I believe that neighborhoods must be viewed as inviolable. They are the places where we spend most of our daily lives. They are the foundation of a community's quality of life. A community is the sum of its neighborhoods. The first priority of those elected to the council should be to do no damage to existing neighborhoods.
Established neighborhoods in the city are threatened by developers in a variety of ways including: proposals to direct traffic through them; inappropriate development being proposed within them; proximate commercial development without sufficient buffering; single family homes being transformed into commercial properties for rental use; and inappropriate behavior by some tenants of rental properties.
Progress Report (June 2007 – Present)
1. Established two single family home overlay district options:
- Neighborhood Prevailing Overlay District
- Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District
These give older established neighborhoods the option of requiring any new or renovated structures to be consistent with the existing standards and character of the neighborhood. Thus, if existing homes are razed and replaced with new homes or are substantially renovated, an overlay district ensures the changes will be consistent with the character of the neighborhood.
2. Successfully moved to change the definition of “neighborhood” from “subdivisions” to “30 contiguous lots”, making overlay districts accessible to more homeowners.3. Supported a comprehensive new neighborhood initiative which includes:
- Universal rental registration requiring all single family home rental properties to be registered. Registration will be renewed annually and mandate provision of a local point of contact, together with the current number and names of tenants on the lease.
- Refocus city planning so it is directed to neighborhood protection and promotes neighborhood stabilization, appearance, public infrastructure, and compatible land use.
- Establish a Neighborhood Relations unit, analogous to community policing, whose mission will be to become well acquainted with residents in the neighborhoods, enforce codes, proactively address parking issues, and mediate disputes.
- Provide continuous education and implement the Aggieland Solution mediation program.
- Rigorously enforce code ordinances. Currently, this has been limited to physical code violations identified by driving past properties in the city two times a week. The revised emphasis will be on rigorously enforcing codes relating to inappropriate behavior in neighborhoods.
- Implement civil penalties for code violations instead of relying only on criminal penalties.
4. Commissioned a study to document the historic nature of the Southside area. This is a legal prerequisite to enacting an ordinance to protect historic structures in the Southside area, which will be presented to council in summer 2008.
5. Requested ordinance revisions to establish height buffers for residential buildings similar to those that exist for non-residential buildings.
6. Removed on-street parking in several neighborhoods around campus at the request of residents in those areas.
7. Initiated a review of ordinances to revise what is permitted under an active construction permit to minimize the adverse impacts of quality of life on neighborhoods by contractors during construction periods.
Note: An overlay district is an optional planning zone offering additional protection to established neighborhoods which they may elect to adopt if 60% of homeowners agree.
Proposed Future Agenda (2008 – 2011)
1. Reject any actions which will result in non-local traffic being directed through an established neighborhood. Any purported “solution” to a traffic problem that lowers the quality of life in a neighborhood, is an exacerbation of the problem not a resolution of it. If one neighborhood is breached to expediently "fix" a traffic problem, a precedent is set and provides the conceptual rationale to breach other neighborhoods.
The opening of Munson Street in the College Hills neighborhood to through traffic was the most controversial issue relating to neighborhood preservation in College Station between the late 1970s and 1999. The Crompton family lived on Munson Street during that 20 year period and we were centrally involved in it. What happened on Munson Street provided useful insights into the impact of traffic on neighborhoods. The following lessons were learned:
2. Provide neighborhoods with the opportunity and the tools to preserve and direct how their areas look and function. This will require full implementation of the Neighborhood Initiative (#3 in Progress Report above) that the council has approved in principle.
a) The city (and its consultants) are likely to grossly underestimate the negative impact of the traffic on a neighborhood. In 1980, the projected maximum number of cars per day ever to use Munson Street was 700. Fifteen years later, over 7,800 crossed the city's traffic counter. This is likely to occur because:
- The city is likely to view the impact in the context of current traffic counts, ignoring the inevitability of substantial increases in the future; and
- It is likely to seek to minimize the controversy such decisions will generate.
b) It is politically non-feasible to go back and mitigate or fix a traffic problem in a neighborhood after it has been created, because a substantial constituency of those using the "cut-through" are likely to support its continuation.
c) Opening neighborhoods to traffic has only a marginal and short-term impact on alleviating a traffic problem. It is unlikely to be an effective long-term solution.