Comments on the Transit Center Proposal

I was glad to see the preliminary design for the Transit Center proposal released a few weeks ago. Given some of the comments that I’ve seen expressed, and my previous posts about this particular RFP I have decided to make a few early points. There is a lot of information I don’t know about the development constraints and the motives behind the developers decisions. Therefore, I am basing all of my comments below on the information that  has been made public.

First let me express the things I like about the proposal.

  1. A dense residential high-rise in the Central Business District.
  2. $800 studio rentals; of course we don’t know the unit size but they are likely 450-500 Sqft. Given the $82 million development budget this is the low end of what the building needs entry units to perform at, and is competitive with other Downtown rentals.
  3. At 390’ tall this would be the 4th tallest building in the State, and take over 44 Monroe for tallest residential. I think it is good to see some competition amongst developers.

Second, I have concerns with the following items but don’t see it worth holding the project up over.

  1. The building will shade the park in winter. I did two quick models to show what the current proposal would look like on December 31st (See Below). I also looked at moving the building South to Van Buren to show full sun on the main lawn. I am making the assumption that a North/South alignment is out of the question for the developer because of view sheds and direct East/West sun into the units. (Yes, there is a reason many of our buildings are oriented this way.)
  2. I would like to see Polk made back into a through street, at minimum a one way, or at least continue its use for some bus functions.
  3. The bus stops seem to be haphazardly moved in front of the historic Security Building across Van Buren. At best this appears to be an after thought, and at worst a perceived desire to disperse bus riders from the development site.
  4. I have no problem with a public dog park in the location shown, but a building exclusive dog park along Central Ave is not appropriate. This distinction is unclear from the site plan.

Finally, there is the item that concerns me most. The proposal needs to meet the Urban Form Code, and the current design appears to fall short. All references are from The Downtown Code-Chapter 12

  1. The maximum setback on Van Buren is 5 feet. A conservative measurement puts the building at 10 feet. Given the narrow sidewalks at this location this may be a variance worth pursuing.
  2. On Van Buren the building must front 75% of the lot. The site plan does not reflect adequate building frontage along Van Buren.
  3. The maximum setback on Central Ave and 1st Ave is 10 feet. The site plan reflects approximately 40 foot setbacks along each of these major urban streets. Due to these deep setbacks it is hard to argue that the building has any frontage along these streets, let alone the required 75%.
  4. The building does not enhance the major pedestrian corners as it is required to. These are two prime corners that would not be activated.                                                                                                        Enhanced Corner Guidelines. The uses that generate the highest pedestrian traffic should be located on enhanced corners and provide the following: +2

1.A primary entrance that faces both streets and serves the greatest number of occupants. 

2.Additional building articulation that emphasizes the corner and promotes activity. *2 

3.Active uses identified on the Land Use Matrix (Section 1204.D) should occupy the ground floor level. +2

5.   The tower should have a distinctive base. Base guidelines. 

a.All buildings over four stories in height should be designed with a base that is differen-tiated from the remainder of the building in order to relate to the street. The base may be between one and four stories in height, and should be scaled to the immediate context. 

b.The base of a building(s) should be placed parallel, and not at an angle, to the street. 

c.Building form guidelines. 

.(1)  Above 65 feet, tall buildings should not have massing that is boxy, bulky, and elon- gated. 

.(2)  Upper floors should be served by common entrance lobbies that shall be accessed from the Front or Pedestrian Street. 

.(3)  Large floor plates should be articulated to break down the mass of the building, cre- ate “street interest” and enhance skyline character. 

.(4)  Building towers should have a minimum separation of 20 feet. 

.(5)  The reflectivity of windows should be limited to 20 percent. 

.(6)  The uppermost floors of high-rise buildings should be articulated to achieve a dis-tinctive skyline profile. 

 In my opinion, all of these problems stem from the fact that this size of development is not appropriate for an entire city block. Below are some possible fixes.

  1. The tower should shift over from the middle of the property to either directly onto 1st or Central. Especially if it is kept on the Polk side, so that the building has some public street frontage.
  2. The development should only take half a block. Either focusing on the Van Buren side or the Polk side of the lot.
  3. The parking garage would need to possibly go up 2 more stories or underground 2 stories to keep approximate square footage and include street level activation. It is unclear how tall the current proposed parking structure is.
  4. The remainder of the block could be left in tact for continued transit functions or future development projects.

As the DPJ article states, the city is in negotiations with the developer. I hope that some of these issues are being addressed during that process. Below are some possible site massing, and the winter shade analysis pictures.

– Current Site plan 12:30pm December 31st Shade Shade2   – Rotated Site plan 12:30pm December 31st Shade Shade1 Suggestion #1 Van Buren focus Mass1   Suggestion #2 Polk focus Mass2

Jeffery is a native Phoenix area resident and lives in the Downtown Evans Churchill neighborhood. He has a Masters in Globalization and Development from The University of Sussex – Institute of Development Studies and a Political Science B.A. From A.S.U. He currently works as a Project Manager for a Phoenix based small business. All opinions are strictly his own. All rights on written and creative ideas are reserved

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One thought on “Comments on the Transit Center Proposal

  1. James

    Unfortunately, I think the bad outweighs the good with the proposal in its current form. I wish there were more detailed renderings/site plan that outlined exactly how the garage and commercial space is being designed, but based on what I can infer from the limited amount of plans released, this development misses the mark on what could’ve been a real game-changer for downtown. The apartment tower on its own, as designed, is fine – even if it misses the mark on some of the Urban Form requirements. I would prefer a skinnier, taller design [which would solve some of the shading problems and fit current trends in architecture in world class cities], but this one is still a nice, tall, dense addition to the skyline. However, for a project that should be a central point of transit, connectivity and public use, it fails miserably on almost all fronts. The apartment is completely insular from the lack of 1st ave or Central frontage, to the lack of retail, to the conversion of Polk to a private drive… sure, there’s no gates, but this is almost suburban in nature and the kind of project one would expect to see in the Biltmore area, not downtown. How great would it have been for Polk to be opened up, and for restaurants/cafes to line that side of the park beneath the new apartment tower? Next, the days of allowing projects to build separate, above-grade parking structures should be long over. This real estate is too valuable for 3/4 of the lot to be dedicated to parking. The parking should absolutely have been put underground or in a podium beneath the apartments. Even if completely wrapped with commercial space – which it isn’t – it still takes up land that should be used for higher intensity purposes. On that note, the commercial space as described seems to be little more than ground level office space for transit services and a small incubator. At some point, this will be the convergence of several light rail lines, and is already at the heart of downtown adjacent to the busiest light rail stations in the system. If there were to ever be a chance for a concentrated retail zone to survive downtown, it would be here. Yet, there’s NO retail space incorporated into this design. Office space is great – but closes down at 5pm; haven’t we grown past being a 9-5 business district? Get those office spaces onto a second level, instead of killing 1st ave and Central with dead zones. To add insult to injury, Van Buren is zoned west of Central to house large-scale retail in the future according to Urban Form. There was a chance for this project to be a transition/connecting piece between EVB (AZ Center, Sheraton, OCPE..) and that future WVB. Instead, not only is there no retail fronting VB, it’s being used for only bus pull-ins and for the garage entrance. That’s simply not acceptable. Finally, as you touched on, this project should not be taking up an entire block. We’re getting an apartment tower and a very small amount of commercial space. A proper design, with the commercial and parking integrated into the residential would have this taking up 1/2 of the lot AT MOST. It really seems like we are giving away far too much and gaining far too little to make this project worth it in the long-run.

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