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Response to Jane Roberts Commercial Appeal article “Developer Delay 10-Acre G’town Project” – August 19, 2015

http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/local-news/germantown-collierville/10acre-development-on-hold-in-gtown_98914235

 

In the Commercial Appeal article dated August 19, 2015, Developer Delay 10-acre G’town Project, Jane Roberts has described a situation she clearly does not understand.  She states “…city’s planning commission was not pleased with the quality of the design, to say nothing of the number of code departures.”  What Ms. Roberts calls “code departures” are officially called warrants.  She makes no mention of TraVure’s five warrants or the content of those warrants.  Much like the Planning Commissioners, she has only focused on the number of warrants and not the content of those warrants.  Below is a list of those warrants for TraVure with descriptions directly out of the staff notes:

WARRANTS: The following warrants from the standard development regulations are required for this project (see the attached letter from Fisher Arnold for explanation of the warrants):

WARRANT 1: Section 23-770 – The T-5 district requires a minimum front building setback of 10 feet and a maximum of 40 feet from Poplar Ave. The office building is to be setback between 10 feet and 30 feet from Poplar Ave., so no warrant is required for it. The plan proposes the parking garage to be setback between 30 feet and 50 feet from Poplar, because the garage’s Poplar Ave. façade is not parallel to that street. Therefore a warrant is required for the garage.

WARRANT 2: Section 23-778.A.2 – In all Districts, Principal Buildings shall have their principal pedestrian entrances on a Frontage Line. This requires the office-building to have front doors on both Poplar Ave. and Travure Drive. The office building’s principal entrance is only on Travure Drive. The Poplar Ave. elevation has a single door.

WARRANT 3: Section 23-779.C.1 – Where an above-ground parking structure is located at the perimeter of a building, it shall be screened or treated in such a way that cars and lighting are not visible from the street or from abutting residentially zoned properties. The parking garage elevation plans indicate “greenscreen” modular trellis panels and 48 in, high walls to screen views of vehicles, and the lighting plan indicates metal panels mounted at the top of the light fixture to shield the direct view of the light. The applicant should demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Planning Commission how the trellis panels and light shields will function. Material samples, photos of existing garages where those items are used, etc. should be provided.

WARRANT 4: Section 23–792.B.1 – A pedestrian entrance to all parking lots and parking structures shall be provided directly from a Frontage Line. The parking garage has pedestrian entrances on the west (Travure Dr.) and east elevations, but not on the Poplar Ave. elevation.

WARRANT 5: : Section 23-813 and 23-826, Appendix B.3 THOROUGHFARE ASSEMBLIES – Thoroughfare plan CS-90-58 calls for angled parking spaces (either head-in or back-in). The TraVure plan proposes right-angle spaces due to safety concerns.

In those instances where reasons are shown that would justify a deviation from the strict requirements of the provisions of the SmartCode, the Planning Commission shall have authority to permit such deviations. A warrant is an official decision that permits a practice that is not consistent with a specific provision(s) of this Code, but is justified by its “intent” and is consistent with the urban design guidelines and/or development concepts in the “Germantown Smart Growth Plan”.

The following is from the SmartCode section of the zoning regulations: “In determining justifiable reasons for granting a warrant, the PC shall take into account, among other relevant factors that may be applicable, the relationship of the property to other properties, whether the deviation would be in accord with the intent of the SmartCode, principles of good land use planning as same may evolve over time, the topography of the property, and peculiar and exceptional practical difficulties or undue hardship upon the owner of the property. In determining whether to grant a warrant, financial hardship shall not alone be considered sufficient to justify a deviation. In all events, the PC shall take into consideration whether the proposed deviation may be granted without substantial detriment to the public good and without substantially impairing the intent and purpose of the SmartCode provisions.”

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The content of the above warrants is very important:  

Warrant 1 can be satisfied by building the structured parking garage closer to Poplar, within 40 feet of the ROW to be exact.  Since the buildings are not parallel to Poplar Ave, the east corner of the garage is farther than 40 feet from the curb.  We do not see how this affects the overall development in any way.

Warrant 2 is calling the door that faces Poplar Ave the main door.  We can add an awning and make it a double door if that makes Germantown Planning drop the requirement.  We do not see many people walking down Poplar Ave that need to walk right into a Class A office building.   Warrant 4 is very similar to Warrant 2.  We can move a door to the north east corner of the parking garage to face Poplar, instead of facing east on the same corner.  As with Warrant 2, we do not see many people walking down Poplar that need to access a structured parking garage.

In Warrant 3, we have shown how there are metal panels on the 6 light poles on top of the garage so that the Nottoway neighborhood to the east cannot see the source of light.  We have also added screen mesh to grow ivy up the garage to screen the cars inside the structured parking garage from Poplar.

Warrant 5 is changing 90 degree parking spaces along the main drive, TraVure Drive, to angled parking spaces.  Wow, that is a big change.  You lose some parking spaces but how in any way does that affect the overall development?

This is the first project to be built in the Western Gateway Plan following the Smart Growth 2020 plan for the future of Germantown development.  This is a complex mixed-use development combining 150,000 square feet of Class A office, 17,000 square feet of Retail, with another 17,000 square feet of office above the retail.  In addition, two Hilton Hotels will be build on the south side of the site.

We have followed the Western Gateway and SmartGrowth criteria to the letter of the law.  We have met thousands of the requirements with in each of these codes.  Even though we have met thousands of the requirements, the five items you read above primarily kept us from moving forward through the Germantown Planning process on August 18th.

In regard to Alderman Forrest Owens’s comments in the article, all development is developer driven.  Governments create broad initiatives which are in turn interpreted by developers who recognize a market and attempt to meet the market’s needs. Broad planning goals must be defined in detail by smart, committed developers. Governments don’t build cities, developers build cities. City governments don’t build subdivisions, or houses, or retail centers, or office buildings, or even streets. Real estate developers do. Developers see a market and provide all the infrastructure and the buildings that front the roads. They analyze the market, find users, build buildings and roads, and then service those users over time to keep them renewing leases.  Developers build cities and take all the risk doing so.  Developers are the last to get paid.  Everyone in the process from the land planner to the locksmith gets paid before the developer.  They borrow the money and are dependent on municipalities treating them fairly and working with them in a transparent, timely manner.  Open communication, trust and honesty is essential to the successful development process. Time is just as important as money, because developers have to make promises to users to provide space ready to occupy on the users’ timeline. Governments should work honestly with developers to expedite projects. However, all to frequently, governments delay approvals to extract concessions form developers. These delays postpone key decisions and provide “political cover” to elected and appointed office holders.

Lastly, creating a sense of place is the driving mission of any good development team.  It is the fundamental element that sets apart one project from another.  Every decision made is based on creating a “sense of place” which is based on how visitors, clients, tenants, and customers use a building everyday.  We take full offense at Alderman Owens comment about not creating a “sense of place”.

TraVure will have a sense of place.  We are working hard everyday to create a  development that is truly a walkable, human scale office/retail/hospitality business and entertainment center which is the stated goal of the Western Gateway Small Area Plan. We have adopted the vision of the Western Gateway and attempted to follow its guidelines religiously. We helped craft and write the Western Gateway Small Area Plan.

It is not the number of warrants that should be at issue particularly in a new, untested ordinance which has already been edited by staff at least one time since it was adopted in order to clarify the ordinance. What is important is the substance of the warrants, the intent of the development team and the way the approval process is conducted. Open, transparent and frequent communication results in timely, well planned and executed developments. Hidden agendas, public rebuke and political grandstanding hinder the process and result in bitterness and mistrust.