Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Property Paradoxes: Two Rezonings

One of those green and yellow rezoning notices has gone up in front of a large and unused property on a busy thoroughfare just a few hundred yards from my house. The rezoning proposal will allow high-intensity business, office, and multifamily residential uses, within a stone's throw of many single-family residences.

The neighborhood's reaction? Muted approval. Neighbors want to know more about the plans, but are also excited about the possibilities.

In another area of town, on another busy thoroughfare, contiguous to a single-family neighborhood, a similar rezoning is being proposed (though on a much smaller scale), but the neighbors there are circling the wagons. I went to a party in that neighborhood last week, and joked with one of the guests that our hostess should have just told us to follow the "NO REZONING" signs in nearly every yard on the way to her house.

What accounts for the different neighborhood reactions? I think it has to do with different perceptions of self-interest, since self-interest is always what drives neighborhoods to oppose -- or approve -- zoning changes.

My neighborhood was once (90 years ago) an outlying suburb that has long since been engulfed by the city. Business and multifamily uses were integrated into it decades ago, and people who live here now mostly want the kinds of things that more urbanized land uses can bring them. We know that more people living nearby means more support for more and better neighborhood-oriented services.

But the 40-year-old suburban neighborhoods off Lawndale Ave. were founded on a completely different ideal, at a time when separation of commercial and residential uses was the dominant planning paradigm.

It's still a popular idea, and the residents of those neighborhoods say so themselves in letters to the editor. Susan Brower writes, "All want the same thing: a nice place to raise kids away from commercial enterprise." Michele van Gobes says, "The Country Park and Pineburr neighborhoods are low-density, park-like, and enhanced by proximity to both Country Park and the Natural Science Center. They are not an appropriate location for retail development." James Bennett writes, "We do not want coffeehouses, ice cream parlors, delicatessens, and other general retail, no matter how high-end, in our neighborhood. We want single family homes with quiet streets, trees, places to walk, places for our kids, our dogs, and our families."

There's no arguing that all of those are nice things that many people want. But, to paraphrase a proverb, who wants A, must also want B.

And if A is low-density, single-family housing separated from commercial services, then B entails congested thoroughfares like Battleground Avenue, Lawndale Avenue, and High Point Road, lined with strip malls to provide the services you don't want near your house.

B also entails the kind of housing and commercial development usually called "sprawl," because if you don't want to fill in or up, you have to build out. And building out entails traffic congestion, long commutes, more road construction and widenings (which have tax consequences), higher demand for gasoline (and thus higher gas prices), poorer air quality, and ... you know the rest.

So if you're in favor of low-density housing and separation of uses, and are also appalled by the development along New Garden Road or at Horse Pen Creek road, it's appropriate to quote Pogo: We have met the enemy and he is us. The developers want to use that property for commercial purposes because people live there.

If I lived in the Lawndale area, I think I'd be telling my neighbors to pressure the developers to build something that would provide services to the neighborhood, that had a pedestrian-oriented, neighborhood-friendly design, and that would enhance the streetscape on Lawndale. I'd see it as an opporunity to show how good, infill development can happen, because I think that's important for Greensboro's future.

I'd also point out to Mr. Bennett that quiet streets, trees, places to walk, and places for kids and dogs also can be found in conjunction with shops and businesses, and would invite him to take a walk around Southside sometime.

Don't know how many more parties I'd get invited to, though.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Can someone please come and build some commercial deveopment where I am so I can stop spending so much money on gas? Please? I mean, I can get to Panera on Pisgah Church in about 10 - 15 minutes, but I'd much rather walk there!

I know that a shopping area is in the long term plans, so I guess I'll just have to wait.