By Dom Nozzi
The policies of the Transportation Concurrency Exception Area (TCEA) used by the Florida city I work for as a long-range town planner are rather mushy because nearly all of them are optional or are simply insignificant window-dressing. Will we really have transportation choice if a developer installs more bike parking or sidewalks or bus stops?
It is highly disappointing and embarrassing to realize that there are people that actually believe such facilities will reduce car trips.
I wrote the Urban Design portion of the long-range comprehensive plan for this city, but the director of the department watered it down severely. He threw out a third of it (which included my prized “toolbox” describing the benefits and mechanisms for nearly all of the critical urban design features). He also put in a large number of policies that merely state that the City shall do things that have already been agreed to (i.e., the City shall implement the previously adopted special area plan for a neighborhood in the city).
While there is some merit to doing that, since a new commission majority would find it a bit harder to throw out the plan, doing so is not really planning at all. All it says is that we will do what we’ve already agreed to do.
A secretary could have written such policies. Why does the City need professional planners if we’re not doing any planning? Also note that policies in this long-range plan mostly do not get translated into land development code requirements, especially if they are mushy policies, as ours are.
I was forced to chop out numbers in the policies of the plan, since I was told that numbers need to be left for the code-writing stage.
In other words, don’t expect much meaningful revision to our land development code.
Through this watering down, it is fairly easy to claim to the Florida Department of Community Affairs that we’ve implemented policies, even though we have not meaningfully done so.
The comprehensive plan and code changes will give us almost nothing, and it bothers me, since we’re giving away the store and getting nothing in return when we exempt proposed development from concurrency requirements. This is the one big chance the City has to finally stop acting like a doormat. We should say, “yes, we’ll exempt you from our concurrency requirements, but only if you give us some meaningful concessions.”
For example, the City should (but doesn’t) require such design in the town center in exchange for concurrency exemption:
- Buildings must be pulled up to the streetside sidewalk.
- No parking is allowed in front of your building.
- On-street parking is required.
- At least 80 percent of your units must be within 1/4 mile of a bus stop if you are residential, and transit passes and parking fees are required for your employees if you are non-residential.
- Your building must be a minimum of 2 stories for non-residential buildings.
- Walkable town center design is required (above rules, plus mixed use, gridded street pattern, connections to surrounding residential neighborhoods, etc.).
- No more than 4 fueling positions are allowed for a proposed gas station.
- You must contribute to greenway trail construction, or cash-in-lieu if your project is not near a trail system.
Only with such conditional requirements does a City avoid giving away the store when exempting a proposed development from state concurrency requirements.