Riverside Overlay: Back To The Drawing Board

October 28, 2016 3 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Following our coverage last week of the toxic new regulations and zoning changes introduced by Jim Love's new Riverside Avondale Zoning Overlay Bill, the council member has decided to withdraw the bill and introduce a substitute bill instead.

Lots of people spoke out pretty angrily over the proposed legislation.

Especially since the maneuver has been done largely on the down low and in response to Riverside Avondale Preservation's loss to the developers of the Roost, the fifth such loss that the Home Owners Association has sustained over the past five years.

In addition to many meetings that have been held over the pubic outrage, Nancy Powell, the chairman of the RAP zoning committee that led the proposed changes and I sat down personally to discuss the matter.  It was actually a very lovely meeting at Brew Coffee in Five Points, and we discussed a lot of the issues that have been absent from the proceedings so far.  Apparently the restrictions on time, seating, etc may not have been proposed by RAP, but from other sources during the drafting of the bill.

That was on Friday of last week, and in the meantime, Jim has announced that he will offer a substitute bill.

The new version allegedly drops the zoning district regulations for businesses to get rezoned in the so called 'residential character' area, which proposed banning 'take out' food,  restricting the number of seats to 60, and forcing new restaurants to close at 8 p.m.  No one knows for sure, because the bill hasn't been filed anywhere.

To their credit, Riverside and Avondale Preservation asked that he remove those provisions, exactly in the spirit of Nancy's representations during our meeting. He said the bill would still accomplish the goal he set out to achieve.

With RAP, he is having a public meeting at Good Shepard Church, on November 2nd, to hear input from the community, and one assumes to give a thorough explanation from their point of view.  One is left to presume that the final drafting of the substitute bill will be submitted after being vetted in front of that crowd.

Showing up and registering a resounding opinion about walkability and business development in the neighborhood is strongly recommended.  But it will not be the end of the story.

There are still big issues that need to be publicly hashed out, and a few basic assumptions that it is high time that we considered before making laws that will force people to deal with them for the next 50 years.

One of those issues is the basic fairness of a residential group quietly rezoning all the commercial properties in an area without asking their input or even notifying them, as happened in this case.  If an area is composed of three types of landowners--Not For Profit, Residential, and Commercial-- does one kind of landowner have special rights to have meetings and over rule the rights of the others?  Or should their be a fair discussion with all parties involved?  

What exactly is RAP becoming?  Is it an historic preservation group as it was originally chartered or has it become a glorified HOA? Should City resources be used to fund and enable what seems to be turning into a Home Owners Association?  If so, should the city similarly spend resources and legislation to fund all the rest of the HOAs in the City?

Another is the issue of simultaneously working to make the neighborhood walkable and sustainable while still forcing the neighborhood to make its design decisions around vehicles and parking.  Its the opinion of planners around the country that you simply cannot do both.

It is the opinion of this writer that there is an issue that should be reexamined by RAP and ultimately discarded.  There is an admitted anti business bias in the approach of the group.  A belief that the decay of the neighborhood was due to 'business encroachment'.  And there is some merit to that assumption.  But the real problem was in changing city regulations during the mid 20th century to redesign the neighborhood around the car.  Rules requiring front facing parking lots and parking spaces gobbled up land and drove businesses away from the street with mandated set backs.  Additional right of ways for the new utilities were another. No historic preservation guidelines in place were a giant force pushing the building stock downward.  Riverside Avenue was originally called Commercial Street, and the neighborhood was created with embedded commercial and retail development every few blocks or so.  It would seem that if the presence of businesses had been a problem, then the neighborhood would never have become 'nice' in the first place.

Perhaps the real problems discovered by the Charter RAP group were the stupid (in retrospect) policies surrounding business zoning after 1948.  They were largely based around cars and parking, and required businesses to do exactly the kinds of suggestions being proposed in these recent protests.

Separately from these philosophic concerns within RAP, the legislation as proposed by Jim Love was ill advised and done without the input of either the business community or a larger cross section of the people who actually live, work and entertain themselves in the neighborhood.  Its time that any new legislation reflected that.

The redrawn bill will got to the Land Use & Zoning committee of City Council on November 15. Jim Love is also the vice chair of that committee.

Love plans to take it to City Council November 22.

Afterwards, the planning commission is scheduled to vote on the bill December 8.

It will go back through Land Use and Zoning December 20

He would like it to be voted on by the full City Council on January 10.

This is definitely an issue that needs public scrutiny.

It would have been passed without any changes in its original shocking form except for the public pushback it got, once the bill actually got released for wide view.

Please make your voice heard!

article by Stephen Dare

Stephen Dare photo by Toni Smailagic