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September 2009 home page

Quality Control Needed 


Why are our citizen-committees being passed over by the decision makers at City Hall? Is the zeal to jumpstart efficiencies promised by a new Form-Based planning code spawning decisions that are poorly thought out — lacking the quality control normally provided by the Design Review Board (DRB) and Planning Commission (PC)?

Two recent examples: The outdoor cafes on 15th Street were allowances for businesses to use public space. And no one would object to improvements in our City’s ambiance and economic base. But the structures as built are regarded by many in the community, and even some Council members, as sub-optimum, having unintended consequences. The sidewalk became too narrow, the pedestrians’ view of Powerhouse Park was obstructed, etc.. That’s where the DRB would have added needed quality control. The committee is all about helping the developer and the community anticipate and deal with the real consequences of projects. The DRB has a long history of ensuring quality, community-sensitive development by dealing with unintended consequences. The DRB is arguably the single most important institution in this City. It has made it a beautiful place to live, with high property values and an aesthetically pleasing ambiance. The DRB should have reviewed the café designs.

Then, July 27, the City Council approved a 4,400 sq. ft. increase in restaurant use of the Plaza’s outdoor patio. However, on the sticky issue of the Plaza having too few parking spaces to meet requirements for the added restaurant areas, the Council hemmed and hawed, struggled to understand the planning implications, and related their very different impressions, as citizens, of any parking or valet problems at the Plaza. Councilmember Filanc, in the midst of the protracted head-scratching, pushed, although not successfully, to send the many questions to the PC. And that’s exactly who should review the Plaza’s plan! The PC informs the City Council and has the technical experience and the forum for resident input to do it right. How will intensification of use and increased mandatory valet parking impact easy use by residents of the remaining public spaces at the Plaza? This is the stuff of the PC. Skipping a step in our public process is a false efficiency if our community has to endure undesirable decisions.


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