Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Eroding a Landscape Buffer

The Burger King on Campbell Rd west of Central Expressway is going to get torn down and rebuilt. Woot! The requirement for a certain sized landscape buffer along Campbell Rd is going to give way to make room for more parking. Boo! Burger King insists they need more. Ever more. Everything that's wrong with urban design today is caused by the insatiable demand for parking.

After the jump, the real problem with the Burger King parking lot.

The new Burger King is going to have Wi-Fi. Corporate thinks that's going to make customers linger longer. Corporate wants more parking so the slowpokes don't crowd out the latecomers. So, corporate wants an exception to Richardson's policy of providing a certain amount of landscape buffer between the parking lot and the street to allow for more parking. Or, Burger King might just say forget the whole thing.

The Richardson City Planning Commission approved the exception to policy. The City Council seemed inclined to go along, but I'm not sure they all understood exactly what was being asked for. I know I don't. Burger King does not want to comply with the city's requirement for a certain amount of landscape buffering along Campbell Rd. But Amir Omar said, "They're going to add more landscaping" and no one contradicted him. Perhaps Burger King's existing layout (now more than 25 years old) does not comply with current city policy and the new layout will increase the existing buffer just a bit, but still will not comply with the full city policy. So, the city is willing to overlook its own landscape policy in order to get an old restaurant torn down and rebuilt. At least that's the only way I can make sense of Omar's comment.

This debate over landscape buffering is missing the point. It reminds me of the debate over the proposed 7/11 gas station at Renner Rd and North Star in Richardson's panhandle. As I said then, "it's telling that the berms and green screens are considered to be features. I consider them an admission that what is proposed for that corner is so undesirable that it has to be hidden from the public." In another post, I said, "Richardson should adopt codes for parking lots that require things like permeable, interlocking pavers with grass-filled open spaces, and trees planted in rows like orchards. Make those parking lots inviting to humans, not just cars, and we wouldn't have to hide them from view."

The principle applies to Burger King, too. Instead of trying to shield ugly parking lots from view, city planners ought to be developing new design standards that keep parking lots from being eyesores in the first place. No matter whether Richardson's Burger King parking lot gets rebuilt with a full or limited landscape buffer, it will be a failure in that regard. Given that the existing building is over 25 years old, that failure will be with us for another generation.

P.S. And now for something completely different. Did you see the Visitors Section of Monday's City Council meeting? What's with the bridge design on Spring Valley Rd? When a homeowner association president complains in public that the city reneged on a promise to discuss the designs with the association, someone screwed up.

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