(Image - Transit Rd and Robinson Rd. Town of Lockport)

The LUSJ and The Buffalo News are both reporting similar stories from last night's Joint Transit North Meeting. I also attended out of curiosity due to my love of urban areas and planning. Meeting lasted about 45 mins led by several Town of Lockport officials discussing the process so far and what they had implemented so far. town of Lockport Marc Smith led the discussion overall and it was great to see his enthusiasm over requiring better development. There is a website established at http://www.transitnorth.com/.

Drew Reilly, town planner for Lockport, also presented lively explanation of what the town was trying to accomplish. He started out by going back to his early planning days and working with the Village of Hamburg. To paraphrase he said Hamburg came to his office asking "Why does Orchard Park get all the good stuff and we get all the crap?" The answer was design guidelines. Developers will look for level playing fields where ever they build, even more so in a low-growth area since the volume is not necessarily there to attempt to build a pricier project than their competition. If company "x" is building cheap crap, then company "y" will want to build the same crap to have balanced competition. We can see it in our own lives where we hesitate to put so much money into our houses that we fear our return on investment because of the values of the houses around us are not keeping up.

Drew also mentioned the need for visual elements to supplement the "words" of the municipalities zoning/planning laws. Not only does it make it easier to communicate what the community desires but it saves the developer time by reducing any rework that would have been necessary by not knowing well what the planning board was looking for ahead of time. Here are the visual examples provided by the committee. Each topic has an example of what is desired and conversely what is unacceptable: Final Transit North Guidelines (PDF)

Although the city zoning code is not set up for some of this yet, the master plan from 1998 is. It is complete with verbal and visual descriptions of mixed-use up-to-the-street pedestrian-friendly parking-at-the-rear design wishes. Ulrich City Center is a (partial) example of this in action. Family Video is an example of it not in action by only following basic zoning regulations. It is important that the city update its zoning ordinances.

Mayor Tucker made mention at the end of the team work that has resulted and permeated to other areas, such as sharing business leads/inquiries etc. It's nice to see this happening. Going forward as teammates to a goal of overall growth will serve us better than competing against each other and developing to the lowest of standards.

The toughest part is yet to come in updating of ordinances and making sure those that are past meet the spirit of the plan (this one and the city master plan). Daniel Seaman, the town attorney, and Marc Smith both mentioned the process of adopting laws and then updating them as the learning curve grows and results (or lack thereof) start to be known. It's time time for the first legislative steps to be taken.

I'll wrap this up here to keep this "short" and go over certain aspects in different posts.


5 comments:

MJ said...

Crosspost from LUSJ forums by Skydiver:

This sounds like a wonderful plan however, Marc Smith talks a good talk but doesn’t walk the walk. Let me explain. Here’s an excerpt from the Transit North website:
II. New Construction – General
The following items should be incorporated into all new construction within the Transit North
corridor:
1. Architectural style and design quality must be implemented. Design of front facades shall
incorporate variations of relief (no blank walls).
2. Corporate “signature styles” shall be minimized and amended to complement local
architecture and design.
3. Design schemes should represent a natural color scheme and acknowledge of the existing
surroundings.
4. Designs should respect, reflect, reference, adapt and interpret the local commercial,
industrial and governmental architectural style of the 1820’s through the 1920’s as they
are found in Niagara County and the municipalities of Transit North.
5. Designs should be in character with the vision of Transit North and promote a
cohesiveness of the corridor.
6. Designs shall be reviewed by the Planning Board with jurisdiction over the parcel. If
there is an architectural review committee formed by the municipalities, such committee
shall also review designs.
7. New curb cuts will be limited and adhere to access management practices for creating
more efficient and safer access to roadways. Cross access agreements will be required
where at all possible on the site.

Let’s look at number 1, no blank walls. Think about the new NAPA store on S.Transit Rd. That building went in under the Town of Lockport’s new zoning which Smith is trying to convince the City of Lockport and Town of Pendleton to follow. That building has a lot of solid, blank walls because that is what NAPA Corporate dictates be built.
Number 2, Signature styles shall be minimized. McDonalds golden arches certainly haven’t been minimized, they’ve been super-sized!
Number 4, where is there anything 1820 -1920 looking in the NAPA and McDonald’s designs?
Number 5, ditto.
Number 7, the curb cuts at McDonald’s are not safe, the Hamm Rd. exit is too close to Transit Rd.
The above examples are the result of the Town of Lockport Planning and Zoning Boards not following the current zoning. The zoning board gave out variance after variance for these projects. They did the same thing for the proposed Wal-Mart Super Center. Further down in the Transit North Website there is guidelines and suggestions for Steetscape, Landscape, Architecture and Lighting Styles.
Those sections talk about signage, no neon or animated looking signs.{NAPA and McDonalds} Building orientation where the buildings have side and rear parking, that is not the case with the new Wal-Mart. No large amounts of imperious surface {blacktop} between the road and location…Wal-Mart. Architecture, no blank, lifeless buildings{NAPA} No commercial style signage, McDonalds, NAPA and Wal-Mart . The Lighting styles section talks about bright parking lot lights and are that is not acceptable. Have you seen McDonalds at night??? It looks like an airport runway!
Why do I bring this up? There has been three major projects in the last three years that the Town of Lockport had the chance to change the look of Transit Rd. for years to come and failed miserably. It is an absolute joke that Marc Smith continue this charade when he fails to implement this plan in his own town. Dan Seaman is the attorney for the planning and zoning boards in the Town of Lockport and advises them on giving out the variances that allow this to go on. Drew Reilly is paid very well by the Town for his work and is only going to say what they want to hear.
Why doesn’t Smith put some time and energy into safety concerns for the residents of the Town, maybe some walkways or sidewalks on Snyder Dr. and Locust St. Ext. Whatever happened to Donner Creek? Is the DEC so upset with Smith that we can’t get a resolution to that problem? Business’ continue to trickle out of Town, two trips to Vegas on the taxpayers dime and what do we have to show for it? No new stores, no cinema, nothing for our young people to do.
We deserve better than this in the Town of Lockport, someone please come forward and run against this guy in November.

MJ said...

Cross post from LUSJ forums by me

Nice commentary. Thanks for the feedback. Mind if I cross-post it to keep it from disappearing in two-months?

A couple of thoughts...this is rather new and a learning process. I agree though on the NAPA building. I do recall some of the back and forth and recall them getting a little more window surface area out of the review. More should have been pushed for with insurances that all future competiion will be held to the same standard.

As for Mcdonald's, I find it conforming in: "Design schemes should represent a natural color schemes and acknowledge of the existing surroundings". The new one by the galleria is a similar layout but with cinderblock over most of the building where as ours is all brick and stone work. The new Dunkin Donuts is an example of it going wrong and allowing the cheap basic corporate exterior. The new one going up on Main in Clarence is similar to our McDonald's a classier design with higher quality materials (brick/stone).

I feel they are a little misquided in the pure "historic look". Cheap still looks like garbage even if it is "fakey-historic". More modern designs with higher quality materials will look way better. Site layout is 66% of the feel of a place. 33% is the material. Besides, Buffalo City Hall, Darwin Martin House were all mocked by some when first built. We need to keep things interesting. But we should do it though high quality mix of uses and not coporate gimmickery.

Speaking of layouts there is no way to expect a 200,000ft single use building to be up to the street with all parking out back. The big blank wall along Transit would be just as deadening as the large asphalt lots. Best use here is the "big-box" pushed to the back with smaller store front buildings out to the street. Sandwhich the parking inbetween them. Picture Home depot plaza with its store fronts facing shimmer and trasit with home depot hidden at the rear. The future Walmart site would need an eventual overhaul of the outparcels that line Transit. They did get Walmart to update to the design that breaks up the facade (like in brockport), but its still a big mono-use block that is best hidden.

The way Smith talked only Tops Gas staion and one other project have fallen under the implementaion of the new guidlines. Prior ones may hvae been law-less pleas? Would have been nice to have you there asking some questions since every planning, zoning, legislative member was in the house. You have my curiosity.

As for things for young people to do...maybe we should get them into more than cinema's and shopping. 20 years ago I could happily kill a day with 5 bucks, my friends and our bicycles. Maybe our youth can volunteer over at the Palace?

I doubt we'll see anything in the near future the way the economy is now anyways. As mentioned, it is the best time for everyone to get on the same page. Not having a buisness be able to play each municipality to see who would allow the crappiest desing will be a plus.

MJ said...

Crosspost from LUSJ forums by TownResident

Nicely said Skydiver. I’m beginning to think that Smith is using his “vision” as a way to keep his name in the paper; after all it is an election year. Smith has been touting this idea for three years and has absolutely nothing to show for it. What better way of showcasing these ideas to other interested retailers then having Wal-Mart conform to the “vision”.

MJ, I agree that it may be impractical to have Wal-Mart front and center due to the existing businesses along Transit, but there is no reason why they couldn’t bring it forward to where the mall is now which would allow limited parking in the front and the majority in the back. If Wal-Mart would follow Smiths plan, the front of the building wouldn’t be a big blank wall.

In addition to Napa, McDonalds and Wal-Mart in the town of Lockport, Pendleton has allowed Honda and Mike Smith Buick to construct their buildings as far from the vision as you can get. With the exception of Mike Smith Buick, these are all corporate giants who supervisors Smith and Riester have been afraid to stand firm with. The only general contractors that Smith gets tuff with are small guys like Glenn Miller who have to jump through hoops (Dunkin Donuts and the medical buildings on Snyder)to get anything done.

I’ll be surprised if this “vision” ever comes to fruition. It shouldn’t take three years just to get the other two municipalities to fall in line with the idea. I think the city and Pendleton are willing to let the Town be the guinea pig and then when someone else comes along who doesn’t want to conform to the Town of Lockport’s zoning laws; they will scoop them up and add them to their own tax base.

MJ said...

Crosspost from LUSJ forums by me.

Pendleton seems to be the most leary with the "what if we scare all buisnessnes away" mentality at this time. Similar to back in youth when kids would let others use them just to grasp at any attention..."what if they don't like me?" They have yet to buy into any of it (besides the commitee members) so it obvious as to why none of their recent projects (Honda, etc) display any of these guildlines.

To clarify, Walmart wouln't be a big blank wall literally, but it would be in funcion. No matter how many false facade deviations you put on it, it would still be a large single use with at best two entrances. Even is the current outparcels were not there it would not create the best use of the land to do so. If the current town laws are set up like this with no regard to the size of the buisness they will come up against these type of discrepencies requiring variances. Large parcel developments with multiple lease outs would best function with the smaller individual store fronts out to the street with the parking behind them and the large boxes at the back. Parking would still be hidden (along with the big box) and the big boxes would not eat up street frontage better suited for larger diversity.

How slow is government to begin with? With the huge effort to coordinate 3 municipalities full of people hesitant to demand anything besides large sprawled subsidized "free" parking and to not scare buisness away (since it's all we know around here), I'd say 3 years is not unrealistic and probably not bad at all. Probably takes that long for one municipality to update their zoning with a whole new approach. We are talking 3 of them along with trying to coordinate them.

As I mentioned the city already has a majority of this in the City Master Plan last redone in 1998. Ulrich City Center and the Main St. infrastructure rebuild follows a good portion of the guidlines with the street frontage, multiple use, qausi-multistory, parking at rear, traffic calming, etc. I wish I was more involved/vigilant when family video was going through the paces because a huge opportunity was missed there to reclaim a Main St. city corner. What was last a gas station might as well still be one the way that Family Video was sited. All this does is underscore the importance of getting the actual laws to reflect what is desired in the plans/outlines. and th echances of getting them perfectly right the first time are unrealistic.

The city needs to update the zoning anyways to get up to date with its own plans and visions. There is really nothing here which is not new to what the city was laying out in '98 and partially implimented. It's nice to know that the town is legislating to create the similar criteria so there is no "battle to the basement" in design and siting. Seeing that the city is getting "picky" over signage, I don't think you need to fear the city "scooping" up nasty developments etc. Or at least I hope so. My fear would be Pendleton out of the 3 involved.

There is going to be a learning process, revisions, variances etc as it progresses since it is so new to the area when compared to prior development. Best we can do is demand the spirit of the law and fine tune the laws to ensure the spirit is being met. While it may be novel to say a 200,000 sqft Walmart should be built up to the street because the law may currently say so, it obviously goes again the spirit of what is trying to be created. It sould be a great initial example to see how the laws need to be tweaked to best conform these large structures to meet the vision laid out.

Upwards and onwards...

Rocketboy said...
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