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May 26, 2010

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triadwatch

fox meet hen house , much love to the trebic cartel and their influence in guilford county

glenwoodobserver

This current approach to establishing a look and feel for the future downtown is perplexing from so many angles. Unbeknownst,apparently to Roy Carroll and Sidney Gray, is that downtown is more than just a collection of independently owned buildings and vacant lots - it also includes a tremendous amount of public space. The space between buildings belongs to the public and the public ought to have some say in what we want this to look like. I'm troubled that the people who should be looking out for the public interest here seem to have caved to the pressure from the development community. We haven't heard much from the other stakeholders on this latest committee, but from the outside looking in, this is certainly the appearance.

The City has the power to regulate this public space in a way that it benefits ALL residents of Greensboro and not just the property owners. (A property owner review team has to be one of the most bizarre approaches I've heard of.) Any professional planner or design organization will recommend an approach that mirrors exactly the approach that the City initially took with this process. Should we change our historic review commission such that it is made up only of people who own historic properties? Should we have only laundromat owners have a say in how laundromats should be designed?

The goal ought to be to develop a downtown that will outlast the idosyncracies and personalities of any one single developer. If the developer can't make it work, sell the property and move on to Houston or some other place of your choosing. Design guidelines make for a much more iterative process. Without any room for enforcement, we will not see progress in the goals outlined in the guidelines. Imagine if we, as a city, said we think protecting water quality (a common resource to us all) is a worthwhile goal, but we are going to leave it up to each individual in the city to figure out the best way to do that. We'll set up a committee of your neighbors and peers so that you can ask for advice, but really, you can do whatever you think might best protect the water resource.

The current document places individual profit motive over the well-being and long-term success of a downtown that belongs to everyone.

Why not at least a meeting in the middle of a mix of guidelines and regulations? We need people other than the property owners to understand what's at stake, to speak up and to speak against adoption of these guidelines as currently written.

Jordan Green

David Wharton served on the original steering committee before stepping back because of other time commitments. He has also made a selfless contribution as a member of the Land Development Ordinance Citizen Advisory Team. In both cases, I think he has been a lonely voice for making Greensboro a more livable and human-scaled city. I hope he sees fit to share his viewpoint about the Downtown Design Manual on his blog or in other venues.

glenwoodobserver

Thank goodness for David Wharton....it is unfortunate that the ideological scales are invariably and incessantly tipped the other way leaving his voice just a whisper. We need a better balance of voices in these matters which I thought the original DDO process strived for.

RecycleBill

glenwoodobserver,
Welcome to Greensboro! Despite our differences in the past and based on several of your postings here and elsewhere over the course of the last few months it appears you have finally gained a better grasp of dark realities of Greensboro.

Now the question remains, now that you have faced the dark side, can you turn away from the dark side? Few have ever managed to walk away, will you be strong enough to join the few?

"May the force be with you."

glenwoodobserver

Bill -

I have no idea what that post means. I have and always will challenge the conventional ways of doing things when there are better, more responsible, options available.

John Tasker

to triadwatch: I was on the opponent's committee. Trebic had nothing to do with it. I had been in touch with them earlier, If anything, they were for the original proposal.

to glenwoodobserver: The public space is exactly that, not the responsibility of the property owners except the City does ask for input. I was on the strretscape committee years ago and, with the city, worked on the sidewalk, planting, traffic designs you see there now. Apparently it works well for the area.


The property review team will not be dealing with public spaces, only buildings that so not pass the staff review with a minimum number of compliances. The staff review and recommendations come first and only designs that don't comply go any further.

The downtown as we know it today, going back to the oldest building still standing (in part) from the 1870's developed in its entirey without guidelines and for a long time without a building code. It's a testament to the good will of the original builders that they constructed many structures that have lasted over a hundred years and in some cases withstood the 1930's tornado without collapsing. I have to suggest that the idiosyncracies and personalties of a great many developers are what we now call "historic properties".

I saved a dozen buildings in the area over 35 years and not one reflected my personal whims, every one of them preseving the original visual elements. The codes do require modern wiring, plumbins, and fire safety.

I suggest the number of people visiting South Elm St. almost 24 hours per day in buildings with the original facades is fair proof that the developers have it right and to the public's benefit.

Without a viable profit motive, not of it would have been done.

To Jordan Greene at others: David Wharton is a great guy and the strength of the Aycock neighborhood. He's a real community asset. He isn't noted for renovating commercial structures downtown and I would not consider that an area of expertise for him. If I worked in a residential historic area, I would seek his advice. In the downtown area, I would look for experience in that venue and not think to call him about that kind of work. Lack of experience with downtown buildings was a major flaw in half the members the original committee.

In general: the leading experts in the downtown buildings are quite frankly the people who have worked on them. I myself began study planning, historic structures years before I ever bought one to work on. Others have done the same. None of us who have worked hard on the rejuvenation of downtown as a career move have done so without substantial study and knowledge. There was nobody on the original committee or staff that several of us could not match or over-match with historic or preservation knowledge, including the hands-on experience of preserving, with only two possible exceptions.

Finally, if you will look around, you'll see that the most unfriendly structures to the downtown were done by the largest players for their own benefit, not developers - YMCA, Jeff Pilot, VF, AT&T, Carolina Bank, Southern Life (U.S. Trust, etc., etc.

glenwoodobserver

Except that the facade of the building is public space - its interaction and appearance on the exterior is public space, but it is the property owner doing the construction - not the public, so enforceable guidelines to ensure the public's will is considered is reasonable.

No one doubts your personal experience and intent, but you are but one person and this code has to work for future generations beyond that of any current players in the downtown market.

There is nothing in the current process that would preclude a second Carolina Bank structure from being built.

John Tasker

Response:

Para 1: Some people think it's public space, some don't. Most of the problem facades in our downtown are not the old buildings being re-habbed, but the new large ones as mentioned. Facades are the exclusive responsibility of the owner and most want those facades to be 1) their statement, and 2) welcoming to the public. Under the original plan, this wouldn't be very negotiable. Under the compromise plan, it is negotiable under guidlines. Trouble with standards was and is that what people want to see changes. What the staff thinks as feasible changes. I like to use the example of traffic circles (round-abouts). We had two downtown in the late 50's, early 60's. The City traffic people decided it was not good and they got rid of them. 50 years later, traffic engineering likes them again and three have been built around town. Had the standards become part of the overlay, any time a change was wanted, it would be an amendment to the city code. Among those standards, for example, were such things as the height of a window sill. Buildings all over downtown would've become immediately non-conforming. I've never seen a compromise that pleases everyone, and I'm not happy we did something for which I don't see a need (as you say, I am only one person), but the one we worked out is acceptable to the most.

2nd para: True, but one cannot simply assume that a large number of developers are just itching to do something unpopular. In my case, I didn't redesign, but turned to the original design on every building I worked on, all without any guidelines. I can't think of a single building on S. Elm that was fixed up where the owner didn't do just as I had done.

3 para. Again, true. But, as I said, the ones that are the least pedestrian friendly are invariably not built by developers. Thus, the guidelines and persuasion will come into play with all, but the developers haven't been the "abusers" of taste. At least another Carolina Bank or YMCA building will have organized, institutionalized, educated, and on-the-public-record opposition (all staff and PORT meetings will be public record meetings).

There are no guarantees, it's a compromise position. We now have something where nothing existed before. It's not extreme in either direction. Trust me, there are some furious people on both sides of the issue. Had the original committee not been skewed in one direction, we might have come up with something similar in the first place - and that's the crux, getting balance between competing interests.

JT

glenwoodobserver

JT -

How was the original committee skewed in one direction? I'm not sure I see going from regulations to no regulations as a compromise - seems like a mix of both would be considered a compromise.

Perhaps it was incorrect to use the term "developers", but something more loose like "project proponents". Downtown is more than S. Elm and no one denies that much of S. Elm has been maintained and redeveloped in a tasteful manner (if we could only get the 2nd floors occupied....).

At a minimum, the makeup of the PORT (and thus renaming), ought to be reconsidered. The exclusion of other viewpoints and disciplines is asking for a fight every time one of these projects come before City Council. It seems to me that this will politicize every single downtown project.

John Tasker

Without going any further, there are people from one end, strict rules, to the other, no rules. The majority was not at either end of the spectrum, thus the compromise was worked out that satisfied the most and makes no pretense to satisfy the ends of the spectrum. It is quite unlikely that those who are for a very strict regulation will ever come to terms with those against any regulation, so should one of those edges win over the other and over the middle? If the no regulation folks won the issue and the whole thing was dropped, then what - well that is as much a considertation as the strict regulation folks prevailing. We have what we have, essentially please the largest number we could and not trying to please anyone who thinks their position is somehow so right as to be exclusive.

glenwoodobserver

JT - And my prediction is, that if adopted, these guidelines will fail to achieve anything meaningful. It is a half measure at best. And my question is why not a mix of regulations AND guidelines. What we have, appear to me, to be merely suggestions. There is no protection of the public interest in downtown - only that of the property owners. And in trying to please everyone at the table we fail to exert meaningful leadership about the fact that the decisions we make now will have long-lasting impacts on future generations of Greensboro residents. It all feels so very short-sighted and lacks vision. It may have pleased everyone in that it pleases no one, but the process as currently described does not live up to what is written in the "Purpose and Intent" section. The manual doesn't appear to be a regulatory document at all. Feel free to show me otherwise.

John Tasker

It is regulatory only to the extent of making sure that projects over a certain minimum size would have to go through a process to match it with guidelines. The only weight it has is for those projects that might want some kind of Council incentive requiring a vote. At that point, the Council will consider if any recommendations ought to be ignored. If a project meets the guidelines, that would be reported to Council and would likely not be an issue. Projects that meet the guidelines and don't need something from Council simply go forward. All of the major local developers who are most likely to ask for anything requiring a vote are publicly on board with the guidelines.

This may not be your preference, and it is not from some on both sides, but this is the way we went. So far, those who have held on to a strict regulation, those who want no regulations at all, and those who haven't demonstrated experience with downtown property have been unable to convince enough folks involved to carry the debate elsewhere.

Jordan Green

A small detail, John, and my apologies for neglecting this thread for three or four days... I've been a bit perplexed by the position that the PORT's recommendation on a project will be available to city council should the developer request incentives. Wouldn't a developer — or a YMCA or Carolina Bank — ask for incentives long before they undertook the expensive and time-consuming process of the PORT review and technical review committee approval?

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