Monday, August 20, 2012

Coffee Talk 7: The Trade Offs of Land Use Planning

Coffee Talk 7: The Trade Offs of Land Use Planning
Thursday, August 23rd, 7-8:30PM
Wedgwood Presbyterian Church

Some say that the only constant in life is change. If this is true, change is sure to come to 35th Ave NE. Thanks to the Community Planning Assistance Team(CPAT) from the Washington Chapter of the American Planning Association, for the past six months we have been hosting land use planning presentation on various concepts related to improving 35th Ave NE.   We learned about the conditions necessary for businesses to thrive, improving walkability, architectural design standards and principles, successful streetscape features and placemaking, the benefits of density, and incentivizing successful development.

However, through the discussion of some of these concepts it is clear that changes to 35th Ave NE could result in unanticipated impacts to the surrounding community.   These impacts are often those things that are considered trade offs in development.  This Thursday evening, at our FINAL Coffee Talk,Bill LaPatra with Mithun discusses some of those trade offs that come along with land use planning and ultimately a more successful commercial corridor.

As always, a special thanks to Top Pot Doughnuts for providing delicious goodness for these events.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Incentivizing Successful Development, A Recap of Coffee Talk 6

About 10-15 years ago, the City of Kirkland began the process of revitalizing their downtown.  The City developed a strategic plan to identify those things the City could do themselves and those things the City wanted to encourage private development to accomplish.  Some of the City's targeted improvements included improved transit, creating public gathering places, and improving traffic circulation.  However, with all of these potential improvements, the City still required private development to come in and bring the types of projects and amenities that were important for improving the vitality and success of the downtown core experience.  To do this, the City in part turned to incentives to encourage these things.

Gathering place created at a focal intersection in exchange
for a 'bonus floor' as part of a new development in Kirkland.
While downtown Kirkland may not be the same scale and type of commercial corridor that we may aspire 35th Ave NE to become, the principal of using incentives to achieve those things important to the community may be something for us as a community to consider.  In order for a development to occur, the financial reality of development is that it must "pencil out" (e.g., result in a reasonable return on investment to the developer).  In this capitalist environment, economics generally wins out.

The question in these capitalist conditions is what is the appropriate "give and take" relationship in order to achieve not only a successful project economically for the developer, but also a successful project for the community.  At our most recent Coffee Talk at the end of July, Ellen Miller-Wolfe, the Economic Development Director for the City of Kirkland shared some of the projects  and methods they've used to encourage successful developments.  Some of those incentives Kirkland has offered developers include additional height (a bonus floor) and reduced setbacks to incentivize such things as residential uses within the business core or including shared public parking.  Now, the City is trying to incentivize specific types of retail uses including a grocery store downtown and movie theater.

Safer pedestrian environment created as part
of a new development in Kirkland.
As we move forward with the 35th Ave NE neighborhood planning,we might ask ourselves,
What are those things we most want along 35th Ave NE and what are we willing to give up in order to get them?
One place we can begin to look to for those things of most value to the community are those business types and features called out in the Wedgwood Vision Plan community survey results.  Another place to look may include those things that other neighborhoods have done within their commercial corridors that we may want to replicate.  The 35th Ave NE Steering Committee has begun to tour other communities and are getting ideas.

Our FINAL Coffee Talk is next Thursday, August 23rd, at Wedgwood Presbyterian Church from 7-8:30PM. Join us to learn about the trade offs of land use planning.  For more on Incentivizing Successful Development, relive the magic of Coffee Talk 6 and Ellen Miller-Wolfe's fantastic presentation on what Kirkland has done.

Coffee Talk 6: Financial Realities of Development. Incentivizing Successful Development from Wedgwood Community Council on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Field Trips to See What Others Are Doing

The 35th Ave NE Steering Committee (35th Committee) has been a sponge throughout the Coffee Talk series.  From learning what makes safe, walkable commercial corridors to the conditions necessary for our local businesses to survive and thrive, the 35th Committee has been learning about what can be done.  Recently, the 35th Committee went on a field trip to three commercial corridors that have interesting things going on and provide a variety of ideas to consider bringing to 35th Ave NE.  Below is a review of our field trip and a brief discussion of what each commercial corridor had to offer.

Mixed-use development in Kirkland using terracing
 and setbacks to reduce sense of scale from the street.
Downtown Kirkland is a rapidly changing community with a variety of housing types and densities intermixed within both new and older commercial developments.  The City has the benefit of having Lake Washington and beautiful views which to plan around.  However, the growth of Kirkland over the past 10 years provided us an opportunity to see how new and old development can coexist together, how developers have used architecture to soften the scale and bulk through setbacks, terracing, and variable ground floor heights.  We also were able to see how recent development incorporated placemaking, streetscape features, and gathering places into their projects.

A mixed-use building in Madrona enhances the corner
and uses streetscape features well to create a gathering place.
For such a geographically small commercial corridor with zoning (NC-30) similar to that around 35th Ave NE and NE 75th Street, Madrona packs a punch.  Madrona is not considered an "Urban Village" within the City's Comprehensive Plan, yet it has managed to create a successful commercial corridor that appears to serve the surrounding neighborhood well.  There are numerous eateries that function as destinations from the nearby single-family neighborhoods and a couple of key services (e.g., school, library, parks, deli/market, salons, coffee shop) which accommodate many of the other daily needs of nearby residents. The result is a small, neighborhood commercial corridor that has successfully incorporated a moderate degree of new development over the past 15-20 years while maintaining its character.  My personal take home lesson from this neighborhood is that business types really do matter in the success and vitality of a commercial corridor.

Our field trip transitioned from a non-Urban Village in Madrona to Wallingford, an Urban Village with codified growth targets.  While we weren't able to walk the whole commercial corridor, we did take a long look at a relatively new mixed-use building at NE 45th St and Bagley Ave N.  This building uses a variety of architectural techniques to soften the bulk and scale of the building, similar to what was seen in Kirkland, while also transitioning to the single-family residences to the south.  This is one of the projects touched on by Catherine Benotto during the Coffee Talk 5: Density and its Benefits talk, whose firm Weber Thompson designed.  Parking for this building is off of Bagley Ave N, south of ground-floor residences that open onto Bagley.  My personal take home message from this neighborhood is that transitional zoning is not required, although good design is, in order to achieve a respectful and thoughtful transition transition to adjacent single-family residences.

View Larger Map
This coming Saturday, the 35th Committee will go on another field trip to the Greenwood/Phinney, Queen Anne, and California (West Seattle) commercial corridors.  
Next Thursday, August 23rd, will be the final Coffee Talk of the 7-part series open to everyone.  The topic of this final Coffee Talk will be on the trade offs of land use planning.  Please join us from 7-8:30PM at Wedgwood Presbyterian Church.