Friday, February 14, 2014

Old Article Concerning Flowood's Big Plans

Here is a blast from the past concerning Flowood's big plans for its Town Center.  I found this at Brad Reeves' old blog, dated October 30, 2005.  It is apparently an old Clarion Ledger article.  

FLOWOOD'S BIG PLAN:  SmartCode to help ease urban sprawl
By Sylvain Metz

Flowood has been dogged by urban sprawl, traffic gridlock and a rigid zoning code. Plans for Flowood Town Center and a new building could change that — and give the city an area that could be considered its downtown.When the Town of Lost Rabbit was in its planning stages in Madison County, Flowood Mayor Gary Rhoads, in Rankin County, already was knocking on the developer's door.

Come build here, he told Richard Ridgeway who, in partnership with Neopolis Development Inc. LLC, introduced the concept of "new urbanism" with the development of Lost Rabbit along the Ross Barnett Reservoir.

Rhodes liked the concept of a traditional neighborhood where residential and commercial ventures blended together as one.

Flowood's sprawl prompted city officials to annex an area along a 10-mile stretch of Mississippi 25, where commercial growth is escalating.  Ridgeway is purchasing 259 acres behind Dogwood Festival Market on the southeast corner of Mississippi 25 and Old Fannin Landing.

Plans are almost complete for the project, which is aimed at providing a town-friendly setting found in cities like Charleston, S.C., Vicksburg and Natchez.

The key to the $325 million development lies within a new approach to zoning called the "SmartCode," a zoning code that allows buildings of like-size and density — not use — to be put up in specific zones called "transects."

Flowood officials adopted the SmartCode earlier this month.

Developed by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. of Miami, the firm known as DPZ that specializes in new-urbanism developments.  SmartCode calls for mixed-use development in a setting reminiscent of towns before zoning ordinances segregated uses. The land Ridgeway is purchasing is now zoned commercial.

Under this design, a community is built out from a dense center to outlying areas with minimal density. "It's a planned community even down to the type of landscaping you have," said Kevin Watson, an attorney for the city of Flowood who has closely studied the SmartCode.

DPZ identifies six specific transects. The Flowood project will use three.  Under this code, the highest density will be in the area designated for downtown. Buildings will be grouped according to size, not use.

So a shop owner or professional could actually live above their businesses. Current zoning laws prohibit this type of development without a variance, Watson said.  "It's not urban sprawl anymore," he said.

Flowood Town Center will offer three transects, or zones — the downtown core where buildings will be three to four stories tall, one for dwellings of different sizes ranging from condominiums and town houses, carriage houses and large homes. The third zone, to be located along the periphery of the property, will be designated for mansions.

Ridgeway said he expects to have a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers next month for a 28-acre lake.

The lake, which will provide a backdrop for parks, walking and bike trails, is such an integral part of the project, Ridgeway said he would drop it if he doesn't receive the permit.

"It will help Flowood because, right now, Flowood basically is in a lot of ways what I call one-size-fits-all commercial," said Chad Emerson, a law professor at the University of Alabama School of Law in Montgomery. Emerson is a leading legal expert of the SmartCode.  Development in the area around Mississippi 25 and Old Fannin Landing is creating stress on the city's infrastructure, he said.

The increased traffic and growth is a concern for Dogwood resident Anne Veazey.  While Veazey, who serves on the board of that subdivision's homeowner's association, said she is impressed with the concept. She worries about traffic. The subdivision is located near the proposed project.  "It's getting pretty congested there right now," she said.

Ridgewood will meet with members of her neighborhood association in two weeks.  The concerns are similar to those expressed over Lost Rabbit.

New urbanism, also referred to as traditional neighborhood development, was initially met with skepticism in the Charlotte, N.C., area.

However, earlier this month, The Village of Baxter in Fort Mill, S.C., south of Charlotte, was featured in a case study presented to 60 architects, planners and engineers from around the country. Construction began at Baxter in 1998.

Baxter Village has more than 700 families with approximately 700 more homesites under development or planned. It also has an on-site YMCA, elementary school, public library and urgent-care center.

Last year residents of Northbay subdivision in Madison, along with county officials, became concerned about zoning, density and traffic as the 259-acre Lost Rabbit was being developed.  One important issue was that apartments were part of the development.

The city of Madison, led by Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler, successfully fended off an attempt by Steve Bryan to build apartments in the city.

That 10-year battle, which began in 1993, went to the state Supreme Court, which sided with the city.  The Madison County Board of Supervisors fought to gain zoning authority for Lost Rabbit. But the property is managed by the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District and the district has authority over zoning.

Through negotiations, Ridgeway and Neopolis agreed to cut the apartments and limit the number of other dwellings, and construction began earlier this year.  Tom Low, director of town planning for DPZ who heads the DPZ office in Charlotte, said traffic is shown to decline once these types of developments take root.

Low led the Lost Rabbit charrette, a weeklong planning session, held in July 2003.

"Traditional neighborhood development cuts down on the number of car trips by one-third to two-third once the development matures," Low said.  That's because these residents don't have to get in their vehicles to drive to the grocery for milk or pharmacist for medicines.

These shops are within walking distance of the homes, he said.  As another way to alleviate traffic congestion, Rhoads envisions a trolley that would course its way not only through the development but also over to the shopping centers at the corners of Mississippi 25 and Old Fannin Road.

Such a system would allow shoppers to park their vehicles in one place and have access to the entire area.

Done correctly, Flowood could serve as a model for the state, Low said.  It's already attracted interest from officials in Ocean Springs looking to rebuild following the devastation from Hurricane Katrina, Rhoads said.

DPZ founder Andres Duany led a charrette on the Mississippi Gulf Coast last week to help locals determine how they would rebuild the Coast.  He'll lead a charrette for the proposed Flowood development in January.

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