Daily Archives: July 9, 2008

Public hearings set for Central & Camelback high-rise changes

Proposed Central & Camelback high-rise

[Source: Medlock Place Neighborhood Association] — What were plans for three 22 story buildings, each over 200 feet high, have been expanded and are now seeking formal approval to be built to heights of as much as 400 feet.  Slated to begin rising in December, the expected completion date of the light rail, the project includes a combination of luxury hotels, high-end residential condominiums, and 20,000 square feet of ground level and second level retail space.  According to developer Reid Butler, the project’s design features extensive pedestrian connections and will integrate with Valley Metro’s light rail station.

The public is invited to voice their opinion on this project:

  • July 15, 6:30 p.m., Alhambra Village Mid/High-Rise Subcommittee, Washington Activity Center, 2240 West Citrus Way
  • July 22, 6:30 p.m., Alhambra Village Planning Committee, Washington Activity Center, 2240 West Citrus Way
  • August 13, 6:00 p.m., Phoenix Planning Commission, City Council Chambers, 200 West Jefferson
  • September 3, 5:00 p.m., Phoenix City Council, City Council Chambers, 200 West Jefferson

Got creativity? Help “spice up” Downtown Phoenix Plan

Let the creative juices flow... or something like that.

Okay, we all know about plans and what happens to many plans (i.e., they just sit on a shelf collecting dust).  Well, the City of Phoenix Planning Department wants to make sure that doesn’t happen to its Downtown Phoenix Plan, adopted by the Phoenix City Council on July 2.

The Plan is a policy document that will provide direction as the City continues work on the Form-Based Code and begins to prepare the detailed Connected Oasis Plan.  As a continuation of the Urban Form Project, Planning Department staff is conducting a series of public meetings in each of the Downtown Character Areas to prepare a detailed character analysis of each area.  That analysis will be used to prepare specific Form-Based Code development standards for each Character Area.  As the draft detailed analysis Character Area Plans are completed, they will be added to the department’s website.

The Plan format has not been finalized and the format may change.  If you have suggestions for the format design, “user-friendliness,” and method of dissemination — let’s get creative people! — pass your ideas along to Dean Brennan, Principal Planner, Phoenix Planning Department, by e-mail or phone at 602-262-4499.

City, Phoenix Suns rethinking destruction of historic Sun Mercantile? Perhaps…

Staff of the City of Phoenix Development Services Department and Historic Preservation Office met with Phoenix Suns representatives to discuss retrofitting the historic Sun Mercantile Building at 232 S. Third Street for events related to the NBA All-Star Game slated for mid-February 2009.  The building would be used for dining and food service during the game events.  Temporary building improvements needed for these events were discussed, as well as the possible requirements for upgrading the building for a more permanent event-related space.

Phoenix gets real (Republic editorial)

[Source: Arizona Republic, July 9, 2008] — Want to build a cool project in downtown Phoenix?  Start applying for zoning variances.  You’ll need as many as 18 to carry out an appealing urban, people-friendly plan — even though it is exactly the type of development the city is so eager to attract. 

We have a huge disconnect.  The city zoning code doesn’t distinguish between suburban neighborhoods and the central-city core.  The rules are basically the same for both areas: setbacks, lot coverage, parking requirements, building standards, and on and on.

Phoenix has made enormous strides in energizing downtown, with big-league sports, a growing university, an expanding convention center, new hotel rooms, art galleries, entertainment, and the start of a residential core.  Yet city regulations and policies throw a steady stream of monkey wrenches into the works.  Now Phoenix is finally moving to create a set of planning tools that fits downtown goals instead of subverting them.

Last week, the City Council adopted the Downtown Phoenix Plan.  It’s a follow-up to the Downtown Strategic Vision of 2004.  An overarching theme is the “connected oasis“: a series of attractive public places and pedestrian corridors that link the activity centers downtown.  It’s a way to bring out the character of this hot, arid place while also making it more livable.  The plan is designed to be a bridge to reality.  It lays out the regulations and public projects required to fulfill the vision.  Among the big steps that will take us over the bridge:

  • Adopt a new kind of zoning, a “form-based code.”  The current zoning code — known as “Euclidean,” after a town in a court case — emphasizes separating uses.  Residential, commercial, and industrial developments are kept apart.  At a more detailed level, the focus is on such basics as building height.  A form-based code takes a broader look, considering the relationship between buildings and the public realm, including sidewalks.  Maintaining the character of a neighborhood is important.  Mixed uses and creative reuses of old buildings are allowed, even encouraged.  Pedestrian comfort and safety are emphasized.  The city has been floating a draft form-based code, and many of the elements are in the plan.  The proposals include a process to allow building elements to project into the public right-of-way.  That could allow, for instance, overhangs that shade the sidewalk.  The private sector does this type of holistic planning in creating master-planned communities.  The difference is that Phoenix must work within existing development instead of starting with a clean slate.
  • Figure out creative funding mechanisms.  With a tight city budget and a wobbly economy, it’s a tough time to talk about spending.  But there are critical needs, including green space and shade structures, that will require extra dollars.  The success of downtown hinges on these relatively small investments, and skimping would be foolishly shortsighted.
  • Give us shade, shade, shade.  We’ve had lots of lip service and little action.  While Phoenix has started planting trees along parts of Central Avenue and other streets, the specimens are pretty scrawny.  Structures to provide shade are still so rare that the nearly two-decade-old Arizona Center is still held up as an example.  In one promising move, the city is doing an inventory of shade needs on downtown streets.  For future development, the plan shows how well-designed building heights and placement can shade streets and promote air movement, relieving some of the “urban heat island” effect.
  • Have the city set an example.  Downtown just won’t work if it isn’t a comfortable pedestrian environment, and Phoenix has done a less-than-stellar job on some of the projects it controls.  All city departments must be on the same wavelength about what works and how to maintain it.  No more trimming trees so severely that they provide little shield against the sun.
  • Get local input.  Phoenix has done a lot of outreach so far.  That’s particularly important for the next stage: identifying the characteristics of each neighborhood and then developing the standards to reinforce it.  Good participation in stakeholder meetings is essential.
  • Build the momentum to get things done.  The plan is full of ideas for using materials best suited to our environment, adding green space, offsetting the climate challenges, and reinforcing the downtown identity.  Carrying them out will take long-term commitment, resources, and enthusiasm. Support must come from all sides: government, business, non-profits, interest groups, and the community.

The first test will be getting the new form-based code approved by the end of the year.  The Phoenix downtown plan touches on themes that are vitally important in the rest of the city and in other communities throughout Arizona.  They should watch it carefully, cheer it on, and adopt all the relevant points.  To check out the Phoenix plan, go to http://phoenix.gov/urbanformproject/dtplan.html.