Sunday, June 15, 2008

Telling it like it is

An excellent analysis of the proposed Fairview at Five Points can be found on the site of our friends at New Raleigh. In the discussion that follows, comes a real treat:

06/14 11:51 AM
Five Points is a super example of an area that could really benefit from having a good form-based plan with form-based zoning applied to implement it.

That way, the stakeholders could get an understanding of what acceptable change looks like and acts like; then development could proceed without a long, drawn-out rezoning fight every time a change is proposed.

Instead, Raleigh continues to apply an outdated rezoning & site-plan approval approach, where the developer submits [more than he wants] in expectation of getting [something less], and the neighbors have to commit themselves to god only knows how many months of protest at public hearings. In this process, the final decision hinges not on the quality of the development as an addition to the neighborhood, but on how many Council votes can be gamed by insiders and their attorneys, whether for or against.

The entire process is convulsive, overly politicized, and unpredictable. It results in no assurances of quality urban design. It only sporadically produces a successful addition to an existing good place. It tends to promote the maxing-out of one landholder’s interest to the expense or detriment of the rest of the neighborhood. Everyone is interested in How Much They Can Get and the answer depends only on a Council vote.

This makes pitched rezoning battles the primary means of adding to our city’s built environment. This is no way to create great places.

Instead, using a form-based approach would satisfy the first question on everyone’s mind: “What is change going to look like?” It sets an agreed-upon pattern as the scenario. It would give developers predictability, as by-right zoning can be put in place after a satisfactory neighborhood plan is agreed on. And it would ensure that new development takes the entire area’s benefit into account, maximizing value for all property owners together, rather than this parcel-by-parcel “let me cash in first” approach.

Form-based planning also puts the important decisions about change into a more neutral forum where a wide base of stakeholders can consider the options BEFORE a particular rezoning proposal is submitted. So it’s less of a thumbs-up/thumbs-down choice and more of an integrated process of deciding on good and acceptable change in a whole and considered way.

Of course, form-based planning and form-based zoning have their downsides. They would eliminate (1) high-paying opportunities for connected insiders and developers attorneys, who profit from their ability to game the back rooms in representing developers, and (2) opportunities for politicians to game their votes and influence in hopes of generating campaign contributions and other gimmes.

Betsy Kane
Former member, Raleigh Planning Commission 2004-2007

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