Sidewalks were a significant part of the discussion prior to the May 4th Town of Christiansburg elections. The results of the Planning Commissions assignment to evaluate the proposed plan comes to the forefront on Monday, August 16, at 7:00 p.m. when the public is invited to participate and present their input. Thus far, the meetings where the discussions on this item received input from those few who showed up at the Planning Commission Meetings. Most of those people were developers. A common theme developed early in the process.
- These are hard economic times and to raise the costs to developers (which would be passed on to the consumer) were not needed and would, in effect, be a ‘tax’.
Sidewalks, the absence of and the degradation of existing ones have long been topics with citizens and government. What started as a general discussion on a possible ordinance change requiring sidewalks in residential areas went through a series of transmutations that have let us with what will be presented to the public at this meeting. Although not available on the town’s website for quick and easy citizen access, I have been getting copies at each step along the way, and I am providing what I believe to be the most recent copy of the proposed amendment here. Note: this addresses Chapter 26 Subdivisions and Chapter 30 Zoning.
Within Chapter 26 Subdivisions, you will find proposed changes in bold print:
- Sec. 26-7. Generally (d), (1) Dedications: added the phrase: Subdividers choosing the compact development option as detailed in Chapter 30 “Zoning” shall not be compensated for dedications exceeding ten percent.
Within Chapter 30 Zoning, you will find proposed changes in bold print:
- Sec. 20-1. Definitions: Open space. Any space reserved for common use (as among a homeowners association or as common space in apartment complexes) as to provide for outdoor living, patios, pools, lawns, play areas, walks, wooded areas and the like, but not including driveways and parking areas with the exception of driveways and parking areas strictly for community buildings, picnic shelters, ball fields, trails, pools, and similar common use amenities located within the open space.
- Article VII. Residential Manufactured Home Subdivision District R-MS, Sec. 30-63 Yards.: Sidewalks shall be required for all new development. The Zoning Administrator/Town Manager may waive this requirement in circumstances that sidewalks do not provide desired connectivity and/or are not physically practical due to site limitations provided the owner/developer makes a contribution in an amount approximate to the sidewalk installation cost to the Town of Christiansburg to be utilized for sidewalk improvements and/or repairs in other locations. The Zoning Administrator/Town Manager may refer the decision regarding the connectivity and/or practicality to the Planning Commission should there be any doubts. The Town Manager/Town Engineer shall make the determination of the approximate sidewalk installation cost. (Code 1972, § 30-63; Ord. of 6-20-89; Ord. 2007-1 of 4-3-07)
- Article XXII. Miscellaneous Provisions. Sec. 30-200. Compact development option. (This whole section was added. Use the link to go to the document to see it in detail. Essentially, it is a voluntary option that allows developers to obtain higher density in exchange for providing sidewalks/trails in R-1A, R-1, R-2 and R-3 Residential Districts and MU-1 and MU-2 Mixed Use Districts. It specifically excludes any single-family residential and two-family residential development on existing public streets..)
You will note that rather than a Town-wide approach to requiring sidewalks in residential areas, it has become an isolated optional application for certain Zoning designations.
From the Feb. 2, 2010 Town Council Minutes Item 3 in Discussions (http://myvaresources.com/VideoFiles2010/2010_02_02TC/2010_02_2TC4.html):
- SIDEWALK REQUIREMENT IN RESIDENTIAL DISTRICTS. Councilman Showalter encouraged fellow Councilmembers to support adopting an ordinance that would require developers to place sidewalks in medium to high density subdivisions. Councilman Stipes said he supports this as a requirement for all three residential zoning districts. Councilman Barber commented that lack of sidewalks in Town is a common complaint of citizens and he would like to see this action taken immediately. Councilman Vanhoozier suggested forming a committee to review the matter since it will require a change to Town ordinance. Mayor Ballengee turned this matter over to the Planning Commission for review and recommendation to Council within three months.
From the March 2, 2010 Town Council Minutes:http://myvaresources.com/VideoFiles2010/2010_03_02TC/2010_03_2TC2.html
- Mr. Craig Moore, Planning Commission Chairman, to address Council regarding open space and sidewalk requirements. Mr. Craig Moore asked Town Council to clarify its direction that the Planning Commission review open space and sidewalk requirements (see Town Council Minutes of 2/16/10). Per Mr. Moore, the Planning Commission is unclear as to whether the Town Council wants the Commission to study if open space and sidewalk requirements should be modified; or does Town Council want the open space and sidewalk requirements modified and it want the Planning Commission to focus on design standards. If the direction was for the Planning Commission to focus on design standards, then the time involvement will be greater than three months. Some of the areas that would need to be studied for a design plan for sidewalks are: Cost, drainage, curb/gutter, maintenance, ditches, environmental impact, connectivity, and safety. Minimum requirement threshold and usage would need to be studied for open space modification. Mayor Ballengee, noting that Town Council needs to give the Planning Commission perimeters for review, turned to Councilman Showalter for comment. Councilman Showalter suggested Town Council have a work session to review VDOT’s minimum standards on these issues as a starting point. The Planning Commission would be involved with this work session. A work session date of March 23, 2010 was determined by Council, with a time to be announced at a later date.
March 16 Town Council Minutes Town Manager Report: (http://myvaresources.com/VideoFiles2010/2010_03_16TC/2010_03_16TC3.html)
- TOWN MANAGER TERPENNY reported that a joint work session with the Planning Commission has been scheduled for March 23, 2010 from 4:00 P.M. to 7:00 P.M., to review and discuss VDOT standards, sidewalks, and green/open space.
March 23, 2010 Town Council – Planning Commission Work Session on Sidewalk Ordinance, no citizen comments allowed. Includes Power Point Presentation.) (http://myvaresources.com/VideoFiles2010/2010_03_23TCWS/2010_03_23TCWS1.html) (3 parts). This set of videos holds the most information on what citizens have said and what has been seen in the neighborhoods. Even the Mayor indicated that he had clearly seen the need for sidewalks in his own neighborhood. And, the discussion was clearly concerning ALL residential developments. It was also pointed out that this ordinance could remove the ‘case-by-case’ application and create and even ‘playing field’. Currently a total of 4 miles of sidewalks exist with the boundaries of the town of 136 miles of roadway. This 4 miles includes those ‘crumbling sections of sidewalks in older areas of Town per the Town Manager. This was also the first time that ‘citizens might like this but developers not like it’ came up in any discussions and it was brought up by the Mayor. Additional discussion on green space indicated that some Council and Commission members felt that useable green space was key to any ordinance changes. The Town Manager advised that there are differences between green space, open space, and recreation space (either passive or active), but he did not provide definitions those terms. (Definitions found in Town Code follow) The discussion indicated some confusion as to what the State Code actually allowed and it was requested that more information be provided Council.
From the Christiansburg Town Code:
- Open space. Any space reserved for common use (as among a homeowners association or as common space in apartment complexes) as to provide for outdoor living, patios, pools, lawns, play areas, walks, wooded areas and the like, but not including driveways and parking areas.
- Required open space. Any space required in any front, side or rear yard or as delineated on an approved site plan or otherwise specified in this chapter.
- Greenspace. Area of non-impervious surfaces. Landscaping/landscaped areas may be counted toward greenspace.
- Recreation space (active or passive) not found.
That is all of the Town Council input that has occurred in the public eye, PRIOR TO THE ELECTION, on this matter and expresses the intent of Council in referring this to the Planning Commission for review.
Unfortunately, there are no minutes from the Planning Commission Meeting so the agendas will have to suffice (augmented, of course by those videos which are available):
- Feb. 22, 2010 Planning Commission Agenda: 3) Consideration of amendment to the Christiansburg Town Code in regards to sidewalk requirements and open space requirements in Residential Districts. (No video available of this meeting.)
Arguments against requiring sidewalks in all new residential developments have included:
- Almost all land is already developed. There are few places where such an ordinance would apply. (No discussion of how this would also affect future lands annexed by the Town.)
- It would be a hardship on developers because it would cost more.
- It would be a hardship on home buyers because the cost would increase. (That pretty much gets rid of the argument of costing developers more because the cost would be passed on to consumers. And, is recouped by the property owner through increased home value upon resale.)
- Since there are few sidewalks in existing areas, there is no need to provide ‘connections’ with new developments.
- Who would be responsible for upkeep and maintenance of the sidewalks? Home owners or the Town?
- People do not use sidewalks now. (Yeah, it is a fairly common phenomenon that people do not use what does not exist.)
- Previously, the requirement in Commercial areas for sidewalks have not been fairly applied to all developers. Some did not have to do it and others did.
- Sidewalks being required for all is not appropriate where there are only one or a few lots in an area where there are no sidewalks. (This seems to have created the shift to new developments only.)
- VDOT does not hold jurisdiction over Christiansburg roadways and therefore VDOT criteria does not apply.
- Sidewalks could have a negative impact on on-street parking (which is allowed and encouraged throughout town – on-street parking is necessary where variances on setbacks provide for increased density of developments and more usable land for development).
At one point, it was mentioned that connectivity to existing sidewalks should be considered and a study to see exactly what sidewalks existed and where people are likely to go was suggested. Planning Director Wingfield noted that a document existed for this (developed YEARS ago) that already filled this purpose. (The concept of doing a current evaluation, including recent growth, died on the vine.) Very little of the discussion by the Planning Commission addresses the safety and well-being of citizens. Mostly, an audience driven discussion, the bulk of the focus was on the negative impact to developers.
This may or may not be an important issue to you. Regardless of your personal level of interest, this is certainly something that has a ‘community’ interest. Safe routes to school, the ability to be able to safely walk or ride a bike to key points within the community, saving a bit of gas money, exercising for your health (car dodging does NOT count as exercise), home values, the overall appearance of the town, impact on developers, and other issues abound. Why not take some time to look at one or more of these videos to see what is being discussed. Then come on out to the public meeting and express your views. In a community, every voice is important.