent.

In DC, it is not the case that land use plans, transportation plans, zoning regulations, capital improvements, public finance, and economic development policies and actions are required to be legally congruent.

If you are a systems-oriented person like I am, you are likely to find dealing with this reality very frustrating.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home