Planning


According to a downtown property owner, the city is setting itself up for lawsuits for the audacity of creating a master plan. Read on:

With the stroke of a pen, Ms. Flynn has officially designated private property as a public park and arbitrarily reduced potential development on other private property — without compensating the owner. This so-called planning is nothing less than a taking of property rights, known as “regulatory taking.” Regulatory taking is wrong on so many fronts, not the least of which is its illegality; unfortunately, it is all too common in today’s government.

Terrell Bowers, Manager
Super Duper Properties LLC

He wrote this accusation to Style, where he also accused Rachel Flynn of dishonesty, poor leadership, and arrogance.

I can’t figure out how to search for all the properties owned by Super Duper (any help?), but did discover that they own at least one vacant property downtown at 12 N. 8th St. A google search showed that one of the co-owners lives out of state.

What I find particularly galling is Mr. Bower’s accusation that Rachel Flynn “arbitrarily” created the plan. First, Mr. Bowers ignores the public nature of the planning process and attributes the plan to one city official. Second, he calls the plan arbitrary when a great deal of planning philosophy and public input created it.

But the upshot is- looks like we can brace for another lawsuit.

And it seems he’s not alone in his anger- a visitor to this blog commented on my post about Rachel Flynn suggesting that she’s incompetent and acting illegally.

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“The man,” in this case, being those leaders who attempt to denigrate public input, civic participation, and empowerment of the masses.

Stick it to him by showing up in your neighborhood to discuss how the Master Plan will affect your neighborhood.

Or go affect someone else’s neighborhood. That’s fine too.

Starting tonight.

The following is from an email from the city:

The City of Richmond Planning Commission invites property owners and interested members of the public to continue the discussion on the Draft Downtown Master Plan. All are welcome to attend focused sessions on Downtown Districts:

Manchester
(Manchester, Blackwell)
Thursday, January 31
6:00 – 8:00 pm
The Bankuet Place
1129 Hull Street

VCU and Downtown Neighborhoods
( Monroe Ward , Oregon Hill, and Carver)
Monday, February 4
6:00 – 8:00 pm
William Byrd Community House
224 South Cherry Street

Shockoe
(Shockoe Bottom and Shockoe Slip)
Thursday, February 7
6:00 – 8:00 pm
Main Street Station
1500 East Main Street

Broad Street and Jackson Ward
Tuesday, February 12
6:00 – 8:00 pm
The Jackson Center Building/DHCD Board Room
501 North 2nd Street

James River
(River, Islands and Riverfront Area)
Tuesday, February 19
6:00 – 8:00 pm
Main Library
101 East Franklin Street

City Center
(VCU Med. Center , Capitol Area, Biotech Park, and Central Office District)
Wednesday, February 20
6:00 – 8:00 pm
City Hall, 5th floor conference room
900 East Broad Street

A copy of the draft plan is available for review online:

(http://www.richmondgov.com/departments/communityDev/DownTownMasterPlan.aspx)

This city is totally out of control.

Our attorney is trying to warn us:

Although the State owns a number of the buildings located within the area encompassed by the Plan, none of those State buildings must comply with any of the recommendations outlined in the Plan due to the State’s immunity from land use controls by a local government.

This parental warning came in the context of investigating whether Planning Commission Chair Bob Mills has a conflict of interest in voting on the Master Plan since his architectural firm is employed by both the state and VCU.

River City Rapids hits the nail on the head:

I find it slightly ironic that if the DMP indeed has zero authority over those buildings that Mr. Mills represents in his work capacity, then why is his concern so passionate and outright that he (and others) insist the language in the report in regards to VCU be drastically toned down and some sections of it removed completely?

You tend to be the most defensive about things that matter to you most. And legal opinion or not, people’s actions tell you exactly where they stand and what they stand for.

…is an asset to our city.

While I usually write quick, reactionary pieces about Richmond, there are bloggers who write more thoughtful and nuanced posts about issues important to our city.

While my most recent post on the city’s planning commission and their idiotic attempts to trash the master plan rose to the top of RVABlogs most popular list, a more substantial post on the same topic got less attention (from RVABlogs readers, anyway).

Jon Baliles over at River City Rapids actually attended the Planning Commission meeting (with John Sarvay) and offers his eyewitness account and commentary in two excellent posts, A Resistance to Reflexively Go Along Parts I and II. Go read them.

Jon’s post in Part II argues that condos and public river access are incompatible, which I disagree with (though that might very well be true here in Richmond given our politicians’ inability to extract concessions from developers). Nevertheless, this disagreement is exactly the type of conversation that actually helps clarify the values our community holds in common: in this case public river access & green space.

I don’t know Jon and am, of course, joking when I say he has too much time on his hands.  I am thankful for his and John Sarvay’s very substantial contribution to covering the master planning process for downtown.

Inflammatory! Outrageous!

Who asked all these people what they thought should happen in Richmond? And why are they telling us what to do?

That’s the sentiment expressed (with my, ahem, rewording) about the master plan by planning commission members. The TD reports that several members were upset by Richmond residents’ request that the West Hospital at VCU be preserved:

“They’re kind of able to do what they want,” said commission member William M. Hutchins. “Why alienate them? They do a tremendous amount for the city.”

Commission Chairman Robert Mills said he found “inflammatory” some of the references to VCU, including the focus on preserving the old, art deco-style West Hospital.

Never mind that the concept of a master plan is to focus on design elements that make a city livable. Never mind that the point was to ask residents what they love about this city- what needs to stay and what needs to change.  If residents’ ideas ruffle the feathers of the power-brokers, we should ignore them.

John Sarvay at Buttermilk & Molasses recently posted about the difference between traditional zoning and the design-focused (form-based) zoning pushed by the master plan:

Traditional zoning worries about what people do inside of the buildings they own, and seeks to keep like clustered with like. Form-based code worries about architecture and design, about a building’s relationship to its neighbors, about creating functional and useful urban space.

So a major point of a master plan is to influence the architectural style used around the city. In that light, comments about which buildings contribute to making Richmond a livable, interesting city are completely appropriate.

It seems to me that any downtown landholder could be incensed by a master plan telling them how to build or what to preserve. Why would we be especially worried about VCU’s feelings?

Pictures of the building VCU wants to demolish, and the master plan wants to preserve:

west.jpg

west2.jpg

West Hospital, photo by taberandrew

Planning fatigue may be setting in here in Richmond with the endless discussion & analysis of the Crupi report and the Dover & Kohl Master Plan. But there’s a few voices everyone should hear before tuning out the rest of the planning conversation.

Reading the following excellent commentaries will either 1) reinvigorate your desire to make a difference or 2) make you want to throw your hands up in despair.

1. Find your inner creativity with Pete Humes: “Nine More Ideas to Save Downtown Richmond.” via the new RVA News.

My favorite idea: “Flood Shockoe Bottom and rename it “Little Venice.” This would eliminate any anxiety about future water damage and save the city millions.”

2. Don Harrison (SaveRichmond.com) puts words to my own despair about the chance these reports will change Richmond’s leadership culture: “You’ve Already Heard Us!

Flaws and all, Crupi’s latest work is still a strong affirmation of what we already know. It joins a mountain of previous studies, seminars, conferences and workshops that have drawn the same conclusions over and over again, stating the cases in different ways and from different vantage points. So the problem isn’t that people haven’t been talking, or planning, or brainstorming, about what this city should and can be. And the problem isn’t that the business community hasn’t been inviting people, and ideas, to the table on selected issues — and when it suits them to do so (sometimes there is even potato chips). The problem is that the powers-that-be haven’t been listening, or acting, once they get up from that table.

3. Rapport, a blog by “Young Real Estate Professionals of Richmond,” points out that even a brilliant Master Plan still has to compete with the redevelopment wishes of major players in town like Robin Miller and VCU- who can influence City Hall to override these plans & achieve their own goals.

So what strikes me as odd from these “Concept Maps”, is that they even exist. VCU is a real estate development juggernaut. They have their own Master Plan for their Monroe Campus and believe me…if they want to implement it, they will.

Of course, cornerstones of the Richmond blogging world Buttermilk and Molasses and River City Rapids both offer meaty analysis and hopeful takes on both Crupi’s report and the Master Plan. But if you’re reading this post, I assume you’ve read them already…

The crux of the issue is that Richmond doesn’t lack creative ideas- but the will to implement them. And so perhaps the real conversation revolves around how we create a grassroots force for change which holds those in positions of power accountable for their decisions.

It’s fitting on this first-in-a-while rainy day to write about the lack of transparency in our city government. Despite recent promising events, like the charette, Richmond’s politicos are rapidly returning to the status quo of obfuscation, backroom deals, and just plain old incompetency.

Story number one

Mayor Wilder cancels a town hall meeting to discuss the “revitalization” of Gilpin Court. Wilder’s mouthpiece Linwood Norman was unusually forthcoming about their wheeling and dealing:

“There’s behind-the-scenes planning going on, but the meeting was to kick that off,” Norman says…

How, exactly, does one kick off “behind-the-scenes planning” at a public meeting?

What?

Does that even make sense?

The real story is that land so close to downtown is too valuable to waste on poor folks- just ask Phillip Morris who funded (in part) a “revitalization plan” for the area which is so close to their new real estate investment. How much public input was part of that plan? So far as I can tell, none.

Story Number Two

Staubach Co. chosen to create plan for N. Boulevard.

John Sarvay said it best at Buttermilk and Molasses:

One thing not made clear in the Times-Dispatch’s recent article on the selection of The Staubach Company as the development company-of-choice to figure out what to do with 60 acres of city-owned land in North Richmond is how the Dallas-based company was selected. Apparently, they don’t have to attend spring training to play ball with Richmond’s City Hall — unlike Tulsa, where Staubach had to submit a proposal (competing against three other development firm[s])….

Here’s hoping one of Staubach’s first recommendations is that the significant residential population surrounding the North Richmond tract be included in the conversation, not to mention its most immediate educational neighbor — Virginia Union University. (I’m sure VCU already has tickets to the game.)

Thank you, John.

John and I have been repeatedly hammering the theme of the necessity of public involvement in planning. It’s dismaying that our elected representatives have handed the reigns over completely to a corporation from out-of-town. We’ll be watching what happens.

Story Number Three

Despite the headline on today’s TD about massive improvements to the city’s parks, there’s no mention whatsoever of the parks master plan which was to be finalized and revealed in September.

Has anyone seen this elusive document?

The Parks Department’s webpage sure hasn’t. The only page about the master plan is absurdly out-of-date.

Nothing like poorly advertised opportunities for public input followed up with no presentation of the results!

Speaking of poor advertising, River City Rapids reminds us that the results of another charette will be presented tonight!

“Presentation on the future of Monroe Park” Thursday, Oct. 18 from 6:30-9 p.m.

The meeting will be held in the first floor meeting room of VCU’s Brandt Hall, 720 W. Franklin St. across the street from the park. For more information, call Tyler Potterfield, 804-646-6364.

Of course, that information is not available on Monroe Park’s website- not even on their calendar of events.

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