Holding Patterns -- Some TNDs Struggle To Get off the
By Jason Miller
Some TNDs don't seem to run into meaningful roadblocks.
Sure, there are bumps in the road that delay the approvals process, but
some, like Prospect in Longmont, Colo., have a developer who loses a little
sleep, has a good heart-to-heart with the city council, and discovers
a short route through the bureaucratic red tape to make the vision come
true. In other words, the TND gets built before the developer moves into
the bifocal stage of his life.
Others, like Greenfield Village in Lynden, Wash., get built because the
developer didn't push hard enough for the variances needed to get it done
right, resulting in a good effort that could have been great.
So what happens when push comes to shove -- and neither party gives in?
Well, not much, actually. Nowadays, a multiple-year struggle is not uncommon.
A Slogan and Strong Lungs
Sometimes, the will of a few can overcome the desire of many. Consider
Miles Point, the 90-acre infill project in St. Michaels, Md., guided by
developer George Valanos. With willing town commissioners and a DPZ design
that mirrored the vernacular, the plan seemed to have a bright future.
But in this town of 1,300 citizens, all it took was a vocal minority to
gum up the works. Calling themselves "Save Our St. Michaels,"
the NIMBYs rose up, adopted a slogan of "Just Say No," and stalled
the project for four years -- and counting. Their intent was to delay
development, a strategy that has cost the town hundreds of thousands of
dollars in legal fees and may now deliver to them a development pattern
they'll like even less than Valanos' plan.
Right now, the case is in court, awaiting a ruling on development rights,
i.e., what may be built. There is a possibility that the court will rule
for a conventional PUD, with separated uses and no alleys -- the exact
opposite of the existing St. Michaels fabric.
At this rate, "we could be waiting six months or a couple more years
for concept approval," says Valanos.
Persistence and Compromise
A similar story is playing out in Waterloo, Ill., where for more than
four years, developer Otto Faulbaum has been navigating an obstacle course
of intent and reality. Prairie Village, a 94-acre greenfield TND, has
been swamped beneath a groundswell of local fear since its inception.
"Two design charrettes were conducted in Waterloo City Hall,"
says Faulbaum, "so we thought we had significant involvement of all
the local officials. We brought in neighbors and other people who we thought
would be interested in what was going on.
"Probably only four or five people objected to the original plan,
but they made themselves seem like an army. They worked the phones, got
their friends to call their aldermen and made it look like a wall was
in front of me."
A local newspaper column allowed people to call in and leave anonymous
rants that were treated as gospel. "People are skeptical," says
Faulbaum. "They think bigger is better. They haven't seen anything
built in recent years that would make them think that a plan such as this
would be successful."
City officials were nervous, too. They balked at the alleys and street
trees that the plan contained. They weren't big fans of the density levels,
mixed-use, granny flats, attached housing, rowhouses and 26-foot-wide
streets, either. In the end, these elements fell by the wayside as Faulbaum
tried to gain approval for the plan. All of the lots are zoned as R3,
but Faulbaum managed to retain the street trees, alleys and pedestrian-friendly
street lights by setting them up as property owned by the homeowners'
association. To make the arrangement more palatable for the city, it was
made a third-party beneficiary to any liens that might be made on any
The Prairie Village preliminary plat was approved on January 21, 2002.
Faulbaum hopes to begin the first phase of 40 lots in June.
Angelo Alberto, principal with Alberto and Associates Architecture, Town
Planning and Land Preservation, spent four years of "constant back
and forth" with county approval agencies, trying to gain approval
for Whitehall, in New Castle County, Delaware.
Whitehall's 2,047-acre site is owned by the Welfare Foundation, which
saw the next wave of development rapidly approaching from Wilmington and
wanted the greenfield site to become a model for future development. Alberto
and Associates proposed three 300-acre villages, with 1,100 contiguous
acres permanently preserved (larger than Central Park). Attached to one
of the villages was a 200-acre office employment site, which was lauded
locally as a good example of connecting development with employment centers.
State and county agencies both pointed to the project as a model, but
incredibly, approvals were not forthcoming. The county declined the plan
because it was "too large" and had "too much retail"
(860,000 square feet divided among the three villages).
At press time, the village component of Whitehall is on hold. "We're
pursuing the employment component," says Alberto. "Once that
is in place, hopefully, we can revisit the village piece."
Sometimes it's what you can't see that matters. For Social Circle Jubilee,
a 79-acre, greenfield TND in Social Circle, Ga., founder Paul Muldawer
did everything right. He had a market study by ZVA under his belt and
a strong master plan calling for 330 single-family homes, 30 townhouses,
200 multi-family homes, a bed and breakfast, a church, a shopping village,
20,000 square feet of office space, and 11 Savannah-style squares. It
was the perfect fit for the town of Social Circle, which Muldawer calls
"a very lovely town - no strips, no sprawl."
But the mayor of Social Circle - a former environmental engineer - had
concerns over the sewer infrastructure. While the capacity was there,
the distribution was decaying; the pipes were falling apart and hadn't
been properly installed at the outset. So, says Muldawer, "We took
a year to engineer and redesign a new system."
Muldawer hopes to start digging for the new sewer system and infrastructure
1,300 Reasons to Quit
What do you do when 1,300 separate stakeholders each own a piece of the
200-acre parcel you want to develop - and they've all left for parts unknown?
"You find them," says Erick Valle, whose firm, Correa Valle
Valle (CVV) of Miami, developed the master plan for Naranja Lakes in Dade
County, Fla., in collaboration with DPZ. The infill site had been occupied
by 1,500 units until Hurricane Andrew swept through and wiped the slate
clean. The people who had lived there collected their insurance checks
and simply walked away; none of them rebuilt. The community got the local
court to assign a lawyer to find them all so they could each sign a document
that would let the city sell the parcel as a single piece.
"What a monster," says Valle. "They were all over the country."
The lawyer began the search but went into bankruptcy and couldn't continue.
Because of the bankruptcy, however, other rules came into play that permitted
the court to allow the land to be sold. Once the remaining landowners
are found, they will be allowed their percentage of the final sale price.
The land goes up for sale in March 2002, and all three of the front-running
developers have committed verbally to hiring CVV to detail out the plan
and serve as the de facto town architect.
And it only took five years.
Why Even Try?
The stress of struggle is enough to make a developer buy antacid in bulk,
but the rewards are worth it, says Otto Faulbaum, Prairie Village's evangelist.
"It's such an intelligent concept that it's worth sleepless nights,"
George Valanos (Miles Point) agrees. "You start out doing it because
you want to make money. But if it gets tough, you keep doing it because
it's become personal and, well, you've already started the dance.
"Is it the best return on investment? Probably not. But the end result
is worth it."
Light at the End
Fortunately, these stories are not all "gloom and doom." While
the struggle continues nationally - some TNDs have been mired for more
than 12 years - many projects are starting to see resolution.
Whitehall is moving ahead with one component of its overall plan. Naranja
Lakes will likely wait another six months after the sale of its parcel
before ground is broken, but all indications point toward this project
eventually moving forward. Social Circle Jubilee should break ground this
spring. Prairie Village got its preliminary plat approved on Martin Luther
King Day (poetic, isn't it?).
Try This at Home
The cycle of delay will repeat itself ad nauseum if we don't get the word
out, says George Valanos. "We should document the disappointments,"
he says. "It will make it easier the next time around."
But that's easier said than done, says Otto Faulbaum. When you're in the
middle of a development tussle, the last thing you need is bad press,
even if it's intended to help others in similar situations. "People
in this position don't want to talk to anyone resembling the media because
they're afraid that anything published could be used as ammunition against
Perhaps "before" and "after" documentation will work,
Valanos suggests, something that can be shown to new clients -- examples
of townsfolk who tried to put the brakes on development instead of steering
it, and now regret their decision.
Education is critical, says Valanos. "Create a favorable political
environment. Start at the state level. Use the local organizations effectively.
Use national organizations to connect, to help you educate, to support