Traffic changes coming – for better or worse
This Thursday, commissioners will consider several changes to our Land Development Code including two proposals affecting traffic: one good change, proposed by our county transportation planners, and one bad change, proposed by developers (well, by their lawyers). Developers are loudly opposing the planners’ proposal, while the planners oppose the developers’ proposal. Who will our commissioners listen to: the developers or the planners? Citizens need to weigh in or our commissioners may change the rules to suit developers, making traffic around here even worse.
“Transportation concurrency” requirements are supposed to ensure that new development does not overwhelm our roads with too much traffic. Ideally, ‘concurrency’ requires a developer to either prove the additional traffic from his project won’t overwhelm the roads, or improve the roads so that they can handle the additional traffic. The planners’ proposal would add a few teeth to concurrency, while the developers’ proposal would knock a few teeth out.
The developers’ proposal (08-0364) would allow a developer to get “vested” against concurrency, by making some road improvements several years before he builds anything, and without completely specifying what he will build later. Once a developer got vested, he could change his plans to increase the intensity of his land use, and increase his project’s traffic demands on the local roads, without having to improve the roads to handle the increased traffic. If, in the years between his vesting and his building, traffic increased on the roads so that his project would no longer meet concurrency, he would get to build anyway, even though his project’s traffic would overwhelm the roads.
This is, after all, the point of getting vested against traffic concurrency: so that at a later date, when it turns out that what you want to build would doom the community to nightmarish traffic jams, you can just go ahead and build anyway with your “get out of concurrency free” card. Vested rights means we taxpayers must pay to improve the roads — either that or we pay with our time and gas money wasted in gridlock.
Citizens opposing Little Harbor’s attempts to further degrade Ruskin’s quality of life should oppose the developer’s proposal (it’s the same applicant: Bricklemyer, Smolker & Bolves), because this firm has amply demonstrated the evils of allowing developers to enjoy vested rights. Little Harbor was approved for way too many condos back in the ’80s, and now that they are finally getting around to building them, they don’t have to trouble themselves with the fact that lots of other development has been built since the ’80s, so that their development will now overwhelm the local roads. They just wave their vested rights in our faces and proceed to ruin the neighborhood.
We need less of this vested rights nonsense, not more.
The planners’ proposal (08-0396) is a sensible change that would require developers to provide adequate entrances/exits for new developments, and limit development wherever the developer could not provide enough access points to handle his project’s traffic. When a large subdivision has only one or two access points, they often have to use a traffic light to control the traffic at that point, but this slows down the traffic on the local roads and negatively impacts the surrounding community. In addition to the quality of life issue, there is a safety issue: without enough access points large subdivisions cannot safely evacuate in case of fire, hurricane or other emergency, and one big subdivision pouring out of one little gate can clog up the surrounding road system in a large evacuation.
If you can’t provide enough roads and driveways to handle your project, then you should scale down the project. Period.
Citizens opposing the new subdivision (The Reserve at Westlake) that would add 2 new roads in rural East Hillsborough — one through the Balm Scrub (ELAPP) Preserve and the other over Bullfrog Creek and its wetlands — should support the planners’ proposal, because if it is approved it should limit the housing that could be built in this sensitive area, which is the “hole in the donut” surrounded by environmentally sensitive land. The developer is proposing 1089 homes — way too much housing for the two roads. The reasonable thresholds proposed by our transportation planners would not allow this many houses on just these two access roads, so if this rule is adopted the developer would have to build less housing (or find other access routes which isn’t likely here) and in this rural, ecologically sensitive area, less housing and less traffic would be a very good thing. (See my update & sample opposition letter on that.)
Here’s my letter to our commissioners asking them to approve the planners’ proposal (08-0396) and deny the developers’ proposal (08-0364). (There are other proposals besides these two [all in this big pdf], so if you provide input, you should note those numbers.) Here are some comments from U-CAN. As our commissioners consider these measures that can help or harm our community as we grow, they should do so with plenty of input from all of us.
The first public hearing is Thursday, May 15, and the final hearing is June 12. Both are at 6:00 p.m. at County Center. You can speak to your commissioners about these Land Development Code changes at either hearing, or write to them. They may have their minds made up before the final hearing (yes, really!) so I encourage you to speak up as soon as possible.