Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Squeezing Out Transit-Oriented Development

Embrey apartments
With four DART stations on the Red Line, Richardson is well-situated to take advantage of the benefits of transit-oriented development (TOD). Richardson has talked a good story on this front, but recent actions by the city council raise doubts about the city's commitment to carrying it through.

First, it was the gas station that was approved at the entrance to the Brick Row development at the Spring Valley DART station. Now, the city council was faced with another threat to TOD. It's a proposal for a new apartment complex on vacant land just north of the Arapaho DART station. The City Plan Commission approved it 4-3.

Those DART stations, instead of serving as catalysts for TOD spreading outward from the stations, are instead being slowly strangled by traditional, suburban-style development encroaching inwards.

After the jump, how the city council responded.

Monday night, the city council responded correctly, holding out for future TOD. The council tabled, by a vote of 7-0, until October 22, a request by a developer (Embrey) to build a traditional, surburban-style apartment complex (GreenVUE) on vacant land at Greenville Ave and Collins Blvd. The developer asked for the deferral to allow time to revise the request to meet the council's objections. It would have been even better if the council had sent the developer all the way back to the City Plan Commission.

The proposal is for 351 apartment units in eight three-story buildings. There will be shrubs and fencing around the property. The original application called for gates at the entrances, but that has been dropped, or at least limited to blocking access to internal parking lots from a spine drive through the property.

Now, I don't know what everyone else's idea of TOD is, but to me it requires an urban, mixed-use composition. Something more than apartments and a club pool and surface parking and a fence around the whole property. The developer conceded this isn't an urban development, it isn't a mixed-use development, but tried to insist it is an incremental step, a catalyst for such development. Development elsewhere, presumably, as the original plan for this site makes no allowance for future addition of restaurant/office/retail, although the developer asked for time to reconsider podium parking and ground floor retail. This is what caused the council to table the proposal rather than reject it outright, as seemed to be the direction the council was heading.

The site is within the half-mile radius of a light rail station. Inside a half mile is considered the sweet spot for TOD. Sites like this near DART stations are the whole point behind Richardson's vision for future development. The council needs to have confidence that the market will support TOD this close to a DART station, or it needs to give up on its entire development strategy for the light rail corridor.

(And it really needs to find a way to use the City Plan Commission better.)

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