The First Ephesus-Fordham Project: What Went Wrong and How Can We Do Better?

IMG_2430The Alexan, advertised as “Luxury Apartments,” under construction on South Elliot Road. The  developer is Dallas-based Trammell Crow Residential.

 

The new Town Council has made it clear that they want to make substantive changes to the building code that governs redevelopment in the Ephesus- Fordham district.  At its June 20th meeting, the Town Council will consider staff plans “to sharpen the vision for this area, strengthen the development standards, establish design guidelines for buildings and streetscapes, and promote thoughtful placemaking” (see staff memo here).

How did we get here? In July, 2014, the Town adopted a new zoning code for a ~200-acre commercial district in the vicinity of the intersection of Ephesus Church Rd. and Fordham Blvd. The new code sharply curtails citizen participation in the development review process, allows the Town Manager rather than elected officials to approve applications, lowers standards for new construction, and dramatically increases the allowable building height and residential density in the area.

Briefly, this zoning change was intended to spur new construction in the district, which, it was hoped, would generate new tax revenues that the town could use to pay the cost of upgrading the road infrastructure in the district. It was also hoped that redevelopment would increase the walkability, general attractiveness and vitality of the area, and reduce flooding. (For an in-depth account of events leading up to adoption of the new code for Ephesus-Fordham, see the article “Adventures in Zoning” from the November, 2014 CHALT newsletter.)

An additional roads plan, not directly tied to the Code, will build additional publicly-financed roads in the district. The new roads need to be linked with a comprehensive transportation plan for the area.

What did the Town say it wanted the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment to accomplish?

  • Improved traffic flow;
  • Increase the town’s stock of affordable and workforce housing;
  • Energy efficient buildings;
  • Expanded shopping opportunities;
  • Less flooding;
  • More public green space and recreation areas;
  • Attractive, human scale urban design (i.e., 2-4 story buildings);
  • Expanded commercial tax base to generate net tax revenues, i.e., revenues that exceed associated new costs.

What does the new code in its current form deliver?

  • Thousands of new vehicles with inadequate public transit and parking = more congestion;
  • Net loss of affordable and workforce housing (potential net loss of 100 units);
  • Conventional, rather than cutting edge, energy efficiency standards;
  • Loss of locally-owned small businesses, e.g. Plaza Dry Cleaners, Yarns Etc., BP station;
  • Continued flooding;
  • No new public green space or recreation areas;
  • Seven-story buildings permitted in most of the district;
  • Inadequate urban design guidance yields unattractive new buildings;
  • Increased taxes, because the costs of the redevelopment—which will be mostly residential—will exceed the new revenues.

How can the code and the redevelopment plan be improved?

  • Provide more specific urban design guidelines, including increased setbacks, and maximum block sizes;
  • Flesh out the regulating plan for the district so ensure coherence among individual projects and adequate provision of public green space;
  • Develop a multimodal transportation plan that includes bike lanes, and safe pedestrian egress;
  • Reduce overall scale and density of ne construction to conform to the adopted Small Area Plan for the district and to reduce traffic and environmental impact.

WeedyGreenway

This greenway path borders the back of the new Alexan apartments on Elliott Road. When complete the chain link fence will be removed and replaced by a road.  Better planning would have created more attractive spaces for people to walk.

 

 

 

WillowOaks

These beautiful willow oaks grace the front of Extraordinary Ventures and the Credit Union along South Elliot Rd.  Trees as big as these were needlessly destroyed across the street as part of the construction of the Alexan.  Thoughtful planning would have kept the trees and provided better setbacks.

 

BookerCreekBehindElliott

Booker Creek emerges from an underground pipe beneath Eastgate shopping center.  This portion of the creek badly needs restoration and could become a central public amenity for the district.

 

 

 

floodedroadRoadways in Briarcliff neighborhood, adjoining the Ephesus-Fordham district, regularly flood during storm events. Building intensively in the bottom of a watershed will make flooding worse.

 

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