Tuesday, June 18, 2013

PD (Planned Development) Versus Comprehensive Zoning Ordinances

OK, right or wrong, here is my take on it....
Last Monday the city council approved changes to Planned Development rules. These changes, among other things, will remove the minimum 10 acre requirement for it to be considered a Planned Developments.  It also removed the requirement for a Conceptual Drainage Plan. One other change will be to remove the density requirement of 12 units per acre. He comes NY City or Detroit type living.

A while back when the subject of Brick Row was brought up and how poorly it was doing on person made the comment it was doing so poorly because the density was not high enough.  This current council seems to want to address this problem by turning Richardson into more of a high-density living area. While Richardson may have officially exited the UN agenda 21 and quit paying dues, they still seem to want the same thing, stack ‘em and pack ‘em living.

Decades ago Richardson came up with their plan for Planned Developments. At the time there was plenty of unused land. Now the type of land available for Planned Developments is becoming scare, it seems the city council wants to eliminate some of the requirements so the Planned Development way of doing thing can continue. City staff noted that at this time there are 25 sites over 10 acres and 45 sites under 10 acres.

So why does the city council want to expand planned development activities? Richardson already has zoning and planning rules with the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinances. These rules are fairly inflexible and rather onerous for developers. To get around the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinances rules a developer must request variances. That means time and money for the requested changes. It is not all that easy.

Planned development makes changes easier on the developer. When they need to change the specs of their project, the developers get the city management appointee’s approval for the desired changes. After that there is a presentation to the Planning and Zoning Commission that there has been a change made. They do vote the change up or down, neither does the city council. It is a tool to make things easier for the developers and a work around to avoid having to strictly follow the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinances.

Those changes can include for “greater content sensitivity”, increased flexibility for allowable uses, site layout, building design and materials. It also allows for incremental redevelopment, helps to facilitate infill development, provide for a broader range of development type and better responsiveness to changing markets.

While it was not said at the city council meeting why they really want the changes you could probably win a bet that developers want it to find an easier path to development and the city staff probably want it to expand the tax base, and there are probably several developers waiting for this type of thing to pass.

Curiously, at the council meeting most of the council member probably didn’t have a clue as to what was going on or why. There were very few questions and lots of confused looks.


  1. "...lots of confused looks." This line made me laugh.

    Your analysis is not 100% wrong but it has a tad too much paranoia. I would agree however that the changes effectively make each land parcel Richardson eligible for PD. That could be good in many cases as the city faces the need to revitalize itself and infill. We just have to hope that the Planning Commission and Council can judge each case thru the filter of the Comp Plan.

    When people say "Brick Row is doing so poorly because the density was not high enough" it is not an orchestrated conspiracy to build more apartments. It is an acknowledgment of an unrelenting economic and place making principle utilized in all successful mixed use settings. The city and the surrounding neighborhoods wanted successful retail in the development. Yet the n'hood blocked the implementation of what was required to achieve that success. Don't blame me I am just the messenger. And the deal is done. The n'hood won their vendetta to hamstring the developer but they are now saddled with a M/U development on their perimeter that will always be a case study in what NOT to do. We can have this discussion in 5-10 years and the conditions there will be much the same. Not enough income and bodies to support the retail. Let's hope we can at least learn something from it.

  2. Learn something from it??? Really? No one is being paranoid by asking questions and facing the reality that density destroys neighborhoods. No matter the reason. No matter the concept. No matter the justification put out there. This is not the first mixed use ever executed, nor is it a finite concept that has brought success to define the risk. More fail than succeed per the Urban Land Institute. Since you want to promote a 10yr product, you bet the conditions 5-10 years from now will be far from the idealized pitches being made today. Oops!! We are already 5-10 years there with Brick Row!

    At this point the City has over leveraged themselves in the TIF, over paid themselves and have to have a literal uprising, no pun intended, to continue the aggressive pace their lifestyles are accustomed to.

    Across the country there are more and more developments popping up. One in Houston has 400 units on just under 2.5 acres. That replaces approximately 10 single family homes. Current estimates are apartments are $125k+ per door. All it takes is the exact thing the Council just did and that it to remove density limitations.

    Representation with a definite agenda is not a good thing. Agenda 21 or otherwise. Unless you are the developer who receives monetary incentives from the taxpayer pockets. And City coffers who have 20-30 years of debt service to finally see the light of day for the effort.

    I doubt you can find one homeowner that is happy to be forced to pay for their own demise.


  3. http://chicksontheright.com/posts/item/24347-keep-your-power-hungry-grubby-paws-off-my-land

  4. What is completely comical about this anti density attitude is that single family suburbs are dense. It simply a matter of degree. Density created the Richardson neighborhoods you enjoy. Richardson got great by becoming more dense. It is not a black and white degree of dense or not. The same kind of things that you guys are saying is the same thing that was said when the first suburbs like Levitown were created. All kinds of equivalent pontificating about the demise of these new places were invented. Levitown and Richardson are, so the author says, "stack em and pack em". It turns out they were wrong then.

    Great cities that have weathered war and economic collapse were not spread out. They contained some level of density. That doesn't make all dense projects good.

    You compare N.Y. to Detroit to Richardson but the three are dissimilar to each other. Nobody is going to make a suburb like Richardson into N.Y. that's just a silly claim.

    Another point of comedy it's the political angle. You guys come off as libertarian tea partiers but then object to developers offering a different product in a free market. Instead you want the government to enforce your restrictions through zoning. In the end Dc and cdh prove they don't know much about real estate economics.

  5. CDH, your tin foil hat is in good working order. And you are making the very point you are arguing against. I was willing to start the clock today but, OK, we are 5 years in. Is the retail there bustling? After 5 years? Is it exactly what the n'hood wanted/demanded? Will it get better just because a few townhouses have been completed? No.

    The very thing the adjacent n'hood was against - an apartment complex - is alive and well. Sadly, with more population and some better use of the land, we might have been blessed to have a mixed use neighborhood district. But no.

    Regarding ULI, yes, they know about as much about mixed-use implementation as any organization. And they are right when they say half fail - for many of the same reasons Brick Row has. Again, there are certain economic and placemaking conditions that must be satisfied to lift a mixed use product to success. Density allows for a concentration of people and income that is required to support retail. And in many cases the footfall traffic is as important or moreso than income since even the richest of people still only eat three meals a day. Restaurants must turn tables so having the richest man in town eat three times a day in your establishment is still not enough to survive. Having the richest man in town buy cell phone service at your shop is not enough to support your store. It is the same reason there are only so many grocery stores in suburbs. People only need so many bags of groceries. If you want more retail - you need more people.

    Ultimately keeping up your war against density is OK as long as you are not also complaining about blight, poor quality of construction or empty retail. Again, the powers of economics are quite clear. In the current environment - which doesn't look to improve anytime soon - investments in development and revitalization will go where the return is. The altenative is status quo, cheesy apartments and further decline.

    1. The neighbors around Brick Row had absolutely no obligation to roll over and play dead for the benefit of the developers and whoever else stood to gain from whatever was envisioned there. They did just what they were entitled to: asked questions, came to their own conclusions, and did whatever they could to preserve their quality of life. Just like the people in Canyon Creek are howling about the supposed Wal-Mart going in on Campbell. If Brick Row wasn't feasible at a density level that that could overcome the objections of the neighbors, then it shouldn't have been built. Don't blame them; and don't rewrite history to try to absolve from the proper blame those who gave the watered-down blueprint the greenlight

    2. With regard to Brick Row: It truly appears you were not present for all the discussions and documents regarding the Spring Valley PD, which became Brick Row. Otherwise you would know the neighborhood spent an extraordinarily large amount of time working with the City and developers for the better of all. And if you had attended many of those meetings, you would know that virtually every agreement made was ignored and became what was created by the City's plan and pitch. And it also appears you have not read any documents on it's existence. Did you read the PD? If you want to throw blame on the wall, then throw it at the right party. The City. They went out and sought the players with the dangling golden carrot of taxpayer dollars.

      Success or failure, it is here and does not sustain all the supporters claims for it's existence. Maybe on day it will. In the mean time it is an anchor to the taxpayers for a load of debt at 7% compounded.

      This is progress right?

      Tin foil hat....geez. How clever of you. I can read. Can you?


  6. "...density destroys neighborhoods."

    Paris and New York on Lines #1 and #2. They would like to have a few words with you.

    Honestly, have you ever been outside of Texas?

    How about this: "bad apartment complexes with no sustaining purpose or place destroy neighborhoods"?

    1. If I had wanted to live in Paris or New York, I would live there. But I live in Texas on purpose. If you want to live in New York or Paris, by all means hit the trail, cowboy!

    2. Interesting discussion here anytime there is a land use discussion. I don't see this as an Either/Or type argument where one has to make a choice. I do agree however that density does not necessarily destroy neighborhoods.

      In most cases density can be linked to enhancing quality of life in neighborhoods. If you could walk or bike safely to a cafe or shop or market or park and see your friends along the way it could improve the quality of life - and be a whole lot more efficient in the process. I don't see that anyone here is advocating that Richardson be dozed for high density, high-rise housing. A large segment of the population enjoys the suburbs and that is OK. But there is nothing wrong with working to enhance certain perimeters or nodes for a walkable mix of uses for the rapidly growing segment that would prefer that or a live/work type arrangement. It may not be for me or you but some do like it - and will pay a premium for it. In addition the growth in north Texas will somewhat dictate some infill and densification. Let's make sure we get it right.

      It is increasingly clear that the retail at Brick Row is either poorly located or there simply is not enough population/income to support the retail originally planned. Frustrating. In some developments the retail must be subsidized to remain successful. Future developments should be closely scrutinized for viability of any planned retail - especially given that our region is already very over-retailed.

    3. If the retail has to be subsidized it is not successful. If there is a desire to throw money at a business they will usually take it. There has become a large expectation for subsidies and there is no level criteria for its gifting.

      There is a reason all the retail has left Richardson. There is a reason retail has bypassed Richardson.

      What neighborhoods love density? Density does not provide quality of life either. What it brings is more crime and more traffic and more problems to be addressed.

      If you are building the same developments done many times over with the same national chains, except they are really choosy about Richardson, what makes Richardson any different than anywhere else? AND you have to incentivize them, what does the taxpayer get but empty pockets?

    4. Texas ain't France. If that's the lifestyle for you, head east and keep going. We have enough liberal slack-jawed progressives here.

    5. Barry, this utopian view of the neighborhood is cute, and may be something some people find enticing. Those of us who prefer a single family bedroom community don't and having it crammed down out throats is somehow disconcerting. Maybe those who want that kind of neighborhood should seek one elsewhere. There are many failed developments to choose from. We just don't want our community to go that way. Who is wrong here?

    6. Anon 8:22,

      If you want the government to restrict development only to your wishes then perhaps a place like China or Europe is more to your liking. Mixed use is about market choice. You know... a free market where people get to choose... nothing is going to prevent you from living in a single family home.

  7. Actually you are grossly incorrect. I do have a background in Real Estate. And so does my husband. I would venture to say I know a little about the economics because I have been an accountant for over 30 years. Done a lot of RE work. I would also venture to say I know a little more about the finances in this city than most. So does DC because he took the time to look also.

    Your assumptions what my political affiliations are also wrong. And what I deem as appropriate or inappropriate density is also incorrect.

    We could talk the 7 degrees of separation, er, density, but you probably do not know much about it. (Insult right back at ya!)


  8. Anonymous @12:17. I have to say you are ignorant of the neighborhoods' intent. Hundreds of residents attended the city's dog and pony show "focus groups. We were fed a line of bull, and when we bought into it, we were criticized for it. The study that was done for Brick Row, said a max of 500 apartments. Even the police chief at the time said that more would bring crime. A plan was laid out by the group that did the study, and the city never intended to follow it. I have been told over and over, by city employees that we have lost out on retail because of the city management over managing. I was personally told by the developers of the project at Plano and Renner, not to expect much in the way of retail. Don't lay the blame on neighborhoods, but where it belongs; on the poor city management. I attended the focus group on the Central Belt Line corridor, and the people there wanted to keep the historic buildings in the downtown area. They are not going to be kept. In talking to the young people attending and some who worked for the company who held the meetings, to a person, their dream was not to live in an apartment, but to own a home. Richardson's reputation is worse and worse as the years go by. It is probably too late to save this city. Richardsons' big claim to fame in past years was it's school district, and the recent election showed how people now feel about that. Sure, the incumbent won, but it took a second election.
    City leaders have been told repeatedly that there needs to be a reason to come to Richardson, and the Alamo Drafthouse is not going to cut it. And just because a developer wants it, doesn't mean the public does. Wait and see, you will be proven incorrect. "Point of comedy"? there is nothing funny here.

  9. I hope people use the new "Reply" feature so I can more easily track who is responding to whose comment.