Thursday, August 03, 2006

Mixed up...

You can officially add "mixed use" to the list of buzzwords that once represented something but now seem to mean, well, whatever.

Like smart growth before it, "mixed use" has become the word du jour for developers wishing to show how enlightened their otherwise banal new subdivisions will be. The latest example: Shipley's Grant.

“We are people who believe in really trying to create a community,” said John Slidell, a partner with The Bozzuto Group, which plans to break ground next month.

The 58-acre planned community, called Shipley’s Grant, is between Route 108 and Snowden River Parkway, backing up to Route 100.

The Bozzuto Group, based in Greenbelt, has acquired half the land with the remaining land being developed in phases during the next six or seven years, Slidell said.

The developers wanted to create a “traditional village feel,” Slidell said.

...The Shipley’s Grant complex will include 396 town houses and condominium residences, 62 of which will be built during this first phase. It also will have 40,000 square feet of retail space, such as a food store, coffee shop, dry cleaner and other convenience retail, said Rob Bavar, vice president of Bavar Properties Group, which is developing the retail portion.

Oh yeah, throw "village" onto that list, as well.

I generally support the concept of mixed use but not the predominate practice of it. In theory, such developments encourage less driving, more efficient use of land and a stronger "sense of place." In realty, they generate just as much if not more traffic, use roughly the same amount of land and do nothing to actually foster community. They're just regular old subdivisions with a few shops on the side.

Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. Maybe Shipley's Grant is better than I'm giving it credit for. I can't say for sure since I haven't seen the plans. But looking at the mix of houses and commercial space, it's pretty easy to see that few of the neighborhood's future residents will be commuting or running errands on foot or bicycle. At least they'll be close to a highway!

Although I'm not, many people are opposed to growth and perhaps rightly so if this is the type of growth we're accustomed to; it's certainly not the type of growth I support, however.

When I think about growth, I try to look at it in two ways: 1) Inevitable, at least until we enact massive, macroeconomic changes; and 2) potentially beneficial.

Like diamonds, developable land in Howard County is both limited and extremely desirable, meaning people are willing to pay handsomely for it. And it seems to me that if we put these factors to work for us, rather than against us, we have the opportunity to generate significant benefits for current and future residents of this county.

Affordable housing and jobs are oft-cited examples of the benefits of development. So is the possibility of a stronger transit system. But what about the environment or schools or our infrastructure, three things typically considered to decline in quality with an increase in population? Could we actually flip that logic on it's head?

Could we pair development with mandatory set asides for schools, as opposed to the too low impact fees and occasional "proffers" we accept now? What if, instead of requiring the construction of silly stormwater management ponds, we required developers to engage in stream and watershed restorations at the same time we enacted stronger "green" building codes? What if we made developers pay for land preservation? What if we changed parking requirements in mixed use areas to create a disincentives for driving or forced integration of transit systems into subivision plans?

I don't want to get into making an even longer list of "what ifs," but it seems to me that our perspective on growth will dictate to a large extent the type of growth we get. If it's always perceived as bad/costly/undesirablereable, then, chances are, that's what it's going to be. If, however, we look past the challenges and focus on the opportunities, we stand a much better chance of realizing the benefits of growth, mitigating its costs and getting what we really want: a great place to live.


Evan said...

You are begining to sound like me. :)

My two considerations I would make are:
1) In your last paragraph I think in politics (particularly the hardball type that the developers have played) in order to realize the benefits you have to be willing to fight for them and play hardball to get a plan that works for the community rather than just making a ast buck.
2) On mass transit systems, building a dynamic with insufficient traffic flow does not necessarily lead to mass transit. In order to get mass transit it should be planned in from the time of the development approval so that it is properly integrated into the development.

mary smith said...

Hayduke, this new posting process could use some work. A drop in comment volume may occur, or repeat visitors with few new users. It wouldn't allow me to use 'mary smith', forcing me to create another account name, marysmith2. Then I was taken to a blog site which didn't look like it was yours. Lost my post, which said something like this:

Green building (vs. greed building) is great. Developers paying for preservation: fantastic.

But someone like me will never use mass transit. It's typically dirty and germy looking, and crowds press up against one another, invading more than just air space. No, no, no.

Villages are more appealing, but people do not like waiting in lines after working all week, and Columbia is much too crowded already. If we're going to allow unrestricted density, then the villages will have to be smaller, shops will have to have more services, and longer hours.

Hayduke said...

Evan: I agree about transit integration. It has to be mandatory if we're going to start laying the foundation for a broader system.

Mary: I realize the new posting system isn't perfect. I definitely not sold on it, but let's give it a couple weeks and see how it works.

Not everyone has to use mass transit. Not everyone wants to. But the option should be available for those who do. And it should be more useful than the bus system we have now, which runs at 1 hour intervals and takes far too long to get from one place to another. For instance, were I to ride the bus from home to work, I would have to walk ten minutes to the stop, sit on the bus for a half hour just to get from Oakland Mills to the Mall, then walk another ten minutes to my office. Almost an hour for a trip that takes 6 minutes by car, 6 minutes by bike or 15 minutes walking.

I don't see your point that "Columbia is much too crowded already." How so?

mary smith said...

OMGosh. I do not live in Columbia but Columbia has many venues I'd like to visit. However, I avoid going there - ever, if it were possible. I limit my trips to a couple of times per year because it's intensely crowded. We could start with Mall traffic, can't any longer find a parking spot, Holiday time makes retail inaccessible, and in the dead of summer there are lines that consume more time than the actual shopping/stopping in the western villages.

You obviously have a much different perception. Do you go out during non-working hours? Do you grocery shop? Go to David's? Visit the Mall on weekends? How is it you are not seeing the mass crowding since the condos and townhouses were built?

Mary Catherine said...

I just did a 45 second poll on "Maryland politics". At the end it said it was sponsored by Bates and Miller? The questions were truly bad... for example the one on eminent domain went something like this...

Do you support the governments right to seize your home or church and give it to someone who will pay higher taxes?

There were additional questions on education- loaded to get answers that say we are spending too much on education and not spending in correctly. on taxes- despite the record surplus, do you support the recent raise in income tax... on growth and development..

Will I vote for Ehrlich? Will I vote for Miller and Bates?

I wish I had known it was a local poll from the get go... I would have listened harder to the questions...

In any case.. this is the 3rd telephone poll that I've done in the last week. The other two were straight forward questions without the twist... this last Miller Bates one, was pretty bad..

hocoblog said...

MC. Sounded like an issue poll/push poll to me. I took the same poll.

The purpose of which is to remind the voter of a particular issue.

The questions about Ehrlich and Bates/Miller was a true poll. Will you vote for me?

Hayduke said...

Interesting. I was about to post something about how silly it is to have a poll where the questions are so blatantly leading, but then, I knew nothing of push polls. Even so, it still seems easier to just do regular campaign stuff to remind voters of the issues.

Three polls in one week, though? That's pretty impressive. Your vote is obviously important. Down here in Oakland Mills, the phones are still silent...

Mary Catherine said...

One of the three was for my eldest son- who won't be voting for Ehrlich or O'Malley. Only two were for me... Come to think of it, the first two asked for us by name, the last one did not.