Monday, July 9, 2007

Carolina Bank Update -- A Message From The Architect

I received a very nice e-mail from Kenneth Mayer, the architect of the proposed new Carolina Bank building, which I criticized strenuously in a previous post. Mr. Mayer forwarded me an updated site plan,

and these words, which I quote in full with his permission:

David—I have read with interest the blog postings on the Carolina Bank site plan. As the architect for this project, I would like to add to the discussion with the following comments and background. Because of the length, I was not able to post these, but perhaps you could do so.

First, the site plan shown is not the most current. I have attached the plan that has been tentatively approved by the Planning Department and the Transportation Department (GDOT). As you review the comments below, refer to this plan.

Downtown Design Guidelines: as you know these guidelines are still under development and are not yet in a form to be adopted or properly used in site planning. However, at the request of the Planning staff, we reviewed our site plan against the principles they were seeking to incorporate into the guidelines.

We developed an alternative plan that pushed the building to the street facing Spring, removed on-site parking on the Spring side of the building, and showed how on-street parking similar to that in front of the Carolina Theatre could be incorporated. This made the building’s siting more urban and pedestrian-friendly.

This positioning, however, required a direct exit onto Spring Street for customers exiting the drive-up lanes. GDOT would not allow this exit due to traffic volume on Spring. We therefore, had to move the building back to the center of the site to allow customers to leave the drive up lanes, circulate in front of the building and exit onto either Market or Friendly.

Building size: the building is 44,000 SF and four floors high—plus a gabled roof that adds to its height. We used a small floor plate to increase the building height on the site.

Parking: A building this size would normally have around 145 parking spaces—we are only providing 119. Bear in mind that there are no public decks near this site and on-street parking is limited on the three one way streets Spring, Market and Friendly. Developing underground parking is prohibitively expensive for a project this size.

Drive up lanes: Like it or not, customers prefer to have drive up lanes at full service branches such as will be included in this building.

Fencing: there is no fence around this site. The perimeter will be appropriately landscaped per our discussions with the Planning Department.

Traffic: keep in mind that this site is surrounded on three sides by multi-lane one-way thoroughfares which by themselves promote fast vehicular movement through downtown and are a detriment to pedestrian-friendly planning. [emphasis mine -- ed.] This site has to react to this situation to provide proper means of access and egress for Bank customers.

In closing, while I certainly respect everyone’s right to their opinion about the design of this project, it is always helpful to have background and facts to relate to. The project was not designed in a vacuum, it was designed with the consultation of the Planning staff and the fledgling guidelines it is developing. It also had to react to the conditions required by GDOT and the traffic patterns in this part of downtown.

Ken Mayer, AIA, LEED AP

Mr. Mayer's response points to what many people have noticed is a huge problem for good downtown design, namely, our current downtown transportation plan.

It may be these kind of streets that finally jinxed the Bellemeade Village plan -- who can conceive living in an "urban village" that's surrounded by what one of the property owners once described to me as a "Daytona 500"?

When the Project for Public Spaces came to town several years ago for a consult on the Center City Park, their people said of Friendly Avenue, "you've got to find a way to make Friendly more friendly to pedestrians."

I've no doubt that GDOT would be perfectly happy to completely redo downtown's major thoroughfares if, as their head of engineering once said to me, "someone's got bags of money to shower on us."

Unfortunately, nobody does. And that means inferior designs downtown for the foreseeable future, I think.


Anonymous said...

Ken's one of the good guys -- nice to see him engaging in this conversation. Once again you have raised the level of discussion on development and design issues in GSO.

David Wharton said...

When people like Ken and Patrick Deaton comment here, it becomes very clear that "my readers know more than I do," as Dan Gilmor likes to say.

I'm more than happy to provide a forum for knowledgeable people!

Anonymous said...

Ken Mayer is one of the few LEED certified architects in this burg and it's great that he's responding here. MMPA (Ken's company) has been a great corporate citizen for Greensboro and beyond and it's good have him comment and raise (or intensify) the level of discussion.

David, you're right. We need to make Friendly more friendly and it was part of the original Action GSO Master Plan; however, it does take gobs of money to accomplish. Every time I drive downtown (and back) I point out eyesores that could be turned into something that spans both blocks and encourages walking from business to business but no, I don't have those "gobs," either.

It was something pointed out on the Greenville trip and it's not breaking news. The "grand corridor" to and from downtown just isn't grand and should be.

Perhaps it's time to embark on that bold new adventure, where no (Greensboro) city planner has gone before.

(Disclaimer: my company built the MMPA web site and has worked with MMPA for many years in both business and civic areas.)

Anonymous said...

"GDOT would not allow this exit due to traffic volume on Spring." Is this the same DOT that stops traffic on both Davie & Washington every time the buses go out (or the parade of elephants, as I like to call it)?

While I'm sure it was considered and rejected for valid reason, it seems there'd be a way to put the drive-thru on the back of the building running parallel to Spring; thus allowing the building to be pushed streetside. Regardless, I respect Ken's response & seeming openness to feedback.

Being privy to such feedback makes John Q Citizen feel more in touch with what's going on around him/her. David, thanks for providing an intelligent & insightful website on urban planning.

Anonymous said...

I dont know, Maybe Friendly Ave and Market Street need to be converted to two way streets for starters. Then it wont seem like some highway.

David Wharton said...

Anon 1, those are GTA buses, and I don't think GDOT has any control over them.

I do wonder, though, whether there isn't some wiggle room for negotiations with GDOT on this issue.

Anonymous said...

I think we should ban drive thru's of all kinds in downtown. It doesnt seem they can be accomodated considering their restrictive needs of traffic flow. In spite of this bank's good-natured intent in being downtown, they are doing more harm than good.

David Wharton said...

I don't like drive throughs and they do present serious design problems for downtowns.

But you'd have a hard time persuading most G'boroans to go along with a ban, even in the CBD.

I noticed drive though bank lanes on Greene St. today that didn't force the multi-story bank building into the center of a parking lot, so it can be done.

Anonymous said...

also happy to see this kind of exchange occurring about these issues, thanks to both of you.

Anonymous said...

Despite MMP's efforts to defend the "changes" in this project, it still exists, as designed, a suburban site layout with little or no deference to its urban context. The 119 parking spaces are gratuitous (as are the four drive-through lanes) for a downtown building with copius amounts of on street parking nearby. While Friendly and Market are high speed streets, crossing at the nearby designated crosswalks is seldom a problem for pedetrians. Further, if we continue to build in a model that defers to the auto-oriented environment, we will simply have more buildings and roads that are auto-oriented, not people-oriented. When we design for cars, that exactly what we get- more cars. But when we design for people, we have the opportunity to support engaging, active environments that are used by, amazingly, more people.

Anonymous said...

I agree. If this is the model for downtown Greensboro development, we can say goodbye to any dreams of a real downtown. It will look just like Friendly Center. (and that is a bad thing)

Veronica Grossi said...

I agree very much with the last two very intelligent comments. I am not happy at all about this horrendous plan. It is disappointment that greensborians allow this to happen. A sustainable, esthetic vision of growth is entirely lacking. Too late. How are we to get rid of these growing EYE-SORES, unfriendly to the pedestrian and to the environment (such as the New Friendly SHopping Center, the YMCA, the ARbor House, the new Walgreens across UNCG...) and NOW THIS HORRENDOUS BANK. I think we would need to get civilized.