Monday, November 15, 2010

Business as Usual or Do What Needs to Be Done?

" The most damaging phrase in the language is: “It’s always been done that way.”
Rear Admiral Grace Hooper

No matter the adversity there are always opportunities. While presenting significant challenges to local governments in providing levels of service expected by residents; the current precipitous downturn in the economy has given us a good kick in our complacency. Cutting spending by itself is not the answer. Neither is raising taxes when both residents and business are also under significant financial stress. With no end to this situation in the foreseeable future local government must abandon, " the business as usual approach." Instead it must not only restructure itself to do more with less; but also take a long term pro-active approach in planning for development which is sustainable, less susceptible to fluctuations in the economy, and provide the needed revenues to support the services residents expect.

For Fredericksburg future development is the key to whether it can remain an independent city. A recent decision by the City Council, and one about to come before them, will provide some insight as to what road we are about to take--The one we know or the one we need to take.

City Council just approved without comment a change in definitions for I-2 zoning to allow, "transportation recycling facility" (auto junk yards are still excluded) as a Special Use. They then proceeded to grant an Special Use Permit to M & M Auto in the Industrial Park to sell recycled auto parts. It was claimed that 67 jobs would be created over the next five years.

One could make a rational argument for such a facility in an industrial park. Jobs are created and revenue will be generated. That is if we accept the, "business as usual" model. Text Amendment Approval of SUP
If we are to take a more long term approach to development to meet the goals of sustainability, stability, and enhanced revenues, this decision by Council raises a question. Is Industrial zoning in the city's best long term interest?

Even in the recently adopted City Comprehensive Plan it recommends that, " rezoning portions of the Blue and Gray Parkway corridor from industrial to commercial uses, which reflects long-term City planning." This entire area would be a good location for a mixed use development which would provide a more diversified workforce and tax base. I would also hazard a guess that the revenue potential would be higher than the existing use.

The city's industrial park borders the Fredericksburg National Battlefield Park along Lee Drive. It is also visible from other parts of the battlefield. I do not believe anyone would question the importance of the National Park to the future economic viability of the city. Yet, under I-2 zoning (Section 78-682 Division 22 of the City Code) building heights can be up to 50' by-right and 90 feet by Special Use Permit.

There was a significant outcry from the community the last time a large building was up for approval (I-Max) on the basis of its impact on the battlefield view shed. While this project involved a structure of a height requiring a Special Use Permit a building of 50 feet, depending on its location could have an equally negative impact of the battlefield view shed. Quite a few years have passed and yet that scenario is still facing us.

It is understood that there are businesses in the industrial park that do employ residents and generate revenue for the city. It is not my intent to belittle what they provide. If there is an argument to be made that maintaining the industrial park is in the city's best long term interest then it needs to be made. That is the question before us. With only 10.4 square miles to work with to generate the revenue to provide services and keep the tax burden down on residents; what is the best use of our available land? And at the same time how do we preserve what makes Fredericksburg unique?

The issue now coming before the city relates again to the possible impact on Fredericksburg unique character, future revenues, and quality of life. The development of the Roper Brother's property across from the Fredericksburg National Battlefield Park entrance at Lee Drive. In this case the city has taken steps to both protect the battlefield as well as plan for transportation needs along the entire Lafayette Blvd corridor. The question at hand is whether the city is prepared to ensure that those plans are followed.

Before the Planning Commission is a proposed by-right development for 88-single family homes on what the City's Comprehensive Plan refers to as Parcel 10-A.

In the Comp Plan the preferred use for this parcel is mixed-use. Below are some highlights from the city's Comprehensive Plan as they relate to this parcel and preservation:

• Require comprehensive traffic impact studies for new development, including identifying
impacts and mitigation strategies for all modes of transportation.

• Consider Lafayette Boulevard as the next JumpStart! corridor for development of design guidelines.

• Any significant development on Lafayette Boulevard, opposite Lee Drive, will need to be carefully coordinated with the National Park Service.

• An exceptionally significant site is located in the southwest quadrant of Lafayette Boulevard and the Blue Gray Parkway. Its development, however, will need to respect the National Park property at Lee Drive.

• This parcel has extensive frontage along Lafayette Boulevard, but only a few areas are suitable for a new intersection. The Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park has a major gateway on the east side of Lafayette Boulevard, opposite this parcel and a careful coordination with the National Park Service will be necessary when development plans are considered. The proposed use of the site is mixed use.

• Examine ways to encourage the preservation and/or enhancement of historic assets throughout the planning process.

• Redevelop the area at Lafayette Boulevard and the Blue and Gray Parkway in close coordination with the National Park Service.

In addition to the Comprehensive Plan, the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (FAMPO) developed a long-term transportation plan for the entire Lafayette Blvd corridor from downtown to Rt. 1 to include pedestrian access and protection of the battlefield park. The plan was developed in close consultation with the National Park Service (See Comp Plan highlights). This plan was endorsed by both the City Council and the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors.

While Eagle Village was the first project to come under the city's new mixed-use zoning it was developed in part with the Roper Brother's property in mind. All discussions with the developer of this property, until recently, was for a mixed-use project. One of the advantages to the city of developing this property as mixed-use would be that the city could ensure, through the proffer process, that the traffic impacts on Lafayette Blvd could be addressed and the battlefield protected. In short we would follow the plans the city had adopted.

What has happened is that the developer has proposed by-right residential development with a statement that the commercial component would come at some undefined time in the future. Under this scenario the city has no real leverage to ensure that the goals it has set forth will be considered and the traffic impact of this project, on an already sub-standard road, will not be addressed. There is also the possibility, depending on the final road plans for this project, that the long term plan for Lafayette Blvd. , and the visitor's experience to the battlefield park, will be compromised.

To be fair to the developer it is understood that the economic conditions are not good and that this is impacting their decisions regarding this project. It is also understood that the long-term Lafayette Blvd improvements are expensive and the developer cannot be expected to bear a significant portion of the cost. However, should the city for its part, have to settle for even more congestion on Lafayette Blvd? Should the city accept the degradation of the battlefield which has a major impact on our economy ? A lot more discussion and planning needs to be completed before any votes are taken on this project . The question is--Will it happen?

The "business as usual approach" would be to throw-up our hands and let the development move forward as is defending the action (inaction) by pointing to the by-right use and stating there is nothing we can do. If the city is serious about achieving the goals it has set forth it may have to oppose this project on the grounds it is in conflict with the city's Comprehensive Plan and transportation goals. It should be made clear that such an action could come with costs, such as litigation; but I do believe to take the "business as usual" approach will end up costing the city a lot more in the future.

It is easy to just take the line of least resistance and do things as they have always been done. To take a short term "gain" and not worry about the long term consequences. One decision has been made which I hope will spur further discussion on the best use of our limited resource--developable land. A decision is forthcoming which will define how serious the city is in ensuring its future. The city can no longer afford to continue with "business as usual" and must start taking a longer view if Fredericksburg is going to remain an economically viable city that provides a good quality, and affordable, life for its residents.

How do you view the city's future?


Fred Howe / Councilman Ward 3 said...

I concur with Matt Kelly's comments, regarding the proposed Fredericksburg Park project and business as usual concern. As the Ward 3 Council representative, I personally have requested project review meetings with the City Planning Commission Chair, City Planning Dept., George Washington transportation commission responsible for the Lafayette corridor transportation improvement plan and the City attorney, for input and all City options related to this project.
I oppose the project for all the reasons Matt Kelly has stated and for the most important being that the project with 900+ cars projected to be dumping onto Lafayette, will bring that road and the Blue / Gray Pkwy to a complete grid-lock at peak periods of the day - without question.
The approval of the project with the transportation impacts at a minimum as noted, would be irresponsible of us as a Council, in my personal estimation.
Fred Howe / Ward 3 Councilman

Anonymous said...

Blah Blah Blah. Councilmen come and go. Builders and developers hang around and build, build, build ...

Chet said...