A sensible approach to neighbourhood planning

One of the biggest concerns residents have is how new homes and renovations are often out of character with the current look and feel of the neighbourhood.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  Our bylaws have been improved and can be made better still, to protect our residential neighbourhoods.

We have a great example of planning through a participatory design process, known as HRM by Design.  Right now, that process is being used to  introduce pedestrian-scale design principals in specific parts of the peninsula, via the new “Centre Plan.”

I’ve writen before about the importance of including protection for residential areas while designating medium and high density development corridors.  Let me explain a little more about how we could do that.

In order to get bylaws that incorporate design standards with teeth in place we would need to broadly consult the residents about their concerns.  We need to strengthen rules around height, lot coverage, setbacks, massing, and more.

I’d like to integrate a charette-based participatory design in to the process, and feel that while this comes at a cost, funding design teams and taking this step and complete this work is essential to the continued well being of our successful neighbourhoods.

The process would start with define neighborhood boundaries, then execute the following steps for each neighborhood area within District 7:

  1. Produce lightweight, illustrated neighborhood plan (background, demographics, existing neighborhood architectural character, uses etc.).
  2. Identify key stakeholders within neighborhood
  3. Engage in broader outreach within neighborhood with respect to participation in charette-based planning activity to follow
  4. Assemble design team for standard 5-day charette
  5. Execute charette and fold end result into HRM by Design process
  6. Draft by-laws which implement policies underpinned by charette-based planning / HRM by Design
  7. Include language in by-laws which makes it less likely that development officers will ignore or override by-laws. Ideally, the end product would be illustrated design regulations as seen in other jurisdictions.

This is an example of the kind of citizen based process that could produce design regulations that would satisfy concerns that our neighbourhood are changing for the worse.  It is how we can extend HRM by Design style planning to the whole of the peninsula.

Of course, we then need a councillor who will fight to make sure the by-laws are enforced, und . erstands bigger is not better, and understands that progress does not come from systematically ignoring bylaws and design standards.

 SOME EXAMPLES FROM THE LAST FOUR YEARS:

The motivation for applying design standards to the district is best explained by way of example. Pictures below illustrate the problem we’d like to address though illustrated design standards.

bellevue2

As of this writing, this house on Bellevue Avenue is under a stop work order. Surrounding residents are aghast that HRM allows this to go forward. The option of retaining lawyers is being explored by neighbours and residents for possible action against HRM.


roxton

This house on Roxton Rd. dwarfs those on either side. The fact that the house has been on the market for almost 2 years is a testament to its lack of general appeal.

roxton2
This recently constructed house is also on Roxton Rd. and, like the one above, dwarfs those on either side.

beaufort

This townhouse at the end of Beaufort has not sold in over 20 months. A garage door dominates the front façade and is out of character with the surrounding neighborhood. Developers and HRM pursing development in the South End are intent building car-dominated suburban-style development in a pedestrian oriented neighbourhood.

towerroadtower2

This house on Tower Road has been on the market for more than 12 months. The reason it is not selling is because HRM and the developer thought would be acceptable to build a house on a small lot dominated by a large electrical junction box in the front yard.

towergtowerg2

Also on Tower Road, the developer submitted plans to build garages on a new lane in the rear of the parcel and create a pedestrian oriented streetscape  HRM rejected these plans in favor tearing down the existing house and replacing them with suburban-style development where garage doors dominate the front façade. The first house completed had little market appeal and did not sell for 14 months. The whole project went bust. For the past three years, residents have been looking at unfinished construction (middle lot of top image) and vacant houses (bottom image), which are covered in HRM work orders the owners ignore.

cedar (1)
On the corner of Cedar and Walnut Street planning department actually required a the developer to create a blank wall to meet a bylaw. These kinds of inept decisions mar the neighborhood.

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