First Park Morton Planning & Design Workshop Gets Off to Slow Start

Reporting out from the breakout session.

Reporting out from the breakout session.

Last night’s two and a half hour workshop focused on involving community members to assist in setting planning and design priorities for the redevelopment of the Park Morton community. As exciting and important as this is, it got off to a somewhat tenuous start. Despite the large turnout for the November 16th community meeting, only about 50 community members attended last night’s workshop.

An introductory presentation introduced guiding principals for the meeting — including planning efforts to date, site analysis, planning feedback to date, and concepts, themes, and areas of focus. The presentation also included revitalization principles which included neighborhood connectivity, walkability, defining public vs. private space, and appropriateness of housing types & character. There was also a review of the 2004 Georgia Avenue Corridor Plan principles and the 2008 Small Area Plan.

All of this review was to assist members of the community in their participation during the following breakout sessions. Due to the low attendance, there were only four breakout groups, each charged with answering three basic questions. These questions were:

  1. What strengths do you see in the physical layout of the neighborhood;
  2. What opportunities do you see to improve the neighborhood; and,
  3. What concerns you about the layout of your neighborhood or how it might change?

Some of the groups were more successful at answering these questions than others. However, each ultimately did provide some valuable feedback that the development team will be able to use to begin creating some design concepts. These design ideas will be available to the community during the second planning and design workshop scheduled for December 12th.

Some of the strengths that were expressed about the community were its close proximity to public transportation (both bus and rail), the architecture of the surrounding community and how the new development should draw inspiration from the architectural vocabulary of the surrounding neighborhood to help it connect with the community, and the strong, diverse community that lives in the neighborhood where neighbors have deep roots and look out for each other. Depending upon one’s point of view, some saw a lack of dense development as a community strength while others didn’t feel so strongly about that.

One of the big stumbling blocks for the meeting was that nothing has been defined, as yet, with regards to the size of buildings or where these buildings would be located. Because of this, it was difficult for some to envision how dense buildings would need to be or how the buildings would be distributed between the sites. The result of this (at least in the group in which I participated) was that too much focus was placed on the Bruce Monroe parcel and advocating for park space. The missed opportunity here was that the group spent no time discussing how the current Park Morton site could be configured or re-imagined to function better and become a true asset to the community.

Near the end of the breakout session, I suggested two key ideas that I strongly feel need to be addressed to both help the community better understand the issue of development and density and to create a genuine, long-term commitment to providing park space in the community.

The two ideas are:

  1. The community needs to work with our New Community partners and put forth a genuine effort on creating a good design and mix of housing types. This is especially critical for the original Park Morton site. This needs to take into account the zoning restrictions, parking requirements & needs (if any), and realignment of roads and infrastructure. If the community can spend time working this through for the Park Morton site, we will have a good idea of the additional housing needed and what that density may look like at both of the sites.; and,
  2. In reference to Deputy Mayor Kenner’s letter in which he stated that there is a commitment to retaining half of the Bruce Monroe site as a permanent park, I suggest that once there is an understanding of how development on the site will look that the city subdivide the parcel and retain ownership of the portion on which a permanent park is created. By retaining ownership of the public park portion of the property, this would ensure that any future interest in developing the land (should there ever be any interest) it would have to go through the land disposition process and would be unable to proceed without public meetings, ANC review, and council hearings. This would be an excellent way for the city to show that it is committed to maintaining a park at the site both today and in the future.

There is still a lot of work to do, and a tremendous opportunity for community engagement to help shape what the Park Morton development may look like. The next planning and design workshop is scheduled for Saturday, December 12th, from 10:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m. at the Bruce-Monroe @ Park View School.

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9 Comments on “First Park Morton Planning & Design Workshop Gets Off to Slow Start”

  1. Jim Slicio Says:

    It seemed to me that every group brought up the existing low density was a positive for our community. When you compare the buildings previously designed by Torti Gallas Urban and the communities surrounding both sights, it is obvious that it will be difficult to design high and medium density buildings that appear congruent with our community. We will have to wait and see when they roll out the designs on the 12th. I for one am not holding my breadth as I understand they had already drafted their plan prior to last night’s meeting.

    Hopefully Brianne Nadeau and Phil Mendelson had their ears open to the community opposition. No one wants to be steam rolled, especially when moving forward at this speed could result in outcomes unwanted by our community.

    It continues to be very difficult to discuss building designs in these workshops without answers to questions we have been asking for over a month now. The gov’t folks, contractors and architects are willing to answer some of the questions, but they do so after the meeting has adjourned and only to a few people. They need to provide answers the questions that we posed November 16th to the community as a whole before moving forward; otherwise there is the appearance that our voices are not being taken into consideration in this process.

    • JM Says:

      “there is the appearance that our voices are not being taken into consideration in this process”

      Is there any doubt that this is the case? All elected officials from ANC to the Mayor’s office have already decided the direction of Park Morton and Bruce Monroe. The public meetings are window dressing, which probably explains the low attendance.

      • Jim Slicio Says:

        I’m curious to what extent ANC commissioner’s and Brianne Nadeau have received comments from residents that advocate for the fast-track process that we are seeing. I have only heard opposition from the numerous residents and business owners in our community. I hope our government representatives can recognize this and that we do not hold the same point of view as the developers/the government and would like their support to make this process legal.

        Even if the process continues, it doesn’t mean the developers/the government can do a half-assed job. We need a comprehensive analysis presented by the developers/the government in future meetings on how their proposals affect parking, utilities, transportation, crime prevention.

  2. jcm Says:

    I didn’t attend last night because I was under the impression that the Dec 12 meeting was a duplicate of this one. Is that not the case?

    At any rate, it’s hard to get excited about a planning and design meeting when they won’t even show us the proposed plan and design they already have in hand.

  3. GO Says:

    As one frequently on ‘the other side of the table’ in this type of work (public building projects), I can say with some confidence that the behavior we see from elected/appointed officials and those facilitating the work (i.e. designers, developers, builders) is a conditioned response based on previous experience dealing with the community. Transparency and honesty from those responsible for results doesn’t lead to the halcyon results we all hope for, because as we hear at ANC meetings, SIT meetings, disposition hearings, et al, the vast majority of voices are ultimately speaking to their own varied, often contradictory, self interests. These conversations typically grind to a halt or divert into the weeds (“I want a waterslide for my grandkids” – heard at a McMillan community meeting).

    That is why, to a great extent, what you’re all saying is true – these meetings are head-patting, and the wheels are likely already turning toward a largely foregone conclusion. If the process actually depended on these meetings to get built, few public projects would ever get built. This is the trade-off to getting projects, like Park Morton 2.0, finally off the drawing board.

    That said, it’s as important as ever to have the right people pushing projects forward. Good leaders can steer through/around the din of self-interested voices, and navigate the politics and shortsightedness of their peers, often at their own expense. True progress, in the greater sense, can result. For them, accountability and sincere community engagement must remain integral to the process, but perspective on the community’s part is essential as well.

    • Derek Says:

      Well put. There’s a lot of conflicting priorities, and just because someone doesn’t get what they want doesn’t mean they aren’t being listened to.

      I also think it’s unfair to say ANC members aren’t listening on a blog that’s written by an ANC member (thanks, kent!) and then not even address the suggestions raised in the blog.

      Finally, for those of us who have been following, commenting and weighing in on the new communities initiative and Park Morton development since it was proposed 8 years ago (when Bruce Monroe was a school), calling this a “fast-track process” comes across as disconnected from reality.

      • Derek Says:

        ps. I was out of town for the Dec 1 meeting and the upcoming Dec 12 meeting. Will there be a follow up Planning and Design meeting in Jan?

      • Jim Slicio Says:

        The “fast-track process” was intended as a reference to the new phase of Park Morton development started in November 2014 and only last month the inclusion of Bruce Monroe Community park in the project was made public.

        Reality is you have your opinion, which I believe to be that we should move forward with this project as quickly as possible to get better housing for Park Morton residents. I have, on the other hand, have a different opinion. We should analyze and determine if this development was awarded legally prior to allocating any more resources and once a determination is made, a comprehensive review of our community needs should be commissioned by our government (I’m thinking parking, utilities, transportation, crime prevention, waste management, mental health programs, after school resources – which affect all area residents).

        The reason why I say I hope ANC commissioners and Council members listen to the community input at the meetings is because after going to every meeting it is clear that there is a large opposition (I’m not going to say a majority – but I do think a majority of resident around Bruce Monroe Community Park opposition to the current process) to the way this phase of the Park Morton redevelopment has begun and is moving forward. Developers ask for design help, when community members are still unaware of the scale of the redevelopment project.

        Further, I find it disingenuous to compare the McMillian Park folks to those opposed to this development, as all the opposition seeks is a legal process to be taken with genuine community involvement. No ANC Commissioners or Council members have listened to a very valid argument that the proposal was awarded under less than bona fide circumstances. Moving quickly in a poorly planned project only exacerbates existing issues.

        Lastly, one of the reasons why I do sound off on this blog is because it is run by Kent and is a means to relate opinions to him via community discourse.

  4. […] will have a positive impact on everyone who lives in the Park View community. Yet, at the first Park Morton Planning and Design Workshop held on December 1st only about 50 residents participated. The next Planning and Design Workshop is scheduled for […]

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