Sunday, October 19, 2008

October AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

The ICS task team meets

As previewed in an earlier post, October’s AIA-SWO chapter meeting featured a presentation led by Patricia Thomas, AIA, of the City of Eugene’s Planning & Development Department on the subjects of Opportunity Siting (OS) and Infill Compatibility Standards (ICS). These become natural points of discussion as Oregon’s metropolitan communities engage in debates regarding the impact of the urban growth boundaries upon the ability to develop affordable housing. The City of Eugene is being proactive by inviting citizens to participate in this discussion and help develop a planning process for finding specific sites that can feasibly accommodate high density residential development.

The OS task team, represented at our chapter meeting by Santa Clara resident Ann Vaughn, includes representatives from the development, real estate, construction, architecture and other design professions. The team also includes a representative from the Housing Policy Board, a transportation planner from LTD and an affordable housing planner. The group was formed from interested community members identified through public outreach and by the Eugene Planning Commission.

The OS task team identified ten tenets for Opportunity Siting:

  1. Help preserve and enhance existing neighborhoods.

  2. Proactively direct the pressure of development to appropriate sites.

  3. Identify process mechanisms for compatible urban growth.

  4. Support the urban growth boundary, limit urban sprawl and preserve farmland and rural parkland.

  5. Promote sustainable growth and conserve energy by: a) creating walkable neighborhoods near transit corridors; and b) reducing dependency on automobiles

  6. Support existing neighborhood schools by providing sufficient family homes nearby.

  7. Capitalize on city investment by building within existing infrastructure.

  8. Allow people to stay in their neighborhoods as their housing needs change throughout their lives.

  9. Encourage the creation of housing in proximity to neighborhood amenities including open space.

  10. Provide housing choice to a broader spectrum of the community by siting housing near jobs.
As the City of Eugene’s web site describes, the ICS project is aimed at addressing the impacts of residential infill development. The city’s neighborhoods differ in such characteristics as development pattern, street pattern, block and lot layout, topography, natural environment, distance from the urban core, access to transportation options, surrounding land uses, and predominant architectural style. However, infill in most neighborhoods is regulated by base zone standards (setbacks, height limits, lot coverage limits) that may not fully address the neighborhood’s defining characteristics. As a result, some projects have been built that are described by neighbors as having negative impacts. The ICS project includes describing, categorizing, and addressing those impacts in the most effective way possible while demonstrating positive infill examples and considering the impacts on the city’s growth pattern as a whole.

The ICS task team, represented at our meeting by developer Gordon Anslow of Anslow & DeGeneault Signature Homes, is comprised of representatives from each of the nineteen City-acknowledged neighborhood associations, has in turn adopted a project goals statement:

Create and adopt land use code standards and processes that:

  • Prevent residential infill that would significantly threaten or diminish the stability, quality, positive character, livability or natural resources of residential neighborhoods; and

  • Encourage residential infill that would enhance the stability, quality, positive character, livability or natural resources of residential neighborhoods; and

  • Allow for increased density, a variety of housing types, affordable housing, and mixed-use development; and

  • Improve the appearance of buildings and landscapes.
An issue arising from the efforts of the OS and ICS task teams is whether or not form-based codes, which may be an outcome of the ICS process, are the key to the development of successful infill development projects. Form-based codes create a predictable public realm primarily by controlling physical form, such as the relationship between building facades and the street, the form and mass of buildings in relation to one another, and the scale and types of streets and blocks. However, it is the predictability of outcomes and prescriptiveness of such codes that might be the Achilles’ heel of the ICS program if the possibility of creative, imaginative solutions to infill design problems is discouraged.

As our population ages and families get smaller, people will demand different types of housing. Outmoded zoning codes are an impediment to creative, new types of housing, often prohibiting solutions such as townhomes and smaller attached and detached single family homes. The City of Eugene’s efforts to adhere to the tenets of Opportunity Siting and the Infill Compatibility Standards will potentially help developers meet the demand for these housing types while at the same time relieving pressures to expand the Eugene Urban Growth Boundary.

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