Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Schedule Reminder

As previously announced, the public hearing for the Zoning Ordinance Update originally scheduled for this evening has been postponed. The next public hearing will be held Monday March 9th.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Development Incentives

Several portions of the Town Center code refer to "development incentives." The concept for the proposed code is to allow greater flexibility for developers while maintaining absolute fairness from site to site. With that goal in place, a series of incentives have been built into the proposed TC-1 and TC-2 districts.

Each incentive relates to a development characteristic described as desirable by stakeholders. However, these stakeholders did not feel that every site should be required to meet each characteristic. Therefore, each has been associated with a related "benefit" for development.

The three benefits are increased permitted building height, increased residential density, and reduced parking requirement. Each incentive is only available where the give and take are related. For example, if a site develops with mixed use, a developer can take a reduction in the parking requirement. The relationship is derived by the increase in pedestrian activity, and reduction in parking need for those customers.

Characteristics which are eligible for an incentive include: Open Space Preservation, Mixed-Use Development, Green Building, Wide Sidewalks, Increased Plaza Space, Sidewalk Improvement, and Structured Parking. For each characteristic met, the developer of a project must select one of the three incentives to apply. Other incentives may be gained by meeting other characteristics.

Design Aesthetics in the Town Center

Development in the Town Center has been viewed as an opportunity to cultivate a higher design aesthetic within the City. However, the proposed code does not move into full architectural review of projects as is common in some similar districts. Also, the proposed code provides flexibility as well as regulation. The desired outcome is a higher quality development environment with additional freedom and flexibility.

Building material is an example of this higher quality balanced with increased flexibility. Structures in the Town Center will be required to provide 100% of exterior walls with an approved material. However, unlike other portions of the existing zoning code (remaining in place after this update for other zoning districts), structures in the Town Center will have a wider range of building materials to consider. Specifically, the proposed code will permit brick, EIFS, rock, stone, and wood. Exposed metal will not be permitted as a façade material.

Colors will also be regulated under the proposed code. A maximum of three colors will be permitted per site. Earth tones native to East Texas are also a requirement. Color in signage is excluded from these regulations. Such signage and colors, if exceeding the regulation, must fit within the allowable square footage for attached signage.

The other significant feature of the code relates to façade configuration. To reduce monotony and encourage a comfortable pedestrian environment, codes of this type typically regulate transparency. In short, the regulations require a certain percentage of the first floor to consist of windows and other transparent materials. This requirement greatly enhances both perception and reality of public safety. This practice is commonly referred to as "eyes on the street." The inclusion of transparency also increases viability of commercial activities. The requirement would not apply to residential, religious, educational, or other similar uses. The following graphic illustrates the concept of transparency under the code.

Signage in the Town Center

The manner in which signage is handled in the Town Center will have a significant impact on the district's character. Two goals of the district were to encourage pedestrian activity and promote a higher urban design.

The proposed code makes several changes to the existing sign ordinance for TC-1 and TC-2. The most radical is the elimination of freestanding signs. This proposed change will limit primary signage to monument or attached configurations. Another noteworthy change relates to video boards on signs.

Within the town center, these and other "spectacular" signs will be permitted only with static images. Signs will not be allowed to change more than once per minute under the proposed ordinance. This restriction will also cover blinking or traveling lights. Video and audio are not permitted. Banners and other temporary signage will only be permitted with a sign permit which complies with the allowable square footage totals for the site.

Public Hearing Tonight!

This evening the Planning and Zoning Commission will hold the first public hearing on the proposed zoning ordinance update. While the consultant and city staff have held many public workshops and town hall meetings, this is an opportunity for citizens and stakeholders to speak directly to Whitehouse elected and appointed officials about the ordinance. The City Council will hold a similar public hearing later in the month, and both boards may hold additional public hearings to fine tune the code. However, all interested parties are strongly encouraged to attend this evening to have their say in the update process.

The meeting will be held in the Council Chambers/Municipal Court building at 6:30 pm, Monday February 16, 2009.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Parking in the Town Center

Parking in the Town Center is addressed differently from other zoning districts.  Due to the inherent mixed-use land use, broad categories of use determine the parking requirement.  Residential and lodging uses must provide parking based on the number of dwelling units.  Commercial and office uses must provide parking based on square footage.

Sites in TC-2 require slightly more parking due to different parking lot and site design standards.  However, the proposed general parking requirement is lower in the Town Center than in other parts of Whitehouse.

Another concept that is slightly different in the Town Center address the location of parking.  To maintain the pedestrian streetscape, parking is primarily located in the rear or on the sides of structures under the proposed code.  In the TC-1 District, only 10% of total parking is permitted within the build-to range.  In the TC-2 District, only 50% is allowed in the build-to range.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Buffering Elements

Structures within the Town Center have the opportunity to build at a higher urban scale than other portions of Whitehouse. To help mitigate this aspect of the Town Center development pattern, a buffering requirement is included in the proposed code.

The existing buffering element for zoning within Whitehouse utilizes setbacks exclusively. The proposed code language would introduce the concept of a sky exposure angle. In short, the height of a building cannot exceed the height of a visibility angle as viewed from a protected land use. The goal is to minimize the impact tall buildings may have on existing single-family homes just outside the district. In addition to the sky exposure angle, the proposed code calls for a solid masonry fence and screening trees near the common border.

The concept is described in the following illustration. In this example, Town Center buildings are shown abutting existing single-family homes (the back yards and rear of the homes is shown on the right side of the image). The height of the buildings would be limited based on the 45 degree visibility angle. As shown, buildings could not reach their full allowable height near the common border. The other buffering elements such as the fence, trees, and setback are also included.

Town Center Landscaping and Pedestrian Friendly Streetscape

In a typical zoning district, landscaping is the primary method for improving community wellbeing through aesthetics. While landscaping is also important in the Town Center, much of the aesthetic focus centers on the streetscape. Parking lot and site landscaping are particularly reduced in favor of pedestrian streetscape considerations.

The code does include proposed streetscape elements providing environmental coverage for sidewalk and public space. These requirements may be fulfilled either through canopy street trees or a built canopy/arcade. While a site may utilize either option, 100% of the sidewalk must be covered. A site may also be designed with a mix of coverage. A typical example of this mix could be a site with a covered canopy where the building is located within the build-to range. In portions of the site without a building, street trees could be utilized to provide cover for the remaining sidewalk.

Requirements for landscaping are similar for both TC-1 and TC-2. However, TC-2 (the more automobile oriented district) has some emphasis shifted to parking lot landscaping from street trees.

Another element of Town Center streetscape addresses plaza space. Plaza space in intended to provide small but inviting sites spread throughout the Town Center for public use. Each plaza may be relatively small, however locating these sites throughout the district should help encourage pedestrian activity. For special events such as parades or Yesteryear, the plazas will also provide additional gathering points for district visitors.

The minimum size of each plaza is determined by the size of the building(s) located on the site. 1 square foot of plaza space would be required for each 100 square feet of floor space in the building. Where buildings have multiple stories, the total square footage for all floors would be utilized.

Several examples of actual plaza space are shown below. In some examples, the plaza space is incorporated into a wide portion of the sidewalk. In others, the plaza space is a connected but separate area.

Town Center Building and Lot Continued

The relationship of a structure to the sidewalk and street also have a noteworthy impact on a district's pedestrian friendliness. In general, sites with structures which are closer to the street create a more comfortable environment for walking. Sites which occupy more of the frontage also enhance the feeling of an "urban room" for pedestrians.

The following image was included in the visual preference survey of potential Town Center development patterns. In this site, the structure creates this urban room feel through its height and proximity to the street. As illustrated, the structure is located within 30' for the street. Though not labeled on this image, the sidewalk in this example is approximately 10' wide.

The proposed Town Center code encourages these design considerations though several modifications of typical zoning code. The first change is the elimination of front and side setbacks. The proposed code does not require any setback from the ROW line beyond the required sidewalk width.

The proposed code takes this a step further and introduces the concept of a build-to range. Rather than require a separation between the building and street, a build-to notion encourages the opposite. In the proposed code, a certain percentage of a building's front façade must be located within a certain distance from the street. This requirement is the first area where TC-1 and TC-2 differ.

The TC-1 District (Town Center Main Street) is intended for sites primarily located along FM 346. Because many sites in this location are small and suitable for walking, the range is closer. Buildings must extend to within 20' of the front ROW. Additionally, at least 50% of the façade must be within this range.

The TC-2 District (Town Center Troup Highway) is intended for sites with a more automobile focus. Because these sites are typically larger is size and depth, the build-to range is extended to 60' in the proposed code. The façade length is also reduced to 40%.

The advantage of creating two districts is the flexibility of expanding the Town Center zoning where appropriate along Highway 110. This can happen over time as developers become more comfortable with the Town Center zoning framework. The TC-2 district can retain many of the elements which set the Town Center apart, but also have some differences which better accommodate automobile traffic.

Another element of the code intended to encourage more pedestrian activity relates to sidewalks. Under the proposed code, sites would be required to extend the soon to be constructed sidewalk to 12'. In cases where ROW is not sufficient, the sidewalk would be extended onto private property. The purpose of wider sidewalks is to provide for room to use public space within the district. While 12' is not ideal, it does provide an excellent starting point.

While the proposal is for a 12' minimum width, ultimate design authority will remain with TXDOT. All sidewalk site plans must be reviewed by staff in the agency to ensure safe design of the sidewalk.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Town Center Building and Lot

The most basic regulation for the Town Center addresses building and lot design. The Town Center is intended to be accommodating of development which is mixed-use, pedestrian, and of a higher quality.

Regulations which cover design elements such as block face and perimeter help meet these goals by creating small block sizes, more adaptive for pedestrian use. Smaller lots sizes are also permitted in the districts. Smaller lots are common in a wide range of pedestrian friendly development patterns because they allow for a wider diversity of uses that may be of interest to those on foot.

The proposed code seeks to create consistency with regard to residential density. Both a minimum and maximum density are proposed in the code. Sites which develop for residential uses would be required to reach at least 10 dwelling units per acre. By right, the proposed maximum density would be 25 dwelling units per acre.

Building bulk is another development aspect addressed in this table. While other districts in the zoning code prescribe only a maximum height, the Town Center districts go one step further. The code encourages both pedestrian scale and height consistency by requiring a minimum façade height. Maintaining this consistency in height will help build a psychological comfort for pedestrians.

By right, the proposed Town Center districts do not allow for structures as tall as in other parts of Whitehouse. The proposed code allows for buildings reaching 42 feet. However, through development incentives, sites can potentially reach a height of 70 feet.

To help illustrate what these sizes could look like, several scale drawings were created. In each, three scenarios are shown of a hypothetical development project within the district. One shows the site with no structure. Another shows the site with a structure standing at 42' tall. A third shows the site with a 70' tall structure. It should be stressed that this is NOT a proposed project, but simply a site chosen for its central location and suitability for this example.

The final example shows the same hypothetical scenario from a different perspective.

Town Center Code

The Town Center portion of this project is a set of zoning districts within the primary code. The TC zoning district (potentially two districts) will function just like the other districts such as C-L or R-H. The following posts will explain a few of the key concepts behind the districts, and what differentiates them from the other, more traditional districts.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Commercial Dimensional Standards

As with the last post, this portion of the code addresses intensity and lot design. The primary areas of focus are the Retail/Office Low Intensity district (C-L), Retail/Office Medium Intensity district (C-M), Retail/Office High Intensity district (C-H), and Town Center (TC-1 and TC-2) districts. General Industrial and Light Industrial/Business Park will remain largely unchanged.

Residential density is considered in these districts as residential attached housing will be permitted in upper floors of commercial buildings. The densities are roughly equivalent to low, medium, and high residential districts (with the exception of Residential Low Density). The highest allowable density will be within the Town Center. In this district, a minimum density will be required for residential use (10 dwelling units per acre in Town Center Main Street, and 5 dwelling units per acre in Town Center Troup Highway). Residential development will also be permitted to reach 25 DU per acre by right, and 50 DU per acre with incentives.

The other major area for consideration is structure height. C-L will be capped at 35' for the primary structure. C-M and C-H will be capped at 45' and 60' respectively. By right, development in the Town Ce
nter will be limited to 50' but may reach heights of 70' though incentives. These heights are illustrated in abstract form in the included graphic. The districts increase from left to right, C-L to TC-1/2.

Posts focusing on the Town Center will illustrate the issue of height within that district in more detail.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Residential Dimensional Standards

The previous post focused on land use within the proposed zoning ordinance. This post will discuss the dimensional requirements in the proposed code, specifically those dealing with land use. These regulations, combined with land use, helps to differentiate between "high" and "low" intensity and density sites.

Minimum lot size has a significant impact on the intensity/density of development. As shown on the tables, minimum lot size generally reduces from low to high intensity. Maximum lot coverage also generally rises with increased intensity. Maximum dwelling units and building height also rise as the intensity of the district increases.

The consultant team has produced several graphics which may help to illustrate the residential tables. These graphics are a WORST CASE SCENARIO, not the recommended neighborhood design. Still, the graphics do represent what could be developed under the code. The first graphic conforms to the Residential Low Density (R-L) district. Homes were placed at the minimum setbacks from each other and the street. The lots are also drawn as small as possible within the R-L district.

The second drawing illustrates a possible development scenario under the Residential Medium Density District (R-M). Again, the drawing can be considered the base-line for development. Homes are again placed as close together and to the street as possible. Lot size (3,600 square feet with 50 foot wide lots), lot coverage (30%), etc. are pushed to produce the highest possible number of hypothetical homes. Both of these drawings are included not to scare citizens, but rather to illustrate what the numbers could look like graphically. As mentioned, the numbers were based on public involvement during this project as well as during the Vision 2020 Comprehensive Plan program. The existing zoning ordinance and calculations of existing Whitehouse neighborhoods were also utilized to fine tune the proposed ordinance.

Specific areas of the residential table which should be considered include residential density. The proposed densities, ranging from less than one residential unit per acre (for Agricultural Open (AO)) to 20 units per acre (for Residential High R-H), are based on public involvement. The recommended densities also comply with those first discussed in the Vision 2020 Comprehensive Plan.

Another graphic example that will help illustrate what the code means in visual terms relates to height. Under the proposed ordinance, the typical height limit for single-family homes remains unchanged, capped at 35 feet. One variation from the existing ordinance covers high density residential development. The existing regulations allow for structures of 60 feet. Under the proposed code, the maximum height of residential structures in the Residential High Density District (R-H) would be reduced to 45 feet. The graphic shows both of these height scenarios. R-E (estate), R-L, and R-M fit within the example on the left. R-L would allow for heights corresponding with the example on the right.

The next post will deal with similar issues for non-residential districts.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

First Public Hearing Date Change

In order to give full notice of the public hearing, City Staff has rescheduled the first public hearing to a special Planning & Zoning Commission meeting to be held on Monday, February 16, 2008. The time and location are unchanged.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Land Use Tables

Much of the regulation in the proposed zoning ordinance relies on the classification of either land use or intensity. The first component of this, land use, is conveyed in three tables. The first is an overview of the zoning districts.

Several districts from the existing code are renamed in the proposed ordinance. One example of this is the former RA district becoming Agricultural Open (AO). Other districts have been replaced to fit more closely with the Vision 2020 plan. Residential Estate (R-E), Residential Low Density (R-L), Residential Medium Density (R-M), and Residential High Density (R-H) are examples of such districts. Some districts have been split to provide increased land use precision. Under the proposed code, the existing B-1 district would become Retail/Office Low Intensity (C-L), Retail/Office Medium Intensity (C-M), and Retail/Office High Intensity (C-H) to accomplish this purpose. In addition, new districts are proposed. Town Center (both TC-1 and TC-2) are examples of these additions. Lastly, several districts will be retained with few if any alterations other than name or minor text changes. Single Family Manufactured Home (HM-SF), Manufactured Home Park (MH-P), General Industrial (GI), and Light Industrial/Business Park (LI-BP) are examples of these small changes.

All existing Planned Development Districts (PDD) will remain in force and unchanged under the proposed ordinance. These are primarily found in residential neighborhoods such as Rosebrook. Existing deed restrictions will remain in place, as these instruments are not regulated by the City or zoning.

Under the proposed code, land use will be regulated through a Use Table. This table centralizes the list of permitted uses in a more user friendly format. The table (presented here in two parts) shows the various districts along the top row. Each use is listed vertically in the left-hand column. To read the table, find the cell which lines up with the desired use and zoning district. Uses which are permitted by right are labeled with a "P." Uses which are permitted with conditions are also listed. The basic conditioned are included in the cell itself. If these conditions are met, no Conditional Use Permit (CUP) will be required. Uses which are labeled with a "-" are not permitted.

An example for how to read the code would be Auction Sales in the AO district. As shown on the table, this use would be permitted when such sales relate directly to agricultural activities. Another example, Automotive Related Services are not permitted in the AO district.

As supported in the Vision 2020 Plan and discussed in the public involvement of this program, the concept of mixed-use districts is proposed. The primary mixed-use districts will be the two Town Center Districts (TC-1, and TC-2). These districts will have a high degree of mixing, both within the same site as well as within the same building. Other districts will also permit some mixed use. For example, Residential High Density (R-H) will allow for some commercial uses within residential buildings. The district also provides for some complementary commercial uses as single use developments. Mixed-use provisions also allow for upper story multi-family to be incorporated into commercial buildings within all Retail/Office districts.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Zoning Ordinance Update

After a brief delay due to technical problems, the Consulting and City Staff is happy to begin releasing the proposed zoning ordinance update material. This morning's update includes the proposed zoning map, existing zoning map, and Vision 2020 Future Land Use Plan map. Each map thumbnail below brings up a zoomable map. Viewing the maps will require the Flash plug-in.

Three Guiding Principals were identified for this project. Each of these principals will be addressed in the zoning map and following code language. The principals are:

  1. Allow for compatibility and coordination between the Zoning Map and the Vision 2020 Comprehensive Plan.
  2. Establish precision land use control tools.
  3. Embrace a modern and user-friendly approach to land use control.

The included proposed zoning map should show a high level of coordination between the Vision 2020 map. However, one important concept is that the Future Land Use Plan is intended to be abstract and serve as a comprehensive guide. By contrast, zoning must regulate land use with exact geographic precision. Therefore, subtle differences exist between the two maps. Moreover, elected officials should be free to consider a variety of factors when translating the abstract lines in the Future Land Use map to zoning issues.

An entry will be posted each day this week leading up to the first public hearing scheduled for Monday, February 9th at 6:30 pm in the Whitehouse Council Chambers/Municipal Court.