|Shooting Blanks, Part Eight|
|Bill Hudson | 6/1/12|
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|Read Part One|
On Page 137 of the Land Use and Development Code (LUDC) for the Town of Pagosa Springs — the official regulations guiding anyone wanting to build a new structure within the Town boundaries, you can find this illustration:
The image uses a couple of small photographs illustrating (for those of us not blessed with the ability to easily understand city planning jargon) how a developer might follow the Town’s regulations regarding respect for a neighborhood’s architecture — in this particular case, how to “frame a prominent location” such as a corner lot.
The actual LUDC language on Page 137 reads this way:
3. Development Responsive to Site Conditions
Development shall respond to specific site conditions and opportunities such as odd-shaped lots, location on prominent intersections, unusual topography, the protection of view corridors, significant vegetation, and/or other natural features to the maximum extent feasible.
4. Street Corners
Buildings located on street corners shall recognize the importance of their location by:
a. Concentrating tallest portions of the building at the intersection where they may “frame” the corner;
b. Employing architectural features, such as angled façades, prominent entrances, a stepped parapet wall, or other unique building features at the corner; or
c. Employing a similar technique as approved by the Director.
At the May 22 Town Planning Commission hearing, the several gentlemen representing the Walmart Corporation described their ideas for a 93,000-square-foot store proposed for a corner lot in the Aspen Village subdivision, directly across the street from a residential neighborhood. It became readily apparent to those of us in the audience that Walmart’s architects either (1) had not read the Town’s LUDC very carefully, or (2) didn’t believe that the Town really intended to apply the LUDC to a multi-national corporation like Walmart.
Take the regulations on Page 137, for example.
3. Development Responsive to Site Conditions
Development shall respond to specific site conditions and opportunities such as odd-shaped lots, location on prominent intersections, unusual topography, the protection of view corridors...
The proposed Walmart site sits directly between the residential lots in Aspen Village and some of the most stunning views in America — scenic views of the northern San Juan Mountains in all their glory.
Why, then, did the Walmart store design fail to “respond to specific site conditions and opportunities such as... the protection of view corridors "? Here is a photo of the view corridor as seen from the residential lots in Aspen Village:
The building off to the far right in the photo is the Parelli Natural Horsemanship office building. We might note that the 40,000-square-foot Parelli building — which in theory could have been built to look like any typical cardboard-box office building anywhere in America — was in fact built to emulate the architectural style used by the residential homes we see in the foreground, and was finished in wood, stonework and green stucco, presumably in an effort to blend with the colors of the landscape as viewed from this residential area of Aspen Village.
Here is a rendering of how the view will look, if Walmart were allowed to construct a 35-foot tall, 93,000-square-foot, single-story gray concrete box directly in front of these residences. I created this rendering using the drawings submitted to the Town Planning Commission.
Clearly, the Walmart Corporation made no effort to address “the protection of view corridors” when designing their store within Aspen Village — a subdivision that was approved by the Town Council in 2005 based on a pedestrian-friendly “village concept.” The Walmart design also clearly ignored the LUDC’s stipulation that “buildings located on street corners shall recognize the importance of their location...” in spite of the fact that the store is indeed proposed for a corner lot.
What the Walmart Corporation did, instead, was take the same basic design they’ve been using everywhere in America since 1962 — the Concrete Box Surrounded by Acres of Unadorned Asphalt — and proposed to plop it down directly in front of a residential neighborhood.
If you read the LUDC carefully — something that the Walmart architects may not have done — you find two basic types of regulations. A few of the regulations use the word “may” to define their requirements. In a legal document, I believe the word "may" denotes a mere suggestion — something that might be done — or might not be done — as circumstances dictate.
But all the other LUDC regulations clearly include the word "shall." In a legal document, the word "shall" means: "This must be done in all cases."
Which brings up, perhaps, a regulation contained in the LUDC on page 140 — that uses the word "shall" in several of its sentences:
C. Building Orientation
Uses with highway frontage shall have a strong internal focus, rather than a highway orientation. Entryways shall face towards the internal road system. A highway orientation will be permitted where lot depths make it difficult to achieve an internal focus... Although legibility of signs identifying businesses from the highway is important, buildings shall be oriented towards focal points within the development itself... Service and utility entrances, mechanical support facilities, and unimproved building “back sides” shall not be located within view of neighboring residences or visible from highway right-of-way.
Aspen Village has an internal road system, and the Walmart site has highway frontage. But the store design shown to the Planning Commission on May 22 has its entryway facing the highway. It has its main signage and main architectural elements facing the highway. The proposed store design directs its loading docks — its backside, in other words — squarely at the residential lots across the street in Aspen Village.
Albuquerque consultants Bohannan & Huston did a fine job, I thought, in pointing out the numerous ways that the proposed Walmart design fails to meet “shall” statements within the LUDC. You can read their report — and view the related LUDC regulations — by downloading this file.
Apparently, the Town Planning Commission agreed with the consultants’ assessments. At the end of the May 22 meeting, the Planning Commission “continued” the Walmart Design Review until July 10, to allow the Walmart representatives to address the flaws in their proposal. The commission noted, in their motion to continue, no fewer than 16 possible violations of the LUDC in the Walmart plan. The commission also asked for specific information concerning what chemicals or other materials, exactly, the Walmart store’s proposed drainage system would dump into the adjacent wetlands — a wetlands that, as I understand it, drains into Pinon Lake, and from Pinon Lake into our PAWSD water storage reservoirs.
As I comprehend the intentions at the heart of Pagosa’s LUDC, our community ultimately desires to become an attractive, pedestrian-oriented town — like so many attractive, pedestrian-oriented towns found throughout America. The LUDC is the keystone of the Town’s attempt to reach that goal... someday. The Walmart store plan, as presented last month, fails in several important ways to meet the LUDC’s hopeful criteria.
So we are left wondering. Will Walmart cowboy up, and build the type of attractive, well-designed, respectful development our LUDC specifies? Or will they take their box and go home, like a spoiled child?
Or — heaven forbid — will the Town Council rush to modify the LUDC, at the earliest possible opportunity, in an attempt to accommodate the Big Box from Arkansas?
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