One of Canada’s leading urban planners, Brent Toderian, shares this slide with communities he consults in to spur discussion:
The Steps Toward Better City Building:
▪ Doing the wrong thing
▪ Doing the wrong thing “better”
▪ Trying to have your cake and eat it too
▪ Doing the right thing badly
▪ Doing the right thing well
Where is your city today?
As the Carrboro Board of Aldermen contemplates the Lloyd Farm proposal Tuesday, they should know they are clearly dealing with a case of Doing The Wrong Thing “Better.” Despite years of discussion, the principal flaws of the Lloyd Farm proposal remain the same.
A missed opportunity
We need to maximize our tax value per acre on parcels in Carrboro to better balance our commercial and residential tax base, and that means building up in a denser format. An urban grid with rectangular or square blocks makes redevelopment much easier in the long run.
Instead, Lloyd Farm gives us the limited value proposition of the Timberlyne Shopping Center and its strip mall-plus-outparcel format. Joe Minicozzi from Urban Three found that suburban Timberlyne produces a tax value of about $950,000 per acre while the taller, urban format Hampton Inn in downtown Carrboro produces over $33 million per acre.
A Missed Design Opportunity
The two most damaging design features of this proposal are the curvilinear road running through the site, and the poorly placed stormwater ponds that will make creating urban blocks on the site financially challenging or impossible for future redevelopers.
One needs only to view Durham’s Patterson Place in Google Maps to see how a suburban site can be laid out in a grid-like fashion to be infilled later. Twenty years after it was first developed, the Durham Planning department is doing exactly that, and a five-story Duke Medical office building and a Springhill Suites hotel are the first signs of a new, more vertical, higher tax-base per acre urban future at Patterson Place.
A Missed Housing Opportunity
Carrboro will not address its housing cost challenges without building significantly more new units, many of which could be built on such a large site. It’s also disappointing to see only senior housing being proposed. While there are housing needs for senior citizens in Carrboro, it is worth noting that older Americans are generally wealthier than everyone else.
Furthermore, the town’s economic analysis indicates that the vast majority of the jobs expected to locate at Lloyd Farm will earn less than $15/hour, and are professions that are generally held by younger people. This proposal could have contained a significant number of micro-units in the 400-to 600-square foot size range so that people who worked at Lloyd Farm could live there, too, and walk to work — helping us be more inclusive in our housing while also reducing traffic.
So Where’s The Better?
The developer has made some changes to the original proposal. Getting buildings on the north side of the grocery store parking field may help that part of the site transform one day, and the addition of more floors of office space is better than those remaining one-story buildings.
But while there is also a public gathering space/amphitheater designated, it does not have a real connection to the uses that would help activate it — the restaurants and retail. Instead, it is closest to the parking lot of an office building, and separated from those potentially synergistic uses by the beating heart of this proposal — the massive parking field for the grocery store.
Years of discussions have not changed the fact that the developer is basically following the punch list of a chain grocery store for their preferred suburban layout, where they work from the assumption that everyone always drives to the store, and that there’s no need to push back against that norm to do something better. This is the wrong thing to do in the 21st century.
Carrboro cares about equity, works hard to make transportation choices possible, worries about how to grow the commercial tax base, and proclaims a desire to make a difference in a world where the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just told us we have about 12 years to turn the tide on climate change. Carrboro can do so much better, and it should. The aldermen should reject this proposal and immediately get to work on a comprehensive plan to help guide developers toward those better outcomes.
Patrick McDonough writes about urban planning issues in Carrboro at www.citybeautiful21.com