Monday, January 31, 2011

Speaking of Zoning

Once again, the call is going out to pack the city council chambers to register opposition to rezoning the vacant land around the Bush DART Station. Personally, I'm less interested in how many people speak than in what they say. I'm not interested at all in self-appointed groups with inclusive-sounding names claiming to speak for unnamed others. Reportedly, an email from Richardson City Council member Bob Macy forwards a statement from a Richardson resident that captures my own attitude regarding the Bush Station zoning issue:

"We have lived in the Sherrill Park subdivision for almost 19 years and I am a member of the homeowners association. The board members were not elected to represent me on any zoning issues as it is not their charter. There is also a self appointed neighborhood association which also does not represent me and has no legal standing that I am aware of. I did participate in the election of the Richardson city council. They were elected to represent me on zoning issues."

Regardless where you stand on the issue of zoning around the Bush DART Station, it's important to keep the above in mind. After the jump, where the current discussion has missed that point.

There's talk by some (not all) critics of the city about how the city council is ignoring the residents of Richardson, about how neighborhood associations are tools of the city, of how self-appointed groups with broadly inclusive names are really more representative of the majority of residents than the popularly elected city council is.

I and surely others are generally sympathetic with the desire of those who want to get the zoning right for this large greenfield development. After all, this area will help define Richardson for decades to come. But sometimes the discussion strays from the issue and instead begins to impugn the motives of those with opposing viewpoints. Then, my sympathy dries up. Likewise, when advocates imply that they speak for a majority of Richardson residents, my eyes roll.

If you want to convince me (and, more importantly, the city council), I want to hear facts about the best way to develop this land. Demonizing the city council won't cut it. Equating all apartments to the cheapest, run-down garden apartments won't cut it. Raising fear, uncertainty and doubt won't cut it. NIMBY arguments won't cut it. Foot-dragging won't cut it. Wishing for a return to the bedroom community of the 1960s won't cut it. Wishing that the land stay forever vacant won't cut it.

What's certain is that this land *will* be developed. Current zoning allows for apartments and offices and retail. What's at issue is not whether that will happen or not, but whether the mix of construction that current zoning allows for is what's best for Richardson or whether a form-based code would lead to a more predictable, higher-quality, longer-lasting, sustainable development. To me, there is no question that change in current zoning is needed to maximize the return to Richardson that developing this land will bring. Richardson can do better than the current conventional zoning. Here's a perfect opportunity to do so.

If you are not familiar with the kind of form-based code proposed for the property, a good place to start reading is here. To see a local example of form-based code development, check out Legacy Town Center in Plano. An earlier blog entry on this topic can be found here.

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