With the next few posts I intend to work through, and discuss aspects of the major projects announced for the Westside of Downtown. While the public will have limited input on the Wood Partners- Alta Fillmore project, what little say we have, should be focused on fixing the long urban blocks, as that will have the longest lasting impact. I will expand on this idea below, but the only way I see to do this is by utilizing some of the ‘Taylor Paseo’ provisions in the zoning code. Unfortunately, the developer may be substantially beyond making any such changes to this project, but I feel it is worth bringing the point up just in case. Luckily, The City’s Pappas school site RFP process will allow for a more flexible and robust community conversation over the coming months. Therefore, I look forward to posting more on this topic as that process starts.
Breaking The Blocks:
One of the best opportunities presented by this city assemblage is the ability to fix the ‘Long Block’ problem on the western side of downtown. Instead of creating homogenous neighborhoods as intended, long city blocks tend to isolate not insulate, they breakup commerce, increase traffic congestion, and hinder pedestrian activity, all of this creates urban economic development dead zones. While many downtown projects over the last 50 years have eliminated key portions of the standard grid infrastructure, this project has an opportunity to create streets, and open up what is typically seen as an urban planing mistake ‘The long block’. Let me be very clear, from an urban development standpoint breaking up these blocks is far more valuable in the long-term than any structure that will occupy the parcels in the short-term. Below is a quick sketch and description of how this could be done.
Current Blocks (Yellow-COP, Blue-WP)
Possible Blocks (Yellow-COP, Blue-WP)
Taylor 4th to 5th Avenue:
I am encouraged by the willingness of the City to push developers into creating an east-west street as part of any proposal. Following Taylor’s alignment from across 7th Avenue would form one natural break-up point for these blocks allowing two small transition blocks at the north of the project creating a buffer for The Roosevelt Historic Neighborhood. This would allow for better access to parcels at the natural alley cuts, keeping 5th Avenue pedestrian and bike friendly while possibly providing a natural entry into the Alta Fillmore’s project. I am fine allowing this street be built by developers if need be, because any large project may want to combine parking under/over this roadway and therefore Taylor’s natural alignment as a street just needs to be included into the RFP.
Polk 4th to 7th Avenue:
From a geographical standpoint Polk works as a natural mid-block break between Fillmore and Van Buren. For Three reasons I feel every effort should be made to connect Polk from 7th Avenue to 4th Avenue, despite the City not controlling the Alta Fillmore property. First, with The Streets Departments plan to change 5th Avenue back to 2 ways, and the potential increased residential/commercial activity from within these parcels, an additional east-west connection would help take pressure off of Fillmore and Van Buren. Second, it would enhance the connection to The Grand Avenue neighborhood, and create better development opportunities for the Polk to Van Buren section between 6th and 7th. Finally, it would allow the city to re-interpret but implement the ‘Taylor Street Pedestrian Paseo’, and create a more connected pedestrian neighborhood. However, this infrastructure improvement needs to be led by the Streets Department with the assistance of CEDD, and cannot be developer led.
Alta Fillmore property & Polk:
The natural alignment for Polk from 7th Ave to 4th Ave falls directly in the path of the proposed Alta Fillmore development by Wood Partners. This would take away around 22K Sqft of privately owned property and likely make 18K Sqft unbuild-able without further acquisitions. I do not suspect the city is willing to pay outright for this piece of property, however if this new Polk alignment was created as part of the Taylor Paseo then there are some automatic negotiating options.
“Sites that are required to dedicate and construct the Taylor Street Paseo shall have no maximum lot coverage, maximum density requirements or required minimum open space.” Section 1221 E. (see diagram)
While the Paseo is slated to run a couple hundred feet south of this area, the Polk alignment is a straighter path overall, and therefore better meets the intent of a downtown pedestrian corridor.
The current density restriction on the Alta Fillmore property is 218 units per acre, yet the Height restrictions are 600’, (the highest in Phoenix). Changing the density maximum on these particular parcels creates a significant potential value increase for the owner when looking out over a 30-60yr time frame.
The current project Wood Partners is building may help stabilize this section of downtown but it is ultimately a tear-down project. They may see these concessions of sufficient value to negotiate a deal with the city, or they may be too far into pre-development to change designs, thus dismissing the idea. Either way it is worth suggesting as it would also temporarily reprieve a fight over demolishing the building at 347 W. 7th, and drastically open up 4th,5th & 6th Avenues to economic activity.
My next post will be about key points for the RFP.
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