City Beautiful 21 » Affordable Housing, Biking, Carrboro, Density, Economic Development, Parking, Piazzas, Plazas, Parks and Squares, Public Transit, Street Design » Carrboro Advisory Boards Should Push For Gathering Space at Lloyd Farm
Tonight, at 7:30 pm in Town Hall, the various Carrboro Town Advisory Boards will meet to review the Lloyd Farm rezoning proposal before it goes to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen later in June. This site represents a significant opportunity to do something compelling or make a lasting mistake for Carrboro.
All in all, Lloyd Farm is a mildly better than average suburban strip mall concept with a bunch of single story buildings surrounding a large parking field fronting a Harris Teeter. The “better than average” points come for significantly more attention to bike/ped mobility through the site than is usually present in proposals like this. That said, here are the key problems with it:
- The layout is driven first and foremost by traffic engineering concerns; the two drive-thru parcels are particularly awful.
- The green “Plaza Lawns” are located in places that almost guarantee they will never be used as public spaces.
- No multi-story buildings on a large site that could accommodate them and surface parking
- Too small a residential component for a town struggling with increasing housing affordability challenges
I’m not sure the last two are going to be addressed at this point in the game, so I’m going to focus on ONE MEANINGFUL CHANGE that could significantly improve this project.
Re-Configure the Lawns and Parking to Create a Gathering Space, So That There is An Urban Core to a Suburban Site
The image above is the most recent site plan with a few minor changes:
- It removes the 7,810 square foot building in the curve of the road, and places parking there instead. (Blue circle)
- It moves the square footage of those buildings into two buildings that front a place reminiscent of the the Weaver Street Market Lawn among several buildings. Just as people can walk into the center of Southpoint Mall’s primary walkway between Barnes & Noble and the Apple Store, you could do the same between these two buildings. Harris Teeter would still have a massive parking field out front, albeit in a slightly different shape than they are used to. If they can build a two-story Harris Teeter at North Hills, they should be able to handle this.
- The public space allows for more urban cafe-style dining fronting a space for people rather than a space for cars. This could be accomplished with greenspace, hardscaped space like a brick plaza, or both. Ideally I think the developer could steal brick and planting design cues from the UNC campus, and then allow for dining along both sides of the space. The Piazza at Schmidt’s development in Philadelphia strikes this balance well, see below:
- This closes the movement of trucks from behind Harris Teeter to the road with the bus pull-out closer to the apartments. Trucks will then need to make a 90-degree turn in front of Harris Teeter and then head north to the road to go left towards Old Fayetteville Rd, or somehow move south of the public space and adjacent retail and exit that way.
- Finally, this move does take some retail away from the terminus of the greenway coming from Carol St. I understand how if I was coming from Carol Street, I would find this a bit of an aesthetic loss. However, I think that transition by walking and biking can be made reasonably well if there is also a greenway east of the bioretention area (PURPLE dotted line) that leads to the crossing near the proposed bus pullout. This consolidates crossings from the two directions that pedestrians and cyclists may arrive near a potential bus stop, and give them the smallest amount of parking lot/road combination to cross to reach the stores and the public space.
This Site Needs More Housing, For ALL Ages
It’s also worth noting that there’s just not enough housing being built on such a large site. Carrboro is not going to be able to address its rising housing cost challenges without building new units. Although there are 200+ new units here, this site can accommodate many more, and more stories of height over podium parking. Additionally, it’s disappointing to see only senior housing being proposed. While there are clearly needs for housing for senior citizens in Carrboro, since the Board of Aldermen proposed to look at every decision through the prism of equity at their annual retreat, it is worth noting that generally speaking, older Americans are generally wealthier than everyone else. The chart below shows the median net worth by age in the USA. The data is from the Census Bureau in 2015 via an article at the financial planning website fool.com. Given this distribution, it is hard for me to see how we can talk about equity in a complex that doesn’t allow people under 55 to live there.
In closing, I strongly recommend that the advisory boards to be energetic in encouraging the Lloyd Farm development team to use this opportunity to provide a special place on the edge of Carrboro. Not only do I think this concept of a gathering space would garner them more support for approval, I think they’d actually get higher rents! I suspect that the primary pushback will be about their anchor tenant (Harris Teeter) and expectations regarding parking. If they are getting roughly the number of spaces they expect in view of the front door of the store (as my proposal above provides) I think they should be willing to compromise.