Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Quiet Zoning Revolution

Bedford County is the latest Virginia locality to revisit its zoning regulations to make it easier for developers to design new communities according to the tenets of traditional neighborhood development. A new "planning development" zoning district will encourage sidewalks, street lamps and houses on small lots.

Developers still will have to go through the rezoning process to gain the PD-1 designation, but having a set of pre-approved zoning standards should make the job easier. According to Lynchburg's News & Advance, the first applicant for the PD-1 classification probably will be George Aznavorian, who wants to build a mixed use development in Moneta, at Smith Mountain Lake. Sayeth the News & Advance:

"It promotes pedestrian-friendly community," Aznavorian said of the new zoning district. Existing zoning wouldn't allow for the relatively small, roughly 5,000-square-foot lots that are planned for much of the Moneta development, he said.

Bedford is only one of many Virginia localities to revamp their zoning codes to encourage neo-traditional town development. Such development is much more compact and cost-efficient than scattered, disconnected, low-density sprawl development. Neo-traditional development also cuts down on traffic trips as residents find it easier to walk or ride their bikes for a number of errands, or, when they do drive, drive shorter distances to reach their destinations. The trick for planners is to discourage developers from putting neo-traditional developments in the wrong places -- in locations where they stress the regional transportation network -- or, if they do, to make sure developers pay their fair share of upgrading that network.


At 1:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One posting at 6:58 and the second almost identical posting at 7:00. You guys should work for the government :)

At 3:12 PM, Blogger subpatre said...

I wish the best for Bedford, but it's important to remember some of the not-so-easy principles behind community development. The newspaper descriptions aren't in-depth, but they don't list any industrial component.

The most reliable street load predictor are the home-to-work routes. If this planned community is vacant during the workday because of commuting to distant workplaces, a great deal of the reason for its existence is nullified. A salvation would be the ability of a potential industry's ability to locate within the community.

Jim, it appears time to reconsider your anonymous comment policy. The signal to noise ration has degenerated, Virginia's campaigns haven't gotten into gear, and it will only get worse. A policy allowing pseudo-nyms such as mine would be appreciated, since I cannot post under my name.

At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Joe Freeman said...

The Bedford move is not quite the shot in the dark that the newspaper accounts imply. The successful Wyndhurst development, adjacent to Lynchburg but located in Bedford County, is the source of both the inspiration for the latest announced projects and the receptiveness of the Bedford County Board of Supervisers, not previously noted as friends of the New Urbanism.

Wyndhurst is attractive, but not architecturally notable. However, it does have a new Disciples of Christ/Centra Health retirement home, a large family-oriented YMCA, and what appears to be a thriving retail sector in a comfortable, small-town setting. Residences for sale sell quickly. This development is cheek-by-jowl with an industrial area, not one of Bedford's many areas of open land with idyllic vistas.

As the YMCA and retirement home indicate, elements of what amounts to a public sector were in process from the initiation of the development. Some skepticism is in order in assessing the likely success of quick efforts to emulate Wyndhurst if the developers don't put into these newer projects something like the very extensive (and undocumented) groundwork that preceded Wyndhurst .

At 7:32 PM, Blogger subpatre said...

Joe, thanks for the details. A fine point hard to put into code is the difference between mandating a certain plan and enabling a plan. Another is (recognizing) and copying what works in a local situation.

Could you elaborate on "the very extensive (and undocumented) groundwork" you feel is needed for this project to succeed?

At 12:06 PM, Anonymous Joe Freeman said...

I can't comment on the projects that were mentioned in the paper, since I have had no contact with them. Wyndhurst works, in my judgemnt, because it had public (but not governmental) elements and amenities built in from the start. That was just what the initial principals -- a prosperous contractor who had served on his county's board of supervisors and a church group wanting to locate a retirement faciltiy in a functioning community -- wanted. The YMCA needed a suburban location. In the end, it took Centra Health as the financial white knight to make it work. Working all of that out took a lot of time and effort. Importantly, the scale and placement are right for both Wyndhurst itself and its surrounding settlements.

It was a bottom-up effort, not a fulfillment of government policy. It involved individuals and institutions who were thoughtful and had the resources to bring it off. The local governments cooperated beccuase this particular constellation of innovators would have been hard to refuse.

I'm not sure about what the results might be of plunking down some comfy brick storefronts and ancillary condos in Moneta.

And "Mayberry Hills??" Is there such a thing as terminal cuteness?

At 4:15 PM, Blogger subpatre said...

Thank you. Very helpful.


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