Sat, 19 July 2008
July 19, 2008
City treats its plans as if they're on Kleenex
What's the point of plans if they get dumped to suit developers?
It was oddly appropriate that the article about a proposed apartment-hotel-office tower project in South End was positioned on the Observer's front-page right next to one about scams and counterfeit Panthers' tickets. You might view the City Council's 2005 approval of a 120-foot height limit for that part of South End as a similar scam, a sort of counterfeit assurance to neighbors.
The proposal, from Harris Development Group, has won a positive recommendation from the development-loving zoning committee of the city's Planning Commission and is due for a July 21 yes-or-no vote from the City Council.
The city planning staff also smiles upon it, because it's near a station on the light rail line. “That site can support that density,” planner Tim Manes told the Observer's Dan Tierney. “Sometimes when you have density you have to have height.”
So what's the problem? Simply this. The 120-foot height limit – which allows 10- to 11-story buildings – is common throughout many city plans adopted for older parts of town. It's the height limit in the city's MUDD, or mixed-use development, and TOD, or transit-oriented district, zonings. It's the limit in the Transit Station Area Principles. In reality, allowing buildings that tall is too lenient to be of any protection to the bungalow-filled neighborhoods such as Dilworth's historic district, that tend to border the light rail line, planned future rail lines and corridors where MUDD zoning is most likely.
City plans aren't legally binding. They're merely merely suggestions to developers. Even MUDD and TOD zoning, binding once applied to a property, offer generous wiggle room for developers who want taller buildings.
Some neighbors of the proposed 230-foot-tall South End tower complain that they bought condos in the 300-foot-tall
If the city approves this violation of the South End Transit Station Area Plan, it will be yet another in a lengthy litany of city decision-makers treating plans as if they're written on Kleenex. Residents all over town should take it as confirmation that even when the council approves an area plan, it might well be as counterfeit as a fake Panthers ticket. You might say it's the city's planning scam.