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A Tale Of Two Cities And TOD

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. This is a tale of two cities and transit-oriented development.

"When the Leander transit-oriented development was designed in 2005, the city created an award-winning TOD Smart Code to help guide development in the area. But nearly five years later, nothing has been built in the TOD, and some wonder if the code is as smart for landowners as city officials thought it would be."

That's the opening of an article in the Community Impact Newspaper in central Texas.

"The recession hasn't stopped San Francisco's city planners from thinking big.

"The Planning Department released an ambitious set of proposals Thursday to turn the blocks around the Transbay Terminal into a commercial and transportation centerpiece of the region over the next two decades.

"The 145-acre "Transit Center District" would redraw San Francisco's skyline with a half-dozen towers taller than almost any in the city, including one stretching at least 100 feet higher than the Transamerica Pyramid. The plan would widen the sidewalks and narrow the streets around a rebuilt terminal. It also would reroute most Bay Bridge commuter traffic outside the pedestrian-oriented district."

And that's the opening of an article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

In Leander, its "wow" vs. flexibility.

“We are talking about reverting back to the old way and old zoning,” Leander council member Kirsten Lynch told the newspaper. “My understanding was to make the TOD have a wow factor, but this is taking away the wow.”

“The more tools you can give people to develop their property, the better the TOD will be,” Pix Howell, urban design officer for Leander told the newspaper. “We are exercising the part of the code that allows us to make a special district, which will demonstrate the capability the code has to create a unique condition in the TOD.”

The urban development envisioned for the area is not expected to be completed for at least 30 years. The core transit-oriented commercial projects are not expected to break ground until 2011.

Howell's zoning change will allow for what he describes as "land banking," in which a property can be developed today for low-density purposes -- used car lots, a garden center -- and redeveloped later when the urban growth reaches the area.

In San Francisco, the new district is centered on the Transbay Terminal, which will be rebuilt to accommodate commuter rail service and the state's high-speed rail system.

Mayor Gavin Newsom called the project a lynchpin of the city's future growth, "one that is based in sustainability and channeling growth around major investments in public  transit.”

"This is a 25-year plan. There's no question in our mind that this is the part of the city that should grow much more dense. ... It's appropriate for us to embrace this, and make sure it happens well," John Rahaim, the city's planning director, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The city's plan makes the most of the opportunity to grow up, rather than out.

Seven skyscrapers envisioned in the plan will focus housing and office space near transit. City planners estimate that the district would produce 62 percent less carbon dioxide than a typical Bay Area suburban development with the same square footage.

The public improvements to the district are budgeted at $567 million (not including the transit center). Planners expect to pay for that with taxes and fees on new construction, but that means the pace of improvements will be tied to economic conditions.

"The fees we have on the table are based on what's feasible for developers," Rahaim told the Chronicle. "When the market turns around, there will be renewed interest. Downtown San Francisco will continue to be a desirable place to do business."

The plan documents are available at transitcenter.sfplanning.org