A Festival of Three Lessons and Policies–The Master Plan, part 1

IMG_4816Seven years ago the city gathered public comment on the often contentious (think Edgewood shops) topic of neighborhoods and development before passing a an 81-page Master Plan to better guide sustainable development.

The document is very readable and organized into three major components, Green Infrastructure, Neighborhoods and Activity Centers, with two additional long sections devoted to Land Use and Traffic. It is THE guide to which city’s elected leaders, professional staff and Planning Commission should to when making decisions about any proposed development and zoning.

For the holidays, here is Part One of a faithful summary of the plan’s gently worded but sometimes portentous advice about building a livable city, beginning with Green Infrastructure. Click here for the full document.

This Green Infrastructure map is part of the Master Plan. Click on the image to open a zoomable version.

This Green Infrastructure map is part of the Master Plan. Click on the image to open a zoomable version.

Page 19 — Green Infrastructure defined, mapped and supported:

  • The city’s park and recreation system of passive and active parks and outdoor recreation facilities will be enlarged, expanded and focused especially on the needs of neighborhoods.
  • The city’s “green infrastructure,” consisting of its park and recreation system, in combination with Shades Creek, Griffin Creek and the city’s ponds, streams and floodplains, augmented by steeper slopes and major portions of its urban tree canopy, will be conserved and respected by the Master Plan and the city’s development management system.
  • The Green Infrastructure map shows the major components of the natural environment–streams, floodways, and slopes greater than 15%. It issues these principles about the place of development within the infrastructure:

Page 21 — Development “Don’ts:”

  • The city may spend more than $75,000 repairing sections of the channelized Griffin Creek that collapsed during recent heavy rains.

    The city may spend more than $75,000 repairing sections of the channelized Griffin Creek that collapsed during recent heavy rains.

    Building into the floodplain increases flooding upstream and erodes stream banks. The wider, adjacent floodways should be kept free of development.

  • Any development that cuts into a critical slope (greater than 15%) or increases a slope should wave a “green flag” of warning.
  • Development should not wall-off natural views and vistas.
  • Open spaces should be linked into an accessible network via sidewalks, greenways and trails; important scenic locations should be reserved for public use.
  • Buildings should “look into” green spaces rather than “backing into” them.

Page 39 — Maintaining shade, pedestrian accessibility at major parks and rec centers:

Due to their size, large recreational areas are somewhat isolated from neighborhoods and even from the majority of people they are meant to serve. Thus extra effort is required to provide connection to the community.

  • Recreation Centers should impart a strong sense of community, especially for those who live near them.
  • Parks should provide abundant shade and seating for respite during summer.
  • Natural tree canopies should be added where they don’t exist.
  • Seating at ball fields and playgrounds should be organized beneath mature shade trees.
  • IMG_5188Pedestrians should not be forced to walk through parking lots and across driveways and traffic to reach their destinations.
  • An appropriate transition should be made between parks/centers and adjacent neighborhoods.

Page 41–Protecting Homewood’s Green Infrastructure is the first of the city’s five Development Themes:

“Homewood intends to protect, preserve and enhance important and fragile ecosystems within developed portions of the city. It will strive to use its natural and open lands for parks and for passive and active recreation.”

Page 45–Parks and green spaces defined as to best use:

  1. Greenways are linear parks to provide walking, biking opportunities, wildlife corridors, buffers from development and links to the park system. They should surround ALL significant streams and portions of their floodplains.
  2. Major Parks — Can serve multiple purposes; appearance should respect local materials and “context” (should fit in with the neighborhood) and appearance impart a sense of community pride.
  3. Community Parks — Can serve multiple purposes from active sports to play areas, picnic areas, outdoor classrooms and social gathering areas. A significant portion of their area should be kept natural and wooded.
  4. Neighborhood Parks — Provide small residential areas a place for unstructured informal gatherings, recreation, and events.
IMG_4680

Mayfair Circle, 2012. Cul-de-sacs are discouraged in the Master Plan, which encourages natural barriers versus fences, and design that fits into the scale of a neighborhood. The plan also proposes regulations specifically protecting green space. Click image to enlarge.

Page 62–Green Infrastructure discussed under “Growth and Development Regulations” (zoning and subdivisions).

  • Open space is not just the space left over when development is finished. It should be planned for and serve a purpose.
  • The city’s subdivision regulations should specifically require protection of natural resources rather than relying on existing zoning standards, or open space may be lost.
GREENINFRACHECKLIST

Click to enlarge checklist

Green Infrastructure checklist for all Planning Commission cases (excerpts):

  • Design residential streets at the minimum width necessary.
  • Minimize the use of cul-de-sacs.
  • Limit paved parking; make shared parking solutions attractive.
  • Require HOA management of common open spaces;
  • Require natural buffers along floodplains, steep slopes, wetlands and streams.
  • Limit clearing and grading of woodlands to that needed for building and fire protection.
  • Prohibit new stormwater discharge into wetlands, aquifer.

Page 65-67 — Public Investment in Green Infrastructure

“During the planning process, Homewood residents from every part of town expressed a desire for more pedestrian accessibility throughout the city.”

  • GREENWAYPHASEII

    Greenway, Phase II plan. Click to enlarge.

    The Homewood Greenway System should connect the city’s major recreation facilities, including the Shades Creek Community Greenway, Jemison Trail in Mt. Brook, West Homewood Park, Vulcan Trail system, Red Mountain Park and other trails planned for the Oxmoor Valley.

Next Up:  Neighborhoods

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