Friday, June 23, 2006

Correction to 6/23 Article in PB Post

According to Nicole Janok, the editors have agreed to print a correction (look for it on the inside lower left hand corner of the front page of tomorrow's (6/24) edition of the paper.) I pointed out that, contrary to the article, the "alternates" are actually full voting members when it comes to items before the Historic Preservation Board - essentially the Planning and Zoning Board is 7 members with 2 alternates and the Historic Preservation Board is a 9 member board.

The second item concerned the following paragraph which appeared on page 7c:

The appointments leave the board without a member with a strong historical preservation background."

I pointed out my background and I guess they agreed that I might have a strong background in historical preservation.

Things that make you go "Hmmmmmmm".

[update from 6/24 - They took care of the voting issue, however I guess they don't consider my background in historic preservation a strong one. You can be the judge of that]

"Political advertisement paid for and approved by Wes Blackman for Commissioner – District #3"

New PZHRPB Appointments

Last week, the City Commission met and made its annual reappointments to the PZHRPB, and to other City Boards. Quick background: The seven regular members of the PZHRPB have staggered 3 year terms. The two "alternate" members (full members of the Historic Resources Preservation Board) only vote on items relating to projects that are not in historic districts when a regular member of the 7 member P&Z Board are absent. Are you confused now? I hope I made that clear enough.

First of all, Jon MacGillis chose not to re-apply this year and his term will end at the end of July. We will miss his background in landscape architecture and experience in administering a large zoning department in the form of the Palm Beach County Zoning Division. Jon has been a stable and reliable presence on the board for many years. Unfortunately, our meetings were always on the eve of either his Zoning Commission or Board of County Commission meeting so I am sure the need to focus on his "paying job" played a role in his decision. Good luck to Jon and I hope to see him still involved in matters pertaining to Lake Worth in the future.

Unfortunately, the City Commission chose not to re-appoint Herman Robinson and Helen Green to the Board. In doing so, we lose the active involvement of people that live in two of the City's historic districts and who live near the downtown commercial center of Lake Worth. We also will miss the sensitivity that both of them gave in considering Certificates of Appropriateness and the proper role of redevelopment in the future of the City. I will miss chiding Herman in getting his point across and translating "Hermanese" to English - he is a great guy that made a tremendous contribution to the Board. And with Helen, we will miss her encyclopedic knowledge of the history of Lake Worth and her kind manner displayed in her support for the work of City staff and concerns of the neighborhoods.

We will have a reception before our July 19th meeting, starting at 5 p.m., in the City Hall Conference Room. Please plan on joining us in recognizing the contribution of our departing Board members and welcoming the new members.

As for the new appointments: We have been crying for an architect to serve on the Board for years and now we have one in Ed Le Blanc. Ed will be a full voting member of the Board and we look forward to his input, especially as it relates to design and harmonious, compatible development within the City. Anne Hoctor will be the first alternate - Anne has a private planning practice and well help fill the void left by Jon MacGillis leaving the Board.

Regarding the last appointment, Vincent DeVito, I am not sure what the City Commission was thinking. This is a gentleman that instead of moving a house to make way for his development project, tore it down "by mistake". We ended up fining him for this violation. I sincerely hope that he brings more than just a pure developer perspective to the Board. Time will tell. As said before, and contrary to the article in PB Post, he will be able to vote on COAs regardless of anyone being absent.

I understand that the last choice was between Mr. DeVito and Trip Cioci - I would have been preferred Trip's appointment in that it would be an appointment from the under-represented western portion of the City and he has proven to be an intelligent contributor in the political process. Do I necessarily agree with his point of view? Probably not, but that voice needs to be represented during our deliberations.

"Political advertisement paid for and approved by Wes Blackman for Commissioner – District #3"

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Highlights of PZHRPB Meeting of 6/21

Well, sometimes it's hard to predict what will happen at any given meeting. Last night was one of those. The bulk of our conversation and deliberation was regarding a project proposed for the southwest corner of Palmway and Lake Avenue. This is a currently vacant piece of property. A couple of years ago, we approved a three story mixed use building (office on 1st floor) with 12 residential units above - with parking contained within the building. The property was subsequently sold and the new owner submitted an application about a year ago for essentially the same plan, but with an additional 6 units.

Over that period of time, the City has had three urban designers/architects reviewing the plans. They were, chronologically Frank Yang, Bill Feldkamp and Darrin Engel, our current urban designer. As the project went through the review process, each of the three had different suggestions as to the architectural treatment of the building.

The project finally made its way to our agenda of June 7th. At that time, Darrin had given a list of architecturally related items that he would like addressed and we reviewed each at the meeting. There were also some minor variances related to the rear, or southern part, of the property, which we went ahead and approved. We
were about to approve the site plan and community appearance portion of the project, but some members (particularly John Paxman, Jon MacGillis and Lisa Maxwell) wanted Darrin to meet with the applicant in between that meeting and our meeting last night to work out the details.

So, we get our packets at the end of last week and Darrin indicated that they had addressed issues and he was o.k. with it. The revise
d plans showed what I thought to be a better building, especially in terms of proportions related to window openings and arch details.

Well, to make a long story short, most of the Board was not happy with the building, still. The major suggestion that came from those that were aesthetically challenged by the proposal was "take an eraser to the whole thing". Comments like "suburban architecture", "Best Western" and "not befitting our main street" all came out. I challenged everyone to try to be specific regarding what they don't like about it, including the public in attendance, and we received some detail (too massive, problems with windows/trim or lack thereof, relation to the street, etc.)

Now, I made the comment that if you added up the architectural hours spent on this project, including the applicant's architect and the three City architects that reviewed the plan over a time period of a year, we could all have a "nice vacation in Fiji". And, I had a hard time understanding how we could have had such scrutiny over that period in terms of architectural review and the most common comment at last night's meeting was "take an eraser to the whole thing - it's beyond tweaking."

At that point, I declared the system officially broken if this is the result. (See other posts re staffing)

Phil Spinelli made a motion, which failed 4-3 (Helen Green, Phil Spinelli and I supporting the motion) to approve the project with conditions. John Paxman then made a motion to bring back a revised plan for our second meeting in August (the 19th). This was not enthusiastically accepted by the applicant and they left without knowing what direction to go. Not sure what they will do to respond, but I have since encouraged them to look at the original approval and see what they can add, if anything.

And, of course, the PB Post reporter was there through the debate on this, so we can expect an article, I am sure.

Let me know what you think about the renderings. A "cool" feature is that you can click on the pictures and get a larger view. Try it and see!

Also important to note is that this project was presented before the CRA at its May 23rd meeting. This link will take you to the staff report. The project was very well received by the CRA.

I'll share some of the things I discussed under board member comments later.

"Political advertisement paid for and approved by Wes Blackman for Commissioner – District #3"

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Notes from the 2006 Congress of New Urbanism

(Note: This was sent in an e-mail to all four City Commissioners, the Mayor, Paul Boyer and Sharon Jackson on 6/20/06)

There was a national New Urbanism conference in Rhode Island within the past month. Some of my planning colleagues attended and one prepared the following notes from the conference. These are short hand notes and more information on New Urbanism can be found by searching the Internet. Essentially, the NU movement promotes compact, resource and pedestrian friendly development - consistent with long standing urban - not suburban, development patterns. In many ways, Lake Worth is what everyone who is doing new "urban" greenfield development wants to be - a real "feather in our cap" and one that we can use to promote responsible redevelopment within the City.

I have highlighted sections of these notes that I thought were particularly insightful or applied in some way to the City of Lake Worth. I give credit to Andrew Frey, an attorney with Gunster Yoakley, who is the author of these notes. He provided a disclaimer in his transmitting e-mail that these didn't necessarily reflect his personal views - so it probably is a fairly accurate, albeit condensed, version of what he experienced at the conference. I have also provided this on my blog I am also not necessarily a proponent of all of these views, but I find them interesting and many of them we as a City are already doing. They are definitely worthy of discussion in light of the development of the Master Plan.


Wes Blackman

Congress for the New Urbanism XIV

Providence, Rhode Island

Day 1 – Opening Remarks, Andres Duany

FAQ About New Urbanism (NU)

1. What is NU? It is about the environment and human habitats. Environmental regulation is everywhere, but environmentalists still play the victim, and in fact lose to developers all the time, because most human habitats are unpleasant and people want to move out of them, spread out. There are few places where people enjoy living together in a compact development pattern. Basically, "the environmental problem" in America is due to the American middle class lifestyle. But it clearly cannot be solved by environmental regulation; limits to development must be primarily market-driven.

NU is complex and pragmatic, not categorical or ideological. It is about what works in the long run. The present is actually an impediment to good planning. NU is good design plus time.

2. Could you sum up NU on a bumper sticker? Compact, walkable, diverse.

3. What drives NU? First, it was a backlash against the suburban pattern of development, and its proponents were developers. Then environmentalists got behind NU, advocating smart growth policies. For example, Manhattan is the most environmental city in the US because it preserves wilderness and attracts tourists who would otherwise disturb the bears in Yellowstone. Now NU is driven by the price of energy. Energy may not continue to skyrocket in price, but it will never be cheap again, as described in the most important book of our time, The Long Emergency.

Note: Democracy doesn't avoid mistakes, it just correct them in the long run. Dictatorship keeps making the same mistakes again and again.

Why are developers drawn to NU? Market forces. A developer delivers a house plus amenities. An amenity may natural, such as location or view, or man-made, such as a clubhouse, golf course, or guardhouse. The developer pays for the amenity, either in the cost of land or construction, and then passes the cost to the home buyers. NU creates a fourth kind of amenity: urbanism, sense of place, the good design of things a developer would have to build anyway. This amenity is free, but the developer can charge a premium for it.

4. Don't people still drive in NU communities? Yes, good NU communities actually park more cars on average than traditional subdivisions. In fact, a community that minimizes or bans cars is not NU. NU promotes mobility choices.

5. Why don't NU communities have better town centers? Manhattan took time to get to where it is. Communities have to go through development cycles. For example, Seaside, the first NU community, will become a slum, and then will be rediscovered as a historic district.

6. How does retail work in NU communities? Most importantly, retail in NU communities is not exempt from national competition. Mom & Pop stores still have to learn the new rules, and NU communities should include both national and local retailers. Anyone who hates Starbucks is an ideologue, not a true NU.

Note: Some critics of NU say that NU communities are not "real places." This is a medieval way of thinking, i.e. that an abstract idea is somehow more real than bricks and mortar.

7. Why have home owners associations (HOAs) ? NU communities are not exempt from government; they are still governed by federal, state, and local law. In fact an HOA is an additional level of government, and local governments now get ideas and customer service standards from HOAs, in the American tradition of "laboratories of democracy."

8. Why do NU communities look so traditional? Seaside included Modern architecture from the start. The traditional look of NU communities is market-driven, democratic, not nostalgic. Modernists only raise this criticism because Modernism is not in demand and Modernists feel impotent. In Modernism, there are no rules, so it is impossible to do anything wrong. Traditional architecture can be done wrong, resulting in kitsch, so NU produce pattern books. NU does not care about style in general, but does recognize that if a style is chosen, it should be done correctly.

9. How is NU different from architecture? The fundamental difference is heterogeneity. NU puts in place a system so that different design professionals can act sequentially and the result will embody the principles of NU. First the planners plan, then the designers design the public spaces, then different architects design each building. This also allows for learning over time, an organic process. NU is about designing and managing a process, not designing individual buildings.

10. Where's the affordable housing? NU is affordable, but it doesn't stay that way. Prices go up in a kind of instantaneous gentrification. The only way to keep housing affordable is to do ugly HUD-style project housing. The best way to promote affordability is to include rental buildings and duplexes, and allow outbuildings in single-family districts.

11. Why are most NU communities greenfield developments? Actually, 50% of NU developments are infill. Regardless, greenfield developments will get built anyway, so they might as well be NU.

Day 1 – Seminar 1, Victor Dover

Challenges to NU Development

1. NIMBYism. The solution is communication and information, such as a charette, which creates a rapid feedback loop between the developer and the public. As a general rule, when passions are hot, add information, and when enthusiasm is low, add passion.

2. Bad zoning. The solution is form-based codes.

3. Bad architecture. The solution is better training. Architecture professors often criticize NU communities for the bad architecture of individual buildings. But those buildings were designed by their former students. The key to better training is looking to precedent, what works.

4. Bad streets. The solution is better street design standards. Are wider streets with larger turning radii and no trees really safer for pedestrians?

Day 1 – Seminar 2, Emily Talen

The History of NU

Over the course of the 20th Century, US urban population grew 40%, while suburban population grew 700%, and four schools of thought rose and fell in urban planning:

1. Social Reformers. Promote social services. Not concerned by urban form, i.e. not anti-urban.

2. Garden City. Advocate totally new settlement patterns that create a sense of place, early NU.

3. City Beautiful. Burnham and his ilk. Advocate planned cities or adding order to existing cities, particularly by introducing grand civic spaces under the theory that good planning benefits people and commerce. Not concerned with social problems.

4. Regionalists. Advocated location of cities and other human interventions based on highest and best use of geographic advantages and natural resources, e.g. the Tennessee Valley Authority. Very authoritarian.

While these four groups were fighting, Corbu came out of nowhere and swept the global imagination of planners. NU has emerged to revive and synthesize the original four schools, finding solutions in the fertile tension among the four.

Day 1, Seminar 3, Dhiru Thadani

The Transect

Notes: There are 5-7 spaces for every car in the US. Narrower streets are actually safer, e.g. 9' lanes instead of 12'. 99% of all pedestrian fatalities occur when the vehicle is traveling faster than 38 mpg.

Day 2, Seminar 1, panel

How Finance NU?

Bob Burch: bonds

Joel Cohen: TIF

Bob Chapman: developer

David Mayfield: developer

Kelli Stevens: marketing

How finance NU?

KS: Banks look to the same three factors regardless – character, credit, and collateral – but it is important to sell the bank on the NU vision.

RC: Banks don't care about NU, only care about equity, location, and pro formas.

BB: Bank will finance anything, regardless of concept, as long as you can show that it will sell.

DM: "New" is a bad word to banks`, but now there are comps.

Subsidies for infill?

JD: Tax credits: New Market, if 20% of rent is from commercial use; historic; green building; brownfield; low-income, i.e. up to 80% AMI

What about mixed-use?

DM: The secondary market will not accept loans for mixed use, so banks have to keep in house.

KS: Need friendly appraiser.

BB: Office use is scary for banks.

RC: If can, build uses in phases, e.g. retail later.

DM: 4-story brownstone is easy, three units over retail, avoid ADA.

What is your exit strategy?

DM: Keep it simple so you can get out quickly. The key is phasing for more flexibility.

How can bank help?

DM: Keep the same loan officer on the job for the whole project.

RC: Get a good appraiser who will recognize the income stream from the first sales and how that money can be used to finance later phases, i.e. self-finance.

Day 2, Seminar 2

Modern architecture in NU

Why should NU include Modern architecture?

1. There is some market demand for it.

2. Modern architecture can be urban

3. Modern architecture expresses optimism in future

4. Diversity of styles is more modern

Seaside: The design code only applies to homes, not public buildings, and the code is style-neutral. Public buildings maybe any style, and several are definitely Modern. One home owner was specifically encouraged to push Modern as far as possible within code, and the neighbors hated the result. Prospect has a design code, but many individual houses are modern. Aqua has no code, but all the units ended up looking the same.

Day 3, Seminar 1, panel

Doing well by doing good

David Pace: Baldwin

If your development doesn't have a view, you have to create a sense of place for value and profit. You should create such a premium for every lot, i.g. frequent parks and public waterfronts, not waterfront lots. However, you have to have the courage to charge for that premium on every lot.

You cannot tell what product category our buildings contain by looking at them. What looks like a $4M home could just as easily be a rental building containing $700/mo apartments. Baldwin has 350 product types all being sold at the same time, which is known as co-absorption. Lots are designed to fit any of the product types: 120' feet deep, alley-loaded parking.

Deal with lots of builders, so no one builder can buy lots and sit on them. Make sure contracts with builders have strict time limits and clear rights of redemption, i.e. you can take lots back from builder and sell to another builder to maintain velocity. Another cost saving: a good code up front allows builders, not the developer, to hire and pay for architects.

Denise Gammon: Stapleton

City and developer negotiated a document, called the Green Book, outlining both the design and the economics of the development. Sustainability should be market-driven, but you have to create a market for it by educating all the stakeholders. For example, the Green Book requires 1/3 open space. Individual lots in Stapleton are only 90' deep, but this is made up for by an abundance of parks. Customer surveys consistently show that the #1 amenity of Stapleton is walkability to the town centers.

The first phase of Stapletong included 1M square feet of retail, so the developer could use the revenue to issue $150M of revenue bonds to help finance the rest of the deal. Try to externalize the cost of infrastructure with bonds or TIF.

Keeping the product mix diverse and the number of builders high (18) promotes absorption. Stapleton neighborhoods are like "Chia Pets," just add water and they grow instantly. Contracts with builders only last for one year, and the developer only works with mid-sized builders who can't hold onto lots.

Notes: NU is best as infill, but for a small project, do not overspend on amenities. Do your homework on market demand. NU projects are 15-20% more expensive to build, but command 30% premiums and 50% faster absorption. Even in an NU development, 80% of land goes to single-family homes, but most profits come from multi-family. The myth is that only luxury home-buyers have enough money to pay a park premium, but that is untrue; all product types will pay a park premium. The best way to phase a project is to start with the area either 1) with most product types, 2) near existing neighborhoods, or 3) including town center retail for revenue bonds. The best way to ensure affordability is a land trust.

"Political advertisement paid for and approved by Wes Blackman for Commissioner – District #3"