Saturday, September 10, 2011

Joaquin Day of Service

Friends and Neighbors,

On August 27th, we accomplished something incredible! With the help of the Provo LDS East Stake, we were able to literally change the face of 4 blocks within our neighborhood in a day. Nearly 450 people came together to repaint 6 homes, and 2 garages, plant many trees, shrubs and flowers, and clean up an area that really needed our attention.

Before our efforts, had you walked down the alleys on these blocks, you would have thought they weren't good places to be at night. Walking up 350 North between 600 and 700 East would have made you feel like the neighborhood was on the decline. The lack of trees along the streets would have made the area feel more stark.

After our efforts, lots of new trees would lend their green to the colorscape. The new paint jobs on these houses make the area feel upbeat, and like it is moving forward.

We filled 5 of the biggest dumpsters available with yard waste, tree clippings, garbage, nasty old furniture, etc. Literally, the effect is stunning. I urge each of you to walk this area and see what volunteer work, combined with the help of NeighborWorks Provo, and our city's Neighborhood Matching Grant can accomplish.

The area sits between 600 and 700 East, 200 North and 500 North. There is a lot of construction going on due to new storm sewer systems, and the "wrap-up" of the landscaping at the new Provo Peaks elementary. Park the car, and take a walk!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Things that would improve this lot coverage ordinance

I'd like to write a few things from my own perspective, so please don't take it as more than that. Right now we have a lot coverage ordinance that unfortunately doesn't really please quite a few of us. I thought I'd write this evening about potential changes that could improve it. Feel free to offer your own input.

1. Landscaping requirements. In downtown neighborhoods, with narrow lots, we feel the "pain" of an inadequately landscaped lot next door to us very quickly. The current ordinance doesn't have any real protections in this regard. Having even 4 or 8 feet of landscaping surrounding the lot lines would at least provide a benefit visually, and also in terms of storm water.

2. Allowing much more pavement than is necessary. 40% can be paved for parking, and an unlimited amount for hardscape--the question is why so much. Particularly on large lots, why would we want so much pavement? On a small tiny lot, I can see these percentages being problematic. Perhaps we should look at this in terms of allowing a minimum amount of parking on the lot. Perhaps adequate parking for 3 stalls of parking. If this is covered by front yard or side yard, why are we encouraging more of the backyards to be paved. If no front yard parking is available, then it is reasonable to allow backyard parking--but limits make sense.

Think of it this way--on a narrow lot that is 200 feet deep, 40% may provide 7 stalls of parking. Why on earth would we encourage this? Is our goal to stuff in the cars, or to revitalize neighborhoods? On a short tiny lot, a smaller percentage may not even allow space for 1 car. We have all sorts of lots. If defined in terms of stalls, the percentage may be on a sliding scale, but it would help us on preserving neighborhood character, especially if we had adequate landscaping requirements.

3. I think we should have a serious dialog about requiring permits to pave. We've seen a lot of yards get paved way beyond Provo's standards. If people know the rules before they start, things go much better. Given the impact all this concrete and asphalt have on our environment, storm water system, etc., I believe it could be a reasonable requirement, at the minimum fee.

4. Anything we do needs to incorporate the goals of the Vision 2030 planning. We want character in our neighborhoods, and I'm not talking about the kind of character that means lot line to lot line pavement.

5. Allow for differences in requirements by neighborhood preference. The challenges of many neighborhoods surrounding BYU and downtown make them much more worried about excessive lot pavement. Other neighborhoods further west or those in zones that require 10,000 foot lots may not be so concerned about what their neighbors do.

I feel like each of these ideas would benefit the ordinance, and allow us as citizens of Provo to create a better ordinance.

If you would like to review the petition and add your support, please click on the following link:

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Provo--"green" or paved? That is really just one of the questions...

Over 5 years ago, our neighborhood led a drive to have our city council make a crucial change. Previously, property owners all over the city were able to pave up to 50% of a backyard for parking. Our own neighborhood, especially in South Joaquin, had been extremely susceptible to this. We have a lot of old homes that had been turned into duplexes, or even triplexes, and in order to get BYU approval, landlords had to have adequate off street parking. So--they paved a lot of back yards. There are several problems with this circumstance.

1. It creates much more of an urban hot zone. Temperatures run as much as 20 degrees higher over pavement than they do over green space.

2. Once paved, these yards almost never go back. They have no appeal to families searching for a home to purchase, since removing the pavement would be an enormous additional expense. As a result, the properties become a perpetual rental.

3. Once paved, these rental properties have more value, sell for more, and are very difficult to remove--when you actually want to remove them, such as in North Joaquin, where we want high density student housing built to replace old worn out homes.

4. We have a need in our neighborhood for more long term residents, more home owners, not for more rental property.

5. The city never required fencing, or adequate landscaping, which meant that these parking lots are eye sores to the neighbors, affecting in a negative way the property values of people living next door, or nearby.

Fortunately, we had a city council at the time that cared about the revitalization of our historic neighborhood, and agreed that this was a good choice for our future. As a result, the amount of land which was allowed to be paved was reduced to 25%.

I can't understate the role that we as a neighborhood played in this. Our efforts benefitted the entire city. Unfortunately, things have now moved the other direction. A different city council and administration have now pushed the percentage allowed in pavement for parking to be increased to 40% of all backyard space. In addition, they eliminated landscaping requirements, and they increased the amount of a front yard which could be paved. All of Provo's neighborhoods are going to be affected by this. It many not be fast (though i've already seen a back yard get new pavement on my street), but it will have an impact.

This legislation came at the request of one landlord. Yes--just one. He made the application, and the council agreed, with some modification. Get ready for more pavement. This goes against your votes in previous neighborhood meetings.

So, my friends, our efforts begin again. A petition has been prepared online for you to lend your voices towards if you support it. Click the link below.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Pictures from Paint Your Heart Out 2010

We moved Paint Your Heart Out in 2010 a little bit to the south, well technically I admit it wasn't in the Joaquin Neighborhood. We worked down in Maeser at 4 different beautiful historic homes that each needed the love and expertise we've gained. Turnout was excellent, and we were helped by Zions Bank, whose employees painted one of the homes for us. This tradition has truly changed perceptions of our neighborhood, and it can do the same for Maeser. Last Friday, I drove around the area with a friend from the City Council, and an acquaintance, who happens to be a developer. He's a great man, someone who lives up in Sandy, and most of his work is done in Salt Lake City. He knows Provo, and lived here while he was going to college in the mid 90's. He said as we drove around--wow, this looks a lot better. He really liked the "paint jobs" we have given to homes, and inspired folks to do. Sometimes, the most fascinating pictures we get are from those whose memory is from another time. In this case, it gave me a lot of hope.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Arbor Day Project improves our Neighborhood

Saturday morning at 9 am, we had nearly 100 people gather together at the new Joaquin Park to volunteer their time to improve our neighborhood. Thanks to Luke Kennard's Eagle Project, we had 28 trees available from Provo City to plant in our park strips. The Mayor joined us for an Arbor Day ceremony to mark the value that trees have in our lives.

He pointed out that according to our City Forester, we have planted over 400 trees in our neighborhood since 2003 thanks to this type of service project. To me that is amazing. Yes, we have a large neighborhood, but that's quite a number. I want to personally thank Luke and his family for their lead in this effort, as well as the City Staff that helped our event.

The best time to plant a tree will always be 40 years ago--but last Saturday sure wasn't a bad 2nd.

Kurt Peterson

Saturday, January 23, 2010

New Concept (in Provo at least) for Revitalizing Neighborhoods

Provo City Transfer of Development Rights: Preserving historic neighborhoods through economic incentives for Developers of high density housing in targeted areas.
Provo City has 6 Historic neighborhoods that have deteriorated due to previous zoning standards and their consequences. Old homes were routinely chopped into duplexes, triplexes or worse, turning them into income property instead of cherished owner occupied residential property. Prime example: Knight Mangum house on the corner of 400 East and Center Street. What was once a family mansion is now 12 apartments for married student housing. Unfortunately, as these homes age, their condition deteriorates excessively due to this sort of density, and the lack of “invested” homeowners living in the homes.
In particular, we see this sort of problem in the Joaquin and Maeser neighborhoods. Literally, hundreds of homes which were built as single family homes have become (or are becoming) legal duplexes, with no requirement of owner occupancy. The area has gone from having three schools to one, due to a decline in the number of children and families living in the area. Fewer homeowners in an area where homes range from 60 to 120 years old means a much greater likelihood of blight, higher crime and a larger number of police calls.
The Goal: Treasured family neighborhoods like the “Avenues”, Capitol Hill or the Westminster area in Salt Lake City which have a physical condition that attracts and retains long term residents and successfully preserves the historic character of the homes.
Can we create this in Provo?
Yes: but not with our current tools. Our current tools of revitalization, while effective, have limitations. They can’t enable us to buy historic homes that have been turned into 4-plexes, convert them back into owner occupied property and make the necessary repairs (usually extensive) that would attract new buyers. The costs are too high, and since we have funded most of our revitalization with CDBG funds, we have income and house price limitations in place.
But we can use lessons learned and certain methods of our revitalization efforts in this process. Our Purchase & Rehabilitation Program has been extremely successful at changing the character of troubled property. We buy blighted homes, and through NeighborWorks Provo, we fix structural, system and visual defects, and sell them to owner occupants. However, our funds are limited, and we have to work within fairly strict limits with this program. Squeezing other funds out of the municipal budget right now would be a difficult, if not impossible, task.
So where could we get the money or resources?
We do have another asset which we haven’t put to use yet; it is called Development Rights. In essence, when we zone a particular property, we “impose” a value upon it. If land is zoned to only allow one house for every 10,000 square feet of land, it is likely less valuable to a developer than land which allows one house for every 5,000 square feet of land. In the past, we’ve simply made those determinations by zone changes, and someone (not the city) benefitted economically. Why shouldn’t we put this tool to work for the benefit of our city?
According to the City’s general plan, there is property in Provo where high future density development is planned. North Joaquin and the Transit Oriented Development area quickly come to mind as examples. Neither currently have very specific zoning in place, so perhaps this is an ideal time to consider it.
How could this work?
In essence, we create a plan which allows developers of these high density areas to gain density bonuses for tackling the projects we want to see happen, but can’t afford to do. They purchase and rehabilitate older, larger houses that have been “chopped up” into places a family would love to live. Deed restrictions are placed on the properties which prevent it from once again becoming multi-family or multi-student housing. Owner occupancy could be required for 20 years. If reasonable, an accessory apartment (which always requires owner occupancy in the main unit) could be maintained. The city would be a party to the restrictive covenant language, with a standing right to enforce the deed restrictions. If the home is historic, it would be placed on the Provo Landmarks Registry.
The density bonus could work as follows:
All properties that are in the RC zone (North Joaquin) have a maximum density assigned by current structures. So for our purposes let’s assume a developer has 4 congruent lots with a current density of 12 units for 1 acre of land. The developer’s project wants to put 40 units on that land. To do that, the developer needs 28 density “credits.” To get those credits, the developer accepts purchase/rehabilitation projects which provide that number of credits.

We would likely want to involve a third party, like NeighborWorks Provo in this process, by enabling them to maintain purchase options on various houses within our targeted rehabilitation area. This could prevent artificial inflation, and provide the city with a dedicated, resident guided, method to determine which properties we focus on. Their experience with rehabilitations would be valuable in guiding a sales contract/density bonus for each property that reflects the complexity of the project, and the property’s particular needs for updating and restoration. Another factor would be where the developer’s property is. So let’s look at an example of how this could work.
• NeighborWorks buys an option on a “fix-up” property which fits the goals of the city and its board of directors. Let’s say the property is a house which has been chopped into a triplex.
• NeighborWorks Staff evaluates the house, and draws up plans for turning the house back into a single family home.
• The cost of these improvements is estimated to be 100k.
• Based on estimated value at re-sale and those costs, NeighborWorks assigns a value of 7 density credits to the project.
So what are the real benefits?
• We use a previously unused asset of our city to fund something beneficial to our historic neighborhoods.
• We let market driven forces accomplish 2 things we want: effectively down-zoning “chopped up” historic properties, and creating housing density where we want it.
• We avoid the political battles of a real down-zone or a fight for Amortization.
• These fixed up historic properties will become “crown jewels” in these neighborhoods, attracting long-term residents who will contribute to the quality and stability of the area.
• A higher degree of historic preservation will further push market forces by turning these areas into “neighborhoods of choice.”
What would our City have to invest?
• Staff time, City Council time to create the ordinance.
• A method of administering the ordinance.
• An amount of money from the General Fund or EDI to seed NeighborWorks or RDA involvement in the plan.
Could this be expanded for other use or other areas?
The simple answer is yes. It could be used in other areas where rental property has become too large a percentage of housing stock, or to simply eliminate structures we feel are counter to our goals for the future. My mind is drawn to deteriorating four plexes which dot our neighborhoods…. In essence, if the density reward is sufficient, the task will be accomplished.
How do we use this within our current systems?
Currently, our development process requires a pro-zone and approval by the planning commission and City Council. In essence, we just make this part of our process. City Staff would evaluate the project, and in that process, make a recommendation to the Council about the number of required density credits the project would need. A formula based on location, density desired, and parking ratio would help us make that determination. If a project has some other benefit to the community, the requirement could be reduced. The Council would then make a final determination as part of the Pro-Zone approval. The beauty of this is the flexibility it offers the city government.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pictures from Paint Your Heart Out 2009

I'm sorry these are a little late. I should have done it in June, but life and campaign season sort of have a way of getting in the way. This year we focused on 2 homes on 100 North which sit next to each other. One is a big, gorgeous Victorian, the other a large gable-end Craftsman Bungalow. Both are right at 100 years old. One owner occupied, one not. Both are well taken care of and loved.

NeighborWorks Provo (formerly NHS of Provo) provided the paint, organizing skills, and the scaffolding. A good number of volunteers, mostly from our neighborhood showed up to help. Our Mayor elect even came to help, which was wonderful.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and despite all the help, we didn't quite have these two done in one day. We held a small ward service project the following night to do our best to wrap up more of the work. Enjoy the shots!
Special thanks to Sharlene Wilde, Executive Director of NeighborWorks Provo for her work on this.