Thursday, September 24, 2009

Architecture, Not Parking Lots, Should Define Streets

At the last Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, I failed to win approval of a motion to "minimize" parking in front of a proposed 12,000 square foot, two-story professional office building on Apopka-Vineland Road. (The vote, 3-3, was technically "no action.") The applicant is proposing the new building to replace an existing one-story medical office building at the "Four Corners," just south of Conroy-Windermere Road, to continue and expand her medical practice.

We have degraded Central Florida's roads by lining them with parking lots.

The Windermere and Dr. Phillips communities opposed development at the "Four Corners" for many years. In the 1990's, the County Commission approved development along with expanding the intersecting roads to four lanes to support it. The concession to the community was a "Community Village Center" ordinance. The ordinance required "pedestrian oriented" development with a "streetscape" that would have "definition." The ordinance required development that would have a "sense of place."

I have never seen a parking lot with a "sense of place." A streetscape requiring "definition" needs architectural definition in addition to landscaping. We lose architectural definition by moving buildings far from our roads.

A huge parking lot in front of a building is not, by any stretch, "pedestrian oriented." Most people will not walk more than a 1/4 mile before opting for their cars. When we set back development 1/8 of a mile or more from the sidewalk, we make walking less convenient and encourage automobile travel, even by those who live in the subdivision next door. This development pattern unnecessarily adds to automobile congestion.

A professional office building, Perkins, and a CVS hide much, but not all of the parking on the northeast side of the Four Corners intersection. At the southeast corner, the stunning Tavistock Financial Center hides parking below and behind the building. Tavistock has set the correct example.

Tavistock Financial Center--No parking lot in front--Across from the proposed professional medical office building on Apopka-Vineland Road

Unicorp learned from the aesthetic mistake of placing huge parking lots along Sand Lake Road. Unicorp's most spectacular development to date, Dellagio, hides parking below and behind the buildings.

Dellagio. Sand Lake Road is to the right.

View of Sand Lake Road toward Plaza Venezia. Parking lot placement in front of buildings is an aesthetic error.

Celebration and Baldwin Park internalize their parking in the middle of blocks, which allows for on-street parking to buffer pedestrians.

Aerial View of Celebration Town Center. Buildings brought close to the street hide parking lots.

Aerial view of Baldwin Park. Buildings hide parking lots, in the middle of blocks.

Street-level view of Post Lake Apartments in Baldwin Park. Notice the parking lot hidden by the building at the far left.

Grocery stores and big box stores, where numerous customers make large, bulky purchases, can justify parking lots in front. But even in those instances, like the Baldwin Park Publix, developers should plan for future buildings to hide much of the parking lot. Another possibility: corner entrances can disperse parking at half the depth on two sides of the building, like at the Publix in Watercolor, Florida, in the Panhandle. One side can have a pedestrian orientation--ideally with small businesses wrapping an otherwise empty wall. The pedestrian side can connect to a residential area.

Watercolor, Florida Publix--Entrance at the corner to disperse parking on two sides.

The application for the 12,000 square foot Four Corners professional office building goes to the Board of County Commissioners for consideration in October. Section 38-1476 of the Orange County Code requires five parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of office use. Sixty more parking spaces lining Apopka-Vineland Road is too much. The County should insist on a parking lot to the building's side and rear, with perhaps a limited amount of parking in front for medical emergencies.

I agree with the Commissioners who did not support my motion, who took the principled position that we should amend the ordinance Countywide for uniformity. The more predictability we give developers and the community, the better for everyone.