Today, the Skinker DeBaliviere Community Council will vote on whether to support the Delmar Form Based District. Planning efforts for the neighborhood have been underway for roughly a decade. This has resulted in a comprehensive neighborhood plan, a transit-oriented development plan, and a traffic study plan. The Delmar FBD is essential for neighborhood planning as it has the power to codify urban form and design standards in a way that the neighborhood plan and the transit-oriented development plan have not. The potential for the up-zoning along Delmar has created opposition, so I’ve done my civic duty to email the neighborhood council my thoughts in support. You can read that email below.
I am writing to the Skinker DeBaliviere Community Council Board regarding the proposed Delmar Form Based District. The Delmar FBD represents a significant effort on behalf of the neighborhood to plan for a more inclusive and prosperous future. The thoroughness of this process in both community engagement and guidance from planning experts has developed a comprehensive plan that paves the path for a vibrant future.
I am aware that there is a small contingent of neighborhood residents that is concerned about the form-based district for personal reasons. In the last neighborhood meetings, this group raised concerns about change, parking, traffic congestion, and building heights.
To address each of these briefly:
Change – Change is a constant. The neighborhood cannot prevent the larger regional socio-economic trends that are creating demand to develop taller buildings on the neighborhood’s arterial edges. The proposed Delmar FBD ensures that neighborhood voice guides healthy and sustainable urban development in a clear, consistent, and comprehensive manner. The notion that this will create gentrification is false. Gentrification is already baked into the next decade of change for the neighborhood. We can either build housing for the residents that will move here and attempt to create enough supply for the many residents (present and future) that want to live here, or we can freeze supply and exclude current and future residents from being able to afford the neighborhood we all love.
Parking and Traffic Congestion – Adding residents to the neighborhood will indeed bring additional cars to the neighborhood. However, criticisms that the FBD should mandate a 1.0 parking minimum would only increase the number of cars in the neighborhood by overbuilding car infrastructure in the neighborhood. This would increase traffic congestion. The Delmar FBD’s reduced parking minimums encourage fewer cars per person to be added to the neighborhood. As the neighborhood desires to be a more sustainable place in the future, a more car-optional development code aligns with such a vision.
Building Heights – When Opus proposed a 14-story building on the corner of Skinker and Delmar, many residents opposed exclaimed that it might be appropriate if it was 8 stories as proposed by the Delmar FBD. Now that Opus has been turned down, the goal posts move again. The biggest negative externality that building height imposes on its neighbors is shadows, but this is a non-issue for residents of Skinker DeBaliviere as they live south of Delmar. Critics continue to suggest taller buildings aren’t needed, despite the fact that developers are telling us the land prices won’t pencil for construction without building up. As household sizes have decreased in recent years, the only way to add more neighbors (we’ve lost 2,000 in the last 30 years) is to build more housing units. Unless residents suggest we replace all single family housing in the neighborhood with three-story apartment buildings, taller buildings on Delmar and DeBaliviere are necessary. There is already precedent for taller buildings on both Delmar and DeBaliviere.
In summary, I believe the opposition to the FBD to be inconsistent with Skinker DeBaliviere’s future as an increasingly inclusive and prosperous neighborhood.
It has also been suggested that residents are unaware of this plan’s vision for the neighborhood. Neighborhood planning has been in progress for the better part of a decade and the proposed Delmar FBD represents both the vision of the adopted neighborhood urban design and development plan (2018) and the reality of significant development investment in the neighborhood in recent years as evidenced by The Expo, The Hudson, The Moonrise, and The Gotham. The proposed Delmar FBD would simply codify an improved version of the form and design decisions made by these developers.
Please consider that the small minority of voices that has loudly spoken out against the proposed Delmar FBD does not represent the will of the nearly 4,000 residents currently living in the neighborhood and the many more residents that will live in the neighborhood in the future. By nature, open public comment attracts those most opposed while those content with the plan stand aside to let the process continue. Their position holds as much weight as mine such that it is the opinion of a single individual and not representative of the thousands of neighbors with varying opinions. Moreover, personal opinions about neighborhood development should not outweigh what is best for the neighborhood and city as a whole. New neighbors, businesses, restaurants, offices, banks, and more add to the city’s prosperity while improving the lives of neighborhood residents.
I applaud the FBD steering committee for the hard work they’ve done, and I think it is important to acknowledge the committee is comprised of a broad array of community members. While the last meeting met criticism that the steering committee is a shill for greedy developers, the reality is that under 25% of the members represent development interests while nearly 67% of the members represent neighborhood or local government interests. This composition of the steering committee demonstrates why the proposal meets at the confluence of reality and vision.
The proposed Delmar FBD is a significant contribution to the neighborhood’s future direction and should be approved.