08 August 2007

Developers: Welcome to Columbia

Sara Michael of the Baltimore Examiner has an article in the paper today about developers and their feelings about a design advisory board. As reported, some developers were open to the idea and others expressed doubt. In particular:

Scott Armiger, vice president of Orchard Development in Ellicott City, said the
free market should drive the building design, not an appointed panel.

“I think it should be left up to the developer,” he said, adding that the panel’s recommendations could drive up development costs. Developers conduct market studies and community meetings to ensure the development is good-looking and fits the neighborhood, Armiger said.

“I don’t think we would care to have someone else design a product for us,” he said, adding it could be an “unnecessary step that makes things more bureaucratic.”

For Mr. Armiger and those developers who believe design review is a bad idea, all I ask is that you take a look at the self-storage building adjacent to Snowden River Parkway. I do not think that any market studies or community meetings were held in conjunction with the design of this building. It is an eyesore.

I would also direct their attention to the corner of Governor Warfield Parkway and Twin Rivers Road (I really need to get some pictures of this). Here we have four townhouse developments, one on each corner. On the Wilde Lake side of Governor Warfield Parkway are the Bryant Square and Hollow Oaks townhouse communities. The exterior of the Hollow Oaks townhomes are tan brick with wood trim. The Bryant Square townhomes feature white stucco (although some have been converted to aluminum siding of various colors). On the Town Center side of Governor Warfield Parkway are the Whitney condos and the Governors Grant townhomes. Governors Grant is all red brick (at least from the road) and the Whitney is red brick with a tan/cream (ecru?) siding. The end result is a complete mish-mash of construction materials that don’t work well together. Taken separately, each development has its charm. Pushed together at one intersection, it is a monument to incompatibility. In my opinion, it is visual noise. These are two examples in which a design review board would have helped immensely (anyone else have examples?).

Moreover, as any resident of Columbia that wanted to build a deck or change the color of their front door will tell you, design review is nothing new to most of the property in Columbia. It’s called the Architectural Committee. Each Village has one. It is my opinion that design review would put us (residents and developers) all under the same tent. In fact, it may be worth while to look at the Architectural Control section of the Covenants (Article VII) from each Village for a starting point. The criteria for disapproval are actually quite good (Section 7.03, (a) through (i)):

Section 7.03. The Architectural Committee shall have the right to disapprove any plans and specifications submitted hereunder because of any of the following:

(a) the failure of such plans or specifications to comply with any of the Wilde Lake

(b) failure to include information in such plans and specifications as may have been reasonably requested;

(c) objection to the exterior design, appearance or materials of any proposed

(d) incompatibility of any proposed Structure or use with existing Structures or uses upon other Lots in the vicinity;

(e) objection to the location of any proposed Structure upon any Lot or with reference to other Lots in the vicinity;

(f) objection to the grading plan for any Lot;

(g) objection to the color scheme, finish, proportions, style of architecture, height, bulk or appropriateness of any proposed Structure;

(h) objection to parking areas proposed for any Lot on the grounds of
(i) incompatibility to proposed uses and Structures on such Lot or (ii) the insufficiency of the size of parking areas in relation to the proposed use of the Lot; or

(i) any other matter which, in the judgment of the Architectural Committee, would render the proposed Structure, Structures or uses inharmonious with the general plan of improvement of the Property or with Structures or uses located upon other Lots in the vicinity.

I should be clear about one point. I do not believe that the Columbia Village Architectural Committees should have their authority expanded beyond their current charge. As a former member of the Wilde Lake Architectural Committee and former chair of the Wilde Lake Resident Architectural Committee, I know firsthand that these committees already have an enormous amount of work to do. They do not need to have more put on their plate. I believe a County based Design Advisory Panel is the right way to go. However, I do believe the above cited portions of the Wilde Lake (and the other Villages wording are similar) Covenants are a good place to start when writing the Design Advisory Panel charter.


pzguru said...

Ecru? That's worth some bonus points to dig up a color like that.

I agree with Mr. Armiger that it's not necessary. And, it adds a HUGE layer of unpredictability to the system. Remember, developers have to spend thousands of dollars on architectural design fees, just to get a concept plan. If their designs are subject to vague or arbitrary aesthetic guidelines, that money is down the drain.

I understand the goal, but consider this. The four corners that you mention were not all built at the same time - public tastes and design trends change over time (almost monthly it seems). How bland would a city be if all the buildings used the same color or materials?

What if a board member liked those pink flamingo lawn ornaments. Imagine the design horrors that could result.

You can probably tell I'm not a huge HOA fan - for the simple reason that I think they go too far and over-regulate home owners to death. I cancelled a contract on a house because the Covenants PROHIBITED a starburst pattern in the wood spindles on a deck. As if that type of pattern would devalue the neighborhood. It's actullay borderline communistic that to buy a new house in 95% of this Country, people have to sign away all their rights and subject themselves to the whims of rampant regulators.

I don't have an HOA, and honestly, all of the homes and properties are well kept.

Ecru - i just wanted to say it again for the heck of it.

Anonymous said...

I'll see your ecru and raise you an aubergine.

Part of the value of HOAs are they typically require more than either one resident or one HOA board member to give the a-ok to pink flamingos.

I, too, think it's better to let people choose for themselves between HOA communities and HOA-free communities, deciding if they want to sacrifice some choices in order to have the protections HOAs offer.

But HOAs typically are imposed on residents after the initial community has been established, not developers beforehand.

So, this would be a change, bringing HOA-like requirements to bear on developers early in development (or redevelopment) of an area. And requiring such design oversight for a larger area than a typical HOA covers. In this case, it would start with the large Route 1 corridor, and then spread to other areas of interest in the County (Route 40 corridor and one other I think have been mentioned).

For the Route 1 corridor, however, is such HOA-like design oversight by the County necessary? Or are the requirements included in the recent TOD zoning applied to the Route 1 corridor sufficient to provide the desired outcomes?

Tom O said...

I've been saying it for years now, outparcel development is and will be the major development concern for nine villages during the foreseeable future. Remember the CVS in Hickory Ridge and almost a strip shopping center behind the Dorsey Search Village Center. I don't think the outparcels should come under the CA lien, but I do think any development should be within some review that insures the development stays within the "spirit" of the New Town Zoning
master plan. The community has done well by this plan. The potential hodge podge development of the various outpacels should not be allowed to ruin the hard work done during the past 40+ years.

Anonymous said...

Do you mean the Walgreen's (not CVS) that was proposed in Hickory Ridge?

On properties within Columbia not bought by the Rouse Company way back when, there is already a lot of protection against surprise commercial hodge podge. The existing protection lies in many of the objectionable proposals requiring zoning changes from residential to commercial to be approved by the Zoning Board.

A far more prevalent and continuing concern for the villages may actually be just-outside-Columbia and workplace-centric, remote-from-residential commercial development of groceries and restaurants eroding economic viability of the village centers.

In part due to this external or remote competition, as village center grocery store anchors have come and gone, Columbia residents, CA, and the village centers owners and tenants have contended with making compromises to attract new groceries. Some concessions have included ceding CA open space for village center commercial expansion, allowing larger grocery stores to be built that provided additional products that drove local businesses in those centers out of business, and reconfiguring village centers to have much less Columbia-like features and instead much more resemble every other car-centric vanilla strip mall.

For the many people who live in close proximity to these village centers (the areas around the village centers are the most population dense in Columbia), such compromises to maintain village center viability against the encroaching competition lessens the Columbia experience.

So, how to keep the village centers viable and aesthetic in the more competitive world of warehouse clubs, big box stores, nearby groceries viable due to nearby residential development over the past 20 years, nearby gourmet groceries, etc.? That's a question into which some village boards' committees have put considerable time, thought, and effort. The only magic bullet is an involved and informed community.

thecourtyard said...

two thoughts:

1) If Columbia were incorporated as a city - and was able to annex the out-parcels - would it be able to pressure the owners to conform to the planned city's aesthetic intentions?

2) I think the main visual clutter between the Whitney and Governor's Grant is that the two developments make conflicting statements to the streetscape. Governor's Grant acts like rowhouses in D.C. or Baltimore - close to the street, open, public - whereas the Whitney is subdued, set behind a wall, etc. The rhythm of door/window/door you see at Governor's Grant doesn't exist at the Whitney because there's a wall, garage doors, etc.

I guess what I'm saying is that things like building materials, window sizes, etc. aren't as important as the way buildings approach the street and define public and private space. Take out the walls and run some sidewalks up to front doors and balconies and the Whitney would relate much better to Governor's Grant.