Tuesday Morning Perspective - CVS, Development, and River Bend

In response to last week's Perspective, a reader posted the following comment:

As you may or may not know, CVS is planning a new box store to replace the buildings on the northwest corner and when I pushed to have it built on the corner with the parking lot behind it, they balked.

CVS has been working for some time to assemble land and push through the zoning and permitting process for constructing a new store (the first CVS in Des Moines) on Euclid between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.


View Larger Map

Note the small-scale pedestrian-oriented retail development along this block. It's not in great physical shape and has been radically altered over the years in ways that destroyed much of the original character of the buildings. However, this is one of the few blocks where traditional pedestrian-scale form remains on both sides of the street.

Second and Euclid - Google Street ViewSecond and Euclid - Google Street View

My return comment included the following, and I thought this morning, I would elaborate a bit...

To be quite honest, convincing box chains of any type to alter their property development formula is very difficult. The most successful instances are when the City supports (or is behind) the effort, and there are zoning regulations in place to provide "teeth" to the argument. In the absence of these, it is unlikely that neighbors will be able to exact much concession.

There are multiple competing interests here: the developer (often different than the business), the property owner (sometimes different than the developer), the business, surrounding property and business owners, and neighborhood residents.

To be quite blunt about it, private citizen/residents typically have little power during the "development" process, even when they are right. Much of the conversation happens outside of the public eye - by the time it appears in front of the City Council, it has been through the vetting process and there is little opportunity for substantive change. Public resistance may delay the process. It is difficult to muster sustained and successful opposition under the general rallying cry of "the proposed building doesn't really fit into the character of a pedestrian-retail district".

Staff recommendation at the initial appeal included the following:

Staff recommends that any vacation be subject to approval of a site plan concept by the City Council at the time of conveyance that demonstrates adequate pedestrian routes from the primary retail building entrances to the adjoining public sidewalk system. The plan should also adhere to all landscaping setback and plant material minimum standards while providing an enhanced urban edge within the setback and plant material minimum standards within the perimeter lot setback areas... This would include decorative site walls and fencing at a pedestrian scale... to help tie in from an urban design perspective to surrounding properties with a zero setback building character. This is similar to solutions that were derived for the Dahl's grocery store development on Ingersoll Avenue...

With all due respect to the City Planning staff, who I think get it right the vast, vast majority of the time, this is exactly what I was afraid would happen as a result of the Dahl's approvals. It is now being used as precedent to back removal of actual pedestrian-oriented form and replacement with suburban-style construction. What happens when a developer purchases the adjacent property and proposes a drive-thru (mark my words)? The standard is set: push the building to the back of the lot and build a "decorative site wall" to reinforce the urban edge. Sooner or later, there is no urban to the urban edge.

Not to mention the fact that a Walgreens pharmacy is located one block away. Note the plantings out from that hold the urban street edge... If only they had a decorative fence, too..

The best way I have seen to address redevelopment or uban sites, particularly those sites in pedestrian-oriented commercial districts, is establishment of what are called "form-based" zoning overlays. "Traditional" zoning manages change by strictly segregating use and setting up bulk requirements for abstract concepts like "floor area ratio", parking ratio, and units-per-acre. A form-based code guides redevelopment by, well, form. In other words, they regulate the actual form of the built environment to achieve specific urban planning goals. This approach has been used to guide redevelopment of urban areas in Denver, Fort Worth, Flagstaff, Peoria, and Ventura among many others.

Historic Rehabilitation Awards

I was fortunate to have designed and helped coordinate rehabilitation of an amazing mid-century modern home over the past year...

Just yesterday, this project received an "Excellence in Historic Preservation" award from the City of Des Moines! There was a whole team of people that worked diligently for a long time on this project, and we are all proud of it! There were several other pojects that received awards as well... THREE of them came from my friends in the River Bend neighborhood (one of which I helped with historic tax credits). I never fail to be inspired by the hard work they do: pouring their money, time, and sweat into restoring the awesome homes in that historic neighborhood. Your work is paying off, not just through the acknowledgement of these awards, but in the tangible and direct improvement of property values, outside perception, and strong communiy networks.

Kudos!

Comments

Thank you very much for picking this up. I was very vocal at the meeting, and the CVS reps had all kinds of excuses regarding why they wouldn't, not couldn't, build on the corner. Like you said, these buildings are in very poor shape, and I am not opposed as a resident to the redevelopment. But the attitude and beginning remarks by our esteemed council person really set the tone: "This is the best option we have at this time". So wait, keep working. Thanks again, I think it's too late, but perhaps we can start a better conversation regarding this.

Charles Lyddon | Dec 18th, 2012 at 9:52 am

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