Bad Zoning Decision

I wasn't able to attend the last City Council Briefing. I know that there was lots of stuff going on that I am interested in knowing more about. And I since haven't been able to read Sandy's blog (She usually has a good, honest review of the meetings) I don't really know what happened.

I did attend the last meeting of the Greensboro Zoning Commission. I was disappointed in the approval of an apartment complex on Freeman Mill Road. I drove to the site and can't understand how the Planning Department and the Zoning Commission could think that this project is a good idea. If the zoning decision is appealed, and it should be, it will be heard at the Dec. 20 meeting of the City Council.

I mentioned to John Hammer, who was at the meeting, that I thought the apartment complex was a bad idea. He asked me if I could think of a better use of the land. That is a legitimate question. I'm not sure how to answer it. Maybe a city park? At least, if it were a park, the area would be patrolled by Greensboro Police and some of the problems that opponents of the project see as bad for their neighborhood would be lessened. Even an office and/or retail complex would seem a better use of the land than the kind of apartment complex proposed at the meeting.

The proposed entrance to the complex will be a right-in, right out only on a blind curve on a busy road with a median. This invites U-turns in order to drive toward Downtown Greensboro. That alone seems to be a bad call for any kind of development with only one entrance/exit point. There will be one way in and out of a cul-de-sac type road which will be a private driveway, not a city maintained street. More problems??? A buffer area (because there is a stream on the property) and a fence on one side of the proposed apartments (I don't think that this is a requirement of the zoning) are suppose to isolate the complex from surrounding areas. A fence on one side??? What good does a fence on one side do???

I'm sure we will be hearing more about this project. I hope City Council Members will study this proposal well before they make a decision.

What do you think?


Vada said...

NO MORE DEVELOPMENT! I vote for a park. Especially if there is a wetland area involved.

Peter Kauber said...

The Freeman Mill Road GFLUM amendment request should be denied. The question to ask is NOT the question that seems to have been asked in recent amendment cases (“Is the proposal reasonable?”) but rather “Is the current GFLUM unreasonable?” In order for the land use portion of Connections 2025 to function as intended, namely, as a framework within which development is to occur, it cannot be placed on an equal footing with particular development requests. It must stand above them. In short, for an opposing request to be credible, the GFLUM must be shown to be defective. In this case, the parcel in question is surrounded on three sides by low-density residential, consistent with the current GFLUM, and the existing residential areas appear to be stable over time. Thus, there is nothing on the ground to indicate that the GFLUM is off-base, and there is no present instability that could be exploited with the idea of creating a different future dominant land-use (or set of uses). Thus, the GFLUM is entirely reasonable. If the GFLUM is reasonable, then it is not unreasonable. The GFLUM passes the test, and the request to change it is not credible.

Elizabeth Keathley said...


1. The proposed development would increase the amount of rental property in Glenwood, which we already have in abundance. The Comprehensive Plan (Connections 2025) encourages “owner occupancy as a way to promote home maintenance and rehabilitation” (Policy 6B.1), but owner occupancy in Glenwood is less than 50% according to the 2000 census. And there is no immediate need for rental housing in Glenwood—many rental units are now vacant.

2. The proposed development undermines the work neighbors have been doing to improve the neighborhood, for example: We recently planted 75 new trees with the aid of the NeighborWoods program, but this was only half the number of trees we were eligible for. Many absentee landlords did not return their permissions to plant, and we could not reach them to discuss the project because their phone numbers were unlisted (Thank you to the landlords who said yes!!)

3. The proposed development does not support the Connections 2025 objective to “conserve and enhance existing neighborhoods,” nor recommended strategies to “identify infill sites and compatible redevelopment opportunities that would strengthen existing neighborhoods” (6A.1). Glenwood was planned as a grid, with walkable, tree-lined streets, transit (formerly the trolley), a central business area, mixed business and residential buildings, and open spaces, parks and creeks. Contemporary urban designers, including contributers to Connections 2025, are now returning to Glenwood-style development ideas. As the Comprehensive Plan Monitoring Committee remarked on the Zoning Staff Report, the proposed development would wedge an incompatible use in between single family residential, and does not support Comprehensive Plan Policy 6A.4: "Implement measures to protect Greensboro’s neighborhoods from potential negative impacts of development, redevelopment, and/or public projects that are inconsistent with the neighborhoods’ livability, architectural, or historical character, and reinvestment potential.”

4. The cul-de-sac design of the development does not fit the style or scale of the neighborhood and will have negative consequences for transit, community cohesion, and community character. Renters of the proposed development would not have easy access to the neighborhood, other neighbors, or businesses in Glenwood. Security of the neighborhood would suffer because the cul-de-sac design invites crime [S. Chih-Feng Shu, “Housing Layout and Crime Vulnerability,” Urban Design International Vol. 5/no. 3 (1 December 2000): 177-189].

5. The proposed development does not support Connections 2025’s principle of “integrated development patterns and transportation networks that work together to support such objectives as mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly communities and use of alternative travel modes” (8.1). The cul-de-sac design defeats Connections 2025’s call for new development that supports “transportation objectives, including…adequate connectivity of local street system…[and] pedestrian and bicycle facilities that are safe, convenient, and attractive” (8F.1). The developers have not incorporated into their design “transit-supportive design features,” as suggested by Connections 2025 (8C.3). The development offers no access to the pedestrian- and bike-friendly streets of Glenwood. The proposal is for a commuter island within, but with no connection to, the Glenwood neighborhood.

6. The proposed development impairs community character by diminishing the neighborhood’s green space. Glenwood’s perennial streams, tree canopy, and open spaces are crucial to its community character (Glen: a secluded narrow valley; wood: a dense growth of trees—Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, tenth edition). Glenwood continues to lose trees faster than we can replace them through nice programs like NeighborWoods. The proposed development obviously exacerbates this loss. The parking lot run-off of the proposed development is likely to threaten the perennial stream at the bottom of the slope. There may be wetlands on the property, which would be threatened by the proposed development. Connections 2025 recognizes the crucial role that “parks and greenways, urban and woodland tree canopy, stream corridors and wetlands, and air and water quality” play in preserving community character and enhancing quality of life (5.1.2), but this doesn't seem to have been considered in the zoning decision.

7. The Zoning Staff Report for this development is flawed. It states that the proposed development supports Comprehensive Plan Policy 4C: "Promote new patterns and intensities of use to increase economic competitiveness and enhance quality of life in urban areas.” But the quality of life and economic benefits that proceed from compact development have been ignored in the staff's analysis. Because the development proposes to open only onto Freeman Mill Road rather than onto our neighborhood streets, its residents are not likely to shop in our stores. The development does not support related policies that call for compact development to be “transit-oriented,” “pedestrian scale,” and “mixed use” (4C.1); and for “connected, pedestrian-oriented streets” (4C.2)--the things that enhance quality of life.
The Zoning Staff Report states that the proposed development supports Comprehensive Plan Policy 6A.2: "Promote mixed-income neighborhoods.” But this analysis is not accurate because the development will add more lower-end housing in our neighborhood, which is already overwhelmingly working-class; the development does not offer amenities to attact "young professionals working downtown."
The Zoning Staff Report states that the proposed development supports Comprehensive Plan Policy 6C: "Promote the diversification of new housing stock to meet the needs of all citizens for suitable, affordable housing.” But this is not accurate because the proposed development does not offer any innovative housing model, such live/work spaces, nor any mixed commercial/residential or mixed housing types within the development, as advocated by Connections 2025 (6C.2). Rather, it proposes blocks of apartment buildings, a housing type that Glenwood already has.

8. Glenwood is an historically significant neighborhood that deserves better development. At the zoning board meeting, the staff said that the developers had done an "adequate" job of meeting standards. I'm pretty sure no one on the city council would like "adquate" development in their neighborhood: the quality of an "adequate" new development has nowhere to go but down as it ages. Bad planning and bad design have bad long-term consequences. Glenwood needs good development that can conserve and enhance its traditional character; assistance with comprehensive planning; incentives to support restoration of historic buildings; and incentives for redevelopment that respects neighborhood context and sensibilities.