Why the Hub matters
Stand Up for Flagstaff is in favor of appropriate, infill development in the original, historic neighborhoods described by the Downtown Regulating Plan.
The Flagstaff Zoning Code adopted in 2011 was carefully researched and rewritten by city staff in collaboration with form-based code experts and with significant public involvement. Two of its main features were:
- To make the code accessible, easy to understand by the combined use of words, images and numerics; and
- To integrate Smart Growth principles, especially form-based code, or as it is known in Flagstaff, transect zoning.
The City Council that voted to fund this ambitious effort, which included hiring a consultant with form-based code expertise, did it because they had the foresight to understand that Flagstaff was facing a period of inevitable growth. They wanted a plan for sustainable growth that would protect Flagstaff’s key resources: water, environment, history and character. The new code was approved by city council in it's entirety.
When it came to understanding the character of Flagstaff, and writing the transect zoning portion of the new code, there were discussions and interviews, observations and measurements, photos taken and drawings made. The zones were identified and described, and the urban zones were keyed to the Downtown Regulating Plan overlay. This overlay covers what is considered the original, historic Flagstaff area.
In the Downtown Regulating Plan area, a developer has two options: to develop using the more traditional zoning approach, also called Euclidian zoning, or; develop using the transect zoning option, in which they must design their project to fit the established character of the original city. They can choose one or the other, but can not pick and choose parts of each.
While there have been small projects in the area that have used transect zoning, the Hub was the first large project to choose it. And so it is kind of a test case. Unfortunately, the city staff charged with guiding this project through the process allowed the developer to do exactly what the code prohibits: build a project that could only be built under the traditional code, yet to allow them to reap the benefits of a transect project—including higher densities and reduced parking.
If this interpretation of the transect zoning code is allowed to stand, two outcomes can be expected:
- One of the essential, stated purposes of having a transect code, to retain the character of Flagstaff as it grows, would be eliminated for all future development. All future projects would have the Hub as a precedent point to, and the ability to mix and match to build very large, very dense and under-parked buildings in the heart of the city, and:
- The very idea of having a code and zoning process to follow that is accessible, easy to understand and predictable would be replaced by one that requires the discretion and interpretation of city planning department staff, who individually may or may not have a deep understanding of transect code. Where Flagstaff could develop the reputation of having high standards that attract creative developers who want to be a part of this desirable community, it will instead be a place where who you know in the city gets you an advantage for your project.
The Hub matters to anyone who wants to avoid those very possible outcomes as Flagstaff grows and develops.