Thursday, March 19, 2015

Open Space Requirements, Waiver Fees, Smart Growth and Quality Communities

The is increasing evidence how important parks and open spaces are, thanks to among others, The  Project for Public Spaces in New York that has devoted its entire existence to this cause.

Zoning requirements for open space often have not caught up to the insight that smart growth, dense, mixed use urban development and open space preservation go together and are not opposites.
Too much regulations are still mired in the post war pattern of uses segregated subdivisions with open space created for each development, creating a patchwork of set asides that were essentially useless as placemaking elements or for  green infrastructure.

Baltimore County is reviewing their open space guidelines and their waiver fees today in a Planning Board meeting based on a staff report on the current waiver fee structure.  Current rules were recognized as

  • complicated, 
  • hard to understand, 
  • not transparent and 
  • full of unintended consequences such as penalizing affordable housing or exemption all high density development in "Town Core" (TC) districts even though those districts have the highest open space deficiencies and the high intensity new developments proposed would create the biggest additional demand.

There are many questions:

  • how much space should be required per dwelling unit? 
  • Should commercial development be exempted?
  • Should payment in lieu be encouraged?
  • How much should developers have to pay and on what should the fee be based?
  • Should fees vary by zoning or by other criteria or should it be a flat fee?
  • Should high intensity developments such as condos, affordable housing, TOD and mixed use-town-center development pay the same, more or less than low intensity development?

There seem to be strong forces at work who don't see the bigger picture and the fact that, in the long run, developers and residents alike are winners where good parks, trails and open space amenities make good communities.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

I will testify at the Planning Board today on behalf of NeighborSpace, an urban land trust devoted to open space protection.

NeighborSpace open space protection
Towson, asphalt and concrete with very little green

Overflow crowds in Towson for the Planning Board hearing about open space fees protesting the fact that core areas in the county are totally exempted from paying for or building open spaces and the administration recommends to continue this failed policy. 

Update 17:34h

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