City Council members today get to deal with some controversial stuff. At tonight's 6:30 p.m. meeting they're to vote on whether to accept the $25 million federal grant to start building a streetcar line. At their 5 p.m. dinner meeting they'll hear a briefing on the controversial tree ordinance revisions, five years in the making. And at a 3:30 p.m. committee meeting, the panel will hear about the controversial urban street design guidelines, which have been in the works for eight years. (Memo to government staff: If you have the temerity to propose something developers don't like, be prepared to spend many, many years on it.)
For all you local government aficionados, here's a link to what the council will be asked to vote on for the streetcar. And here's a link to two pro-con pieces that ran Saturday on the Observer's op-ed page, from council members Edwin Peacock III (he's voting no, he says) and David Howard (why he'll vote yes). And here's what the Observer's editorial board said about the streetcar on July 18, in "Streetcar is sound strategy, not silly frill."
Tree ordinance: At its 5 p.m. dinner meeting the council's to be briefed on the proposed strengthening of the city's tree ordinance – the part of the ordinance that applies to commercial development, including multifamily housing, but not the part for single-family subdivisions. Just to show you how things work, here's a list of the members of the stakeholder committee that has been hashing out the tree ordinance for FIVE YEARS.
I've put in red the members who represent developers or businesses whose major clients are developers. (Granted, just because you get paid by developers, or are one, it doesn't mean you're not sometimes environmentally minded. But I'm just saying.) I'm not sure how to categorize Henry Wallace from Duke Power, a utility company. It's a subsidiary of Duke Energy, which also co-owns Crescent Resources, which was a major developer around here until it had to file for bankruptcy.
I've put in blue the members who are government staff, and therefore are expected to be responsive to ALL members of the public, i.e. not say things that may tick off developers.
In green are the stakeholder members who aren't affiliated with the real estate and development industry and aren't local government staff.
Don McSween (City Arborist), Mary Stauble (Mecklenburg County Solid Waste), Lisa Hagood (ESP Associates, Designer), Lee McLaren (DPR Associates, Subdivision Steering Committee), Henry Wallace (Duke Power, Utilities), Tim Morgan/Andy Munn (REBIC, Home Builders Association), Bob Miller (Camas Associates, Architect), John Porter (Charter Properties, Developer/ Charlotte Apartment Association), Chris Buchanan (Moore & Van Allen, Tree Advisory Committee), Rick Roti (Sierra Club), Christa Rodgers (Parks and Recreation).
Even more revealing is to check out the cost-benefit analysis subgroup, whose mission was to apply the proposed changes to some development sites to see how much they might add to the cost of development. (It's amazing anyone was left at the Crosland or Childress Klein offices while this group was meeting):
Jon Morris (Beacon Partners), Clifton Coble(Bissell Development), Chris Kirby (Carlson Real Estate), Tom Lannin(Chestnut Consulting), Tricia Noble (Childress Klein), Sue Freyler(Cole Jenest & Stone), Bill Daleure (Crosland), Mike Wiggins(Crosland),Scott Henson (Crosland), Steve Mauldin(Crosland), Ju-Ian Shen (Design Resource Group), Al Harris (LSG), Debra Glennon (LSG), Jay Banks(Kimley-Horn), Ed Schweitzer (Land Design), Jeff Orsborn (OSG), Kavita Gupta (Perkins and Will) ,Brandon Plunkett(The John R. McAdams Co), Brian Crutchfield (Timmons Group), Terry Brennan (Trinity Partners), Paul Devine (Childress Klein), Landon Wyatt (Childress Klein), David Haggart (Childress Klein),Chris Daly (Childress Klein),
Trey Dempsey (Lincoln Harris).
Does it make sense to have plenty of site-plan, run-the-numbers expertise on a cost-benefit analysis group? Of course. But if you've ever wondered why run-of-the-mill Charlotteans think the city's government processes are dominated by developers, that's why.
Street designs: At 3:30 p.m. today the council's Transportation and Planning Committee (David Howard, Patsy Kinsey, Warren Cooksey and Michael Barnes) hears presentations on the Urban Street Design Guidelines, and the Centers Corridors & Wedges Growth Framework. The committee is being asked to make a recommendation to the full council on the CC&W Framework. If you haven't heard much about it, you're not alone. It's not been getting many headlines. Probably because it doesn't really change things very much. Or if it does, I haven't been able to find that section in it.
The street design guidelines have been controversial. Developers (who'll have to pay to put more streets and sidewalks into their developments, which takes away from developable land) contend the street requirement will raise costs. They've also acquired a sudden concern for storm water runoff (a concern they didn't seem to feel very powerfully when the city and county were trying to adopt watershed protections and floodplain regulations in the 1990s) and they're noting that all those sidewalks and extra streets will create more impervious surfaces. As if all the rooftops and driveways and surface parking lots they're building don't.
Short block lengths are a huge help to people trying to get around the city on foot. The city's attempt to shrink the allowable block lengths in its new development is admirable. Further, the USDG policy that was adopted in 2007 already compromised the transportation experts' earlier proposal, after developers complained. Here's hoping the City Council, as it deals with the staff's current project to codify the policy into the local ordinances, doesn't force yet another "compromise" of the already compromised guidelines.
Here's a link to the PowerPoint presentations that show the Centers Corridors & Wedges Growth Framework, and to the Urban Street Design Guidelines.