Missoula should select design standards
|September 29, 2015||View for printing|
Everyone has their own idea of what makes a building beautiful - or ugly.
However, as a community, Missoula is overdue in agreeing to a set of design standards for smaller commercial buildings. Lacking such standards, Missoulians have been caught off guard - repeatedly, and far too late - by new business construction that elicits groans instead of warm welcomes.
The new Cellular Plus outlet store under construction on the highly visible corner of East Broadway and Madison is only the latest of these. The site used to be the home of the beloved Broadway Market and well-known Cipolato family, but the 95-year-old structure was demolished to make way for a new structure that appears to closely resemble other Verizon Wireless outlets. Presumably, it will also feature the company's stark black, white and red color scheme.
Full Missoulian Editorial: http://missoulian.com/news/opinion/e ... 77027e.html
Creating design standards is always a tricky process because it involves matters of taste, which is plainly subjective as anything, and that such standards restrict a property owner's ability to use his or her property as the property owner sees fit. To say there is some public interest in what someone's building looks like opens a very interesting discussion indeed. Because it is hard does not mean we shouldn't do it, but is that the only or best way to go about it? Is the lack of design standards truly the problem?
Rather than regulating private developers more, another approach lies with incentivizing good design. MRA has the ability to do that when property owners apply for TIF funds to help with redevelopment. In this event, MRA is essentially able to say, "Since our assistance is not an entitlement, we can require more from a property owner if they want to benefit from the public's largesse."
More importantly, perhaps, is the City's larger ability to raise expectations by doing a good job with its public areas. In Downtown, for example, the City and the MRA, as a matter of public policy, reclaimed the riverfront, built parks and trails, installed public art, planted trees, reconstructed sidewalks, etc. in recognition that private property investment is not likely to occur where the public is reluctant to invest in its property and spaces. Our Downtown is a place many, many people enjoy today because the example of public investment encouraged the necessary private investment to complete the picture.
In the case of the unattractive development on Russell Street the editorial cites, in my opinion, the building that exists as such a brutal presence can be traced directly to the City's inability to complete the work to get Russell Street and its related Bridge reconstructed. Planning for that project began in 1999 and nearly all the property on that street has waited until the forces of pent up demand and economic opportunity compelled some property owners to build in advance of the City completing this essential work.
Consider: Russell Street is in the geographic core of our City. It has one of five bridges that carry motorized traffic over the Clark Fork. It is an impediment to the completion of vital and useful trail system elements. Amazingly, a baby born when this planning process began is a licensed driver today and the project still has not broken ground. City officials who began the project planning have long retired without completing this work. This sort of paralysis on the part of government officials is shameless and gives government a deserved bad reputation.
Without completing this essential transportation segment, the community will continue to see a patchwork of buildings designed in ways that are expedient, yet unimaginative, because property owners and their architects have nothing to build to, no example of concrete public design expectations. These buildings created before the Street is reconstructed will be with us for a couple of generations, assaulting our senses and subtly demoralizing us every day. An area in the heart of the City ought to be the most vibrant and desirable area of all. Demand for the opportunity to build exceptional buildings would be high if this street were done. Yet, why should we expect private development on Russell Street to be exceptional or inspired? The street has been a disgrace for over 30 years.
Calling for action to create more design regulations rings hollow when the government fails to do the one thing that will guide and inspire good design voluntarily.
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