ARTICLES FROM AIA REDWOOD EMPIRE NEWSLETTER AND COMPLETE NEIGHBORHOOD POLICY:
SMART Ideas Urban Design Community Charrette and Competition
November 20-21, 2009
by Julia Donoho, Director Regional and Urban Affairs
Last year, the Regional and Urban Affairs activities of the American Institute of Architect, Redwood Empire (AIARE) included support for the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) train including lunch and evening programs, circulating a petition of AIA and Associate members in support of SMART, phone banking, letter writing campaign, raising donations to SMART, and yes, even standing on street corners as election day approached waving SMART signs to stimulate support. SMART was successful at the polls, and the next phase began – implementation.
This year, the Regional and Urban Affairs focus of AIARE has been on more SMART activity, starting to look at the different areas where the train is coming to see the issues and opportunities for urban transformation in Sonoma and Marin communities. For 2009, we have focused on the North Santa Rosa station location, and have developed a SMART Ideas Urban Design Community Charrette and Competition in collaboration with the Leadership Institute for Ecology and the Economy (Institute). The Institute has been a strong supporter of Smart Growth, with annual symposiums, and their interests are well aligned with the AIA’s 10 Principles for Livable Communities, for a synergistic and mutually beneficial collaboration. The purpose of the Charrette and the Competition is to take a big picture look at the urban design of NW Santa Rosa to see what options there are for retrofitting suburbia in that area as the SMART train system is developed and becomes operational.
On November 20-21, 2009, a Community Charrette was held at the Steele Lane Community Center, and was attended by 90-100 community members. On Friday, the Charrette included various presentations about NW Santa Rosa. On Saturday, there was a bike tour of NW Santa Rosa and a series of Community Roundtables facilitated by RK Stewart, FAIA.
In the first presentation, Julia Donoho introduced the Charrette with a presentation covering the long term time frame of urban planning efforts and results, addressing some basic concepts of urban design to create livable and walkable communities, touching on the history of NW Santa Rosa, and concluding with the purpose of the Charrette and Competition, which is to:
- Use the coming of the SMART train as a catalyst to re-envision the future of the community
- Invite broad thinking of community members, planners, and architects for sustainable urbanism
- Encourage connectivity of multiple modes of transportation
- Open discourse about livable and walkable communities
- Create opportunities for new connections between centers of activity
- Stimulate excitement about new possibilities for urban transformation
- Discover alternatives for retrofitting suburbia in a three square mile area of NW Santa Rosa
The area proposed for the Charrette and Competition encompasses all the area between Marlow and Mendocino Avenue and from Piner to College Avenue. That area includes the Santa Rosa High School, Santa Rosa Junior College, County Administrative Center, the County Jail, Civil Family and Criminal Courts (on both sides of the 101), Kaiser Hospital, Empire College, Schulz Ice Arena and Museum, Coddingtown Mall, and various neighborhoods.
Ms. Donoho showed a picture of NW Santa Rosa from circa 1966, showing its background as an agricultural area just beginning to be developed with institutional, commercial and residential land uses. Already, Highway 101 and the train tracks were present and key stakeholders in the area were already starting to develop their properties. The County had built a few buildings, Coddingtown Mall was just starting to get built, the SRJC and SRHS were already present, and there was light industrial development along the tracks. Because the area was agricultural, the layout of streets and parcel sizes was appropriate for car travel around the area, and there were not any significant urbanistic monuments or public spaces. Each parcel developed according to when it was sold without an urban planning vision for NW Santa Rosa.
Altogether, the NW area of Santa Rosa brings all the detriments of urban sprawl – car oriented, inconsistent, unplanned development – together with all the elements of urbanity – schools, housing, commercial, government, and health care facilities – without the urbanistic connections necessary to make the area livable and walkable. Ms. Donoho contends this is the perfect place to try to retrofit suburbia and transform this area, and that the new train stop presents a terrific opportunity to examine the larger urban context. The time frame for urban planning is about 50 years from concept to fruition. Much can be done to encourage the transformation of this area into a more walkable and livable community over the long run.
Next, John Nemeth, the Planning Manager for SMART, gave a presentation about the North Santa Rosa SMART station planning efforts and options. SMART has been looking at two different sites – one at the Union Pacific ‘Wye’ and another at Guerneville Road. The Wye site has some advantage in having greater area for surface parking of up to 630 cars, but is contaminated and may not be able to support other mixed use development. The Guerneville site is smaller, and presents different urban opportunities, if the minimum of 285 parking spaces can be provided.
Lisa Kranz, Interim Supervising Planner for the City of Santa Rosa, gave a presentation about the City’s application for a grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for Station Area Planning (SAP) efforts within a ½ mile radius of the proposed station location in North Santa Rosa. The SAP process will address land use, housing, parking, transportation connectivity, pedestrian oriented design, and financing and implementation of infrastructure and public facilities.
The difference between the Charrette/Competition and the SAP is that the former will address a bigger picture view, inviting many ideas and out of the box thinking about urban design for a larger area, and the latter will be a more detailed planning process, for a smaller area, addressing specific criteria and quantifiable objectives.
Following the City, Mark Hummel, Major Project Architect for the County of Sonoma, presented three scenarios for development of the County Administrative Center. These are feasibility scenarios prepared for the County by Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum, to assist the County in developing a vision for development of the County Administrative Center. The three scenarios – Town Square, Crescent Park, and Winding Parkway – all include elements of government buildings mixed with public spaces, commercial offices, retail, housing and parking, in a multi-story mixed use development of much greater density than the current County Center development. Mr. Hummel also presented the County Center Facilities Planning Proces, underway with Gensler Associates to study county wide service delivery and plan for more efficient and strategic options.
Lois Fisher, Principal of Fisher Town Design, presented the Complete Neighborhood overlay proposal she recently made to both the City and County Planning Commissions. The City of Santa Rosa has adopted the proposal into their General Plan, to become an overlay tool in their zoning code. Specifically, the new LUL-E-7, a policy under the goal of creating livable
Neighborhoods directs the City to:
Develop a zoning category to implement the complete neighborhoods concept to allow the development of compact, walkable, mixed use neighborhoods including various housing types, non-residential job generating uses, services, and public facilities which center on a square or green and which include a transit stop. Include criteria for the district’s application in developed and undeveloped sites, such as ideal size, and consider the use of form-based regulations.
Ms. Fisher also presented her work on the proposal to have the North Santa Rosa SMART train station located at the Guerneville Road site. She prepared this presentation working for Codding Enterprises and Creative Housing Associates. In a very compelling presentation, Ms. Fisher showed that a new connection of Coffey Lane past the proposed train station and connecting to Coddingtown Mall, the transit hub there, and a proposed bicycle and pedestrian overcrossing of Highway 101 to the SRJC, could make pretty quickly the urban transformations from auto orientation to multiple modes of transportation, connecting them all together for a flourishing of this area of Santa Rosa.
The presentations for the Friday session of the Community Charrette could not touch on all the activity in NW Santa Rosa, but there is a lot going on. The SRJC has recently built and renovated several key facilities resulting in a much improved campus. One of those facilities – a parking garage was somewhat controversial and only went forward when the SRJC agreed to give funds toward the development of an Highway 101 bicycle and pedestrian overcrossing. The Administrative Office of the Courts has just recently entered a long term lease on new courtrooms (built to suit) for the Civil and Family Law Divisions on the west side of Highway 101 at the Empire College property. Further, they recently announced the selection of Richard Meier and Partners to design a new Criminal Courthouse, and are considering several locations in Santa Rosa. The County hopes they will build the new Criminal Courthouse adjacent to the County jail to save taxpayer money transporting prisoners from the Main Adult Detention Facility, and the County is in planning stages to expand the jail. Kaiser Permanente has just added another medical tower, to their Bicentennial campus, which will open in 2010. All in all, there is a lot of activity occurring in NW Santa Rosa that makes this an opportune time to look at the larger urban context and discuss opportunities for greater connectivity, walkability and livability.
On Saturday, the Charrette began with a bike tour led by Chris Culver of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. 16 cyclists visited a variety of the areas being discussed, including both proposed station sites, in a seven mile loop from the Steele Lane Community Center around to 6 locations – through the County Center to the Main Adult Detention Facility and Courts, across Bicentennial to the Civil and Family Courts, south on Range to the Wye site, some touring around the Jennings/Edwards/Cleveland area, up the train tracks to Guerneville Road, following Ms. Fisher’s proposal for the Coffey Lane extension, around the mall, under the freeway and up to the SRJC on Elliott, then back to the beginning for the community roundtables.
RK Stewart, FAIA, Associate Principal of Perkins & Will, facilitated the community roundtables. There were two principal session s – addressing issues and looking at opportunities. Community members voted with tape dots on the most important of these issues, which were in order of top dot winners:
- Access and connectivity
- Access to existing jobs and services
- Infill and preservation of open space
- Ridership catchment
- Balance of public and private partnerships
- Sprawl repair
- Catalyzing development
- Economic development
- Clarity of key issues and facts
- Regulations affecting key issues
Once the issues were assigned to different tables, community members gathered at the different tables to discuss those issues. Architects Daniel Strening, Mark Adams, Kevin Kellogg, Alima Silverman, and David Carpenter helped with the roundtables. Each session was reported back by one of the community members. One of the tables addressed the pros and cons of both station location options, while another looked at placemaking opportunities.
The Charrette was successful for including a wide variety of community participants, giving a large amount of information to the community while gaining valuable feedback.
The information from the community roundtables is being developed into a short report that will be made available to participants in the SMART Ideas Urban Design Competition. The Competition commences with the Community Charrette and runs until the end of January. For more information about the competition, please go to www.smartideascompetition.com
Building Livable Communities Along the SMART Corridor
Leadership Institute for Ecology and the Economy Smart Growth Symposium V
October 14, 2009
by Julia Donoho AIA, Esq.
The Leadership Institute for Ecology and the Economy sponsored their Fifth Smart Growth Symposium on October 14, for “Building Livable Communities Along the SMART Corridor.” This was an important symposium, well attended by politicians and community leaders from Sonoma and Marin, and served to focus interest on development along the SMART corridor, since citizens of Marin and Sonoma passed the vote last November to implement the SMART train.
First we heard from Charles McGlashan, Marin Supervisor and Chairman of the SMART Board. He encourages us “to be intensely stubborn about the values we are looking for and hold on tight.” We can hold the vision to create a vibrant beautiful place for people to live and play. Something that is ennobling of people living and working a healthier lifestyle is possible. We must make choices that nurture our experience and compete with economics and convenience. As architects we need to paint a picture of a better urban realm and achieve buy-in from the community to be served. People are visual, we must give them an image that sparks their imagination and serves as a guidepost to a new way of envisioning the transformed landscape.
Next we heard from Doug Johnson, a Senior Planner at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). Doug reminds us that the one-half mile radius is the optimum for walkability, and those are the projects that the MTC supports. The walking experience must be enjoyable – with services, public spaces, safe and enjoyable, people oriented experiences. Key to success are better pedestrian connectivity and higher transit service to new developments that are higher density.
Ken Kirkey, Planning Director for the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), focused on three programs of ABAG – planning grants, capital grants, and technical assistance. ABAG is working to incentivize smart growth in the Priority Development Areas (PDA) identified in their plan. Any locality may apply for PDA status to be eligible for these grants. Finally, Ken reminded us that current land use and planning is designed to deliver projects not neighborhoods. How do we change the development planning process to deliver neighborhoods within a framework of existing suburbanism? i.e. how do we retrofit suburbia under multiple ownerships? What is the development process, what is the land use approval process?
Communitas Development’s President, Will Fleissig spoke next. He came with some innovative thoughts. Will believes that we need to re-think our strategies for planning and funding urban transformation along the SMART corridor. He would like to see the North Bay re-formulate the idea of where we need to stimulate thinking and funding. Instead of just looking at the individual stops, we should be looking at the whole corridor, one sustainable corridor, for the whole 75 miles of the SMART train route. We should re-examine how people get to and from the stations. We should re-measure the area of influence – we can’t focus on the half mile radius only, and we may need to look for bigger scale to study, plan, implement and fund change. Along this line, we should re-plan for transit districts not TOD projects, take a larger picture more holistic view. Finally, we should re-fund our vision by working together to expand the funding base with bigger picture strategies.
Will recommends a joint powers transit coordinator, a livability benefits manager, to bring together the diverse jurisdictional and regional efforts to plan and pull together pull together in sustainable cohesive corridor. In closing, to change our future we need radical execution to achieve visibility, to think differently to make change, to measure our success in actual GHG reductions along the whole corridor, and to manage our future so that we truly coordinate among stakeholders
Next we heard about individual Station Area Planning efforts in Santa Rosa – Railroad Square, at Larkspur Landing, and in Cloverdale. These three unique efforts are already underway and employing some innovative strategies to increase walkability, livability, and vitality. And we heard about financing and other strategies to make new transit districts more viable. As John Stewart said, these projects are challenging on many levels and you “Have to be able to walk and chew gum” to be in this business. Planning codes need to change and parking needs to be scarcer and more expensive.
All in all it was an inspiring day. Tanya Narath, the Executive Director for the Leadership Institute of Ecology and the Economy (Institute) closed the symposium with action items. One of those is a joint project the AIA Redwood Empire is working with the Institute on, and that is the SMART Ideas Urban Design Charette and Competition. Our chapter of the AIA is sponsoring an Ideas community charette and design competition for urban design in the northwest area of Santa Rosa.
The SMART Ideas community charette is scheduled for November 20-21. The design competition runs from November 4, 2009 through January 25, 2010. For more information about the competition, or to get involved volunteering, sponsoring or helping in any way, please see other areas of our website and/or contact Julia Donoho, AIA Redwood Empire Director of Regional and Urban Design. email@example.com
Complete Neighborhoods Policy for Santa Rosa General Plan Update-Revised
Lois Fisher, Fisher Town Design, Inc.
July 29, 2009
The addition to the General Plan of a simple policy to create a new “complete neighborhoods” floating form-based zoning district would address the land use – transportation correlation defect of the current General Plan by providing a better balance of housing choices, jobs, services and facilities within a walkable radius of existing neighborhoods or the creation of new greenfield complete neighborhoods. Research shows up to a 40% reduction in Vehicle Miles Traveled and a reduction of nine tons of carbon emissions per household per year per the Local Government Commission as a result of creating transit-ready, compact mixed use, walkable developments. A ‘Complete Neighborhood’ form-based code would allow the creation of a variety of walkable environments from primarily residential areas to multi-story mixed use areas. Spaces for civic uses and buildings would be designated as well. This ‘Overlay or Floating Zone’ policy would be placed in the Land Use and Livability section of the Santa Rosa General Plan text.
How it would work:
The current underlying General Plan designations would remain. The ‘Complete Neighborhood’ zone would be adopted as an optional Overlay district that would be activated if an applicant requested it, in the same way that a Planned Development (PD) district is activated. Because implementing this option would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the existing single use zoning category, it would receive incentives in the model zone such as:
• Increased development potential with the overlay,
• Increased number of allowable uses,
• Reduced parking requirements,
• Permit streamlining where applicable: project CEQA compliance would tier off of the General Plan or Climate Action Plan EIR,
• Priority review process
• System for pro-rata refunding of the money spent by applicants to create the ‘Complete Neighborhood’ Form-based Code & Regulating Plan by the benefiting neighbors.
The ‘Complete Neighborhood’ zoning designation would be written to allow property owners to voluntarily request higher intensity mixed uses that would improve property values in return for meeting the specific criteria for the Overlay (e.g. definition of complete neighborhoods below) and who provide the minimum Scope of Work for Implementing ‘Complete Neighborhoo
Form-Based Zoning Districts (follows). The minimum size of infill lot/lots to request the overlay would be determined during the creation of the model district.
Complete Neighborhood Overlay District--Suggested Policy for the Santa Rosa General Plan
LUL-E-___Provide as a floating zone option a new ‘Complete Neighborhood’ (see definition in glossary) zoning district in Santa Rosa. This new zoning district will have the following qualities:
•Location: The zone can be implemented in undeveloped sites as well as on in-fill sites throughout Santa Rosa.
•Form-based: The zone will be form-based (see implementation policy for definition) to increase neighborhood connectivity, livability & identity, reduce vehicle trips and create community gathering places.
•Diversity and Choice: The zone will provide for a better balance of housing choices, jobs, services and facilities within a walkable radius of existing neighborhoods and will create new neighborhoods that are originally designed to be complete.
•Incentives: Applicants will be provided incentives to select the ‘Complete Neighborhood’ option over the existing zoning designation, due to the greenhouse gas reduction benefits.
•Process: Applicants of parcels smaller than the entire walking circle map the entire five minute walk sized neighborhood. The new zone applies to the applicants parcel, and becomes a mapped option for the other properties within the original applicant’s five minute walking circle.
Definition of a ‘Complete Neighborhood’: Suggested Addition to the General Plan Glossary
‘Complete Neighborhoods’ promote livability and safety for residents of all ages, incomes, and cultural backgrounds. Characteristics of complete neighborhoods include the following:
• The size of each ‘Complete Neighborhood’ is based on the five minute walking radius of a quarter mile or roughly 1300 feet to the center, although the size can vary somewhat to meet specific site considerations.
• The neighborhood has a discernible center to enhance neighborhood identity. This is often a square or a green. A transit stop is located at this center.
• Neighborhoods are compact, transit-ready and mixed-use.
• Ordinary activities of daily living occur within walking distance of most dwellings, allowing independence to those who do not drive or would prefer not to drive.
• Building façades and frontages are designed to the pedestrian scale not automobile scale.
• Buildings are brought up to the street on both sides, creating a well-defined ‘outdoor room’ with ample space for vibrant sidewalks and street trees between the building and the street.
• To increase public safety, the space between the private building and the public sidewalk is designed to allow the inhabitants to comfortably survey the public street.
• Buildings and landscaping contribute to the creation of Thoroughfares as Civic places.
• Thoroughfares are designed as an interconnected street system with short blocks and no cu-de-sacs. This pattern disperses traffic by providing a variety of pedestrian and vehicular routes to any destination.
• The streets are relatively narrow and shaded by rows of trees. This slows traffic, creating an environment suitable for pedestrians, bicycles and transit.
• The street network for the entire five minute walking circle is designed for the ultimate plan for the neighborhood, with streets shown connecting through currently underutilized parcels to adjacent neighborhoods.
• A range of housing types and price levels are provided — usually houses, row houses and apartments — so that younger and older people, singles and families, the poor and the wealthy may find places to live.
• At the edge of the neighborhood, there are shops and offices of sufficiently varied types to supply the weekly needs of a household.
• Civic, institutional and commercial buildings are embedded in neighborhood serving retail areas, not isolated in remote single-use complexes.
A pdf version of this article, with graphics, is available on the Downloadable Links page.