Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Input on Long Term Planning for the City of Chesapeake to the City Council

To: Mayor Krasnoff and Members of the City Council
Cc: City Manager James Baker and Director of Planning Jaleh Shea
Date: 9/12/2017

As you hold your Retreat to look at long term planning for our wonderful city, the Friends of Indian River would like to share some thoughts about the future of our city.  As you look at our city’s priorities and policies we urge you to find a better balance between new development and revitalization efforts in our existing neighborhoods.  

1.    Budget to Support Incremental/Infill Development. The older sections of the city, such as Indian River and South Norfolk are seeing incremental/infill development. This infill reflects a healthy renewal of our housing stock and a traditional, pre-suburbia, development pattern.  It increases the wealth and tax base of our city.[1]  But without the corresponding upgrades and maintenance of our infrastructure – streets, schools, parks, water and sanitary sewer systems, etc. - the increased housing density strains the fabric of our community
2.    Create Safe and Welcoming Streets. Our communities need safe streets that improve the quality of life in our communities rather than just serve as roadways engineered to speed traffic past our communities.[2]
·        Our streets need to be safe for pedestrians and bicyclists and encourage patrons to frequent local businesses.  
·        This includes reducing speed limits and adding bike lanes on streets like Indian River Road, especially when they pass through residential area and shopping areas.
·        We also need to allow experiments with traffic calming measures to make side streets safer.[3]
·        Architectural guidelines (like the Great Bridge Village Design Guidelines) should be established across the city.  Better code enforcement on signage and landscaping will also help improve the visual appeal and quality of life in our communities.[4] 

3.    Address the Infrastructure Maintenance Backlog.
·        The older sections of the city suffer from a multi-year maintenance backlog for our aging infrastructure, including street pavement, storm sewers and ditches, water systems, sanitary sewers, and pump stations.
·        The city must also address the on-going quality and safety issues related to the Aqua Virginia system in the Indian River area. 
·        To assure the continued health and vitality of our existing neighborhoods, the resource allocation for this upkeep must be considered before allocating resources for further expansion, particularly when the new expansion will ultimately add to the maintenance backlog.   
·        For Capital Projects, the funding to upkeep existing facilities should generally be given precedence, particularly over the expensive roadway expansion.[5][6]

4.    Develop a plan to respond to a changing retail landscape.  The retail world is rapidly transforming due to the explosive growth on online commerce.  
·        The coming decade will likely see more store closings and vacancies in our strip shopping centers, big box storefronts, and malls.[7][8]  
·        Old strip shopping centers, like Indian River Shopping Center, are already failing and becoming a blight on their community.
·        The city needs to look at repurposing these lands, perhaps rezoning them for mixed used redevelopment that combines apartments, condos, and businesses on a single site, as was typical in traditional cities.  This would bring residents and business together and encourage new service oriented business such as markets, cafes, and restaurants.[9]

5.    Establish a new balance between Revitalization vs. New Development.  While new residential development in south Chesapeake frustrates the local residents and consumes cherished agricultural lands, it also has real costs, both short term and long term for the older sections of the city.  
·        Expanding infrastructure has immediate costs (even if initially underwritten by the developer) and becomes a long term maintenance liability for the city.
·        The lower the density and the farther from the “urban overlay” of the city, the higher the infrastructure cost per household and the more likely that these costs exceed the tax revenue collected.
·        When reviewing new development projects, the city should carefully consider these long term costs.  Proposed projects that indicate a negative fiscal outcome during their first decade should be looked at with particular concern.  
These costs mean the loss of money and opportunity to support the ongoing needs of existing sections of the city.[10]

6.    Re-focus on our Sustainability Plan[11] including
·        improving water quality through efforts such as the Eastern Branch Restoration Plan[12]
·        adequately funding our Urban Forestry Plan to increase the city tree canopy[13]
·        supporting efforts to switch to Renewable Energy - both at the residential and utility scale - and improving energy efficiency across the city.[14] 
·        revitalizing city parks and protecting green spaces, and
·        protecting and fostering our city's wetlands for the vital services they provide in water quality and flood protection.[16]

We know that balancing the needs of the community as a whole with local public opinions is a daunting challenge.  There are many conflicting voices and demands as groups focus on local interests. But we do believe the long term vitality of the city will require a new balance and will require a cultural change to avoid unproductive development patterns that ultimately degrade the city’s quality of life and the city’s financial stability.

2.    Slower Cars = Safer More Economically Productive Streets
3.    St. Louis Plan4Health Traffic Calming Demonstrations
6.    What’s Up With That: Building Bigger Roads Actually Makes Traffic Worse
9.    The Strip Center Apartments on O.S.T.
12. Eastern Branch Restoration Plan
15. Wetlands stopped $625 million in property damage during Hurricane Sandy