Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Rowlett outlines vision for city’s future
Realize Rowlett 2020 encompasses the entire city.
The city of Rowlett reached out to the community to determine what future development in the city should look like. Residents and business owners were asked to weigh in with their thoughts about development in three major areas throughout the city -- downtown Rowlett, the North Shore area and the city's waterfront area.
The project, known as Realize Rowlett 2020, officially began on March 1 when the city council authorized an agreement with consultants HOK to go into the community and see what the people wanted in the city. The team of consultants began their endeavor by meeting and discussing challenges the city was facing and would face in the future with city staff. Once the team had an understanding of the city's challenges it was ready to embrace the community and seek out their opinions on development.
"We got to work immediately," said Erin Jones, city planner. "On March 14 we went on a tour of the city with the consultant group. This really was the first opportunity for staff to point out what really were some of the greatest assets we felt are in Rowlett and also some of our immediate concerns."
The community outreach portion of the project began with a kickoff meeting at the Rowlett Community Center on April 25. During the meeting attendees were asked to give their input on several topics including transportation, development along Lake Ray Hubbard, downtown development, making the city a life-long community, what types of jobs the city needs to attract, what type of attractions does the city have and need and what the city's identity needs to become in the future. The information was then evaluated by the consultant team and a draft version of key opportunity areas was created.
"This really gave [the community] their opportunity to give us their input from the beginning," Jones said.
In addition the city set up an online survey for those that were unable to attend the meeting to give their input.
The consultant team hosted a charrette on May 21. During the charrette people were asked to evaluate the draft version of the opportunity areas. From the evaluation several scenarios were created to determine the feasibility of each type of development and its impact on the city.
"We asked people to come and chose one of the five draft areas and commit to the area all day. At the end of the charrette each group gave a presentation and a poll was conducted to ensure we were moving in the right direction," Jones said.
Following the charrette the consultant team hosted four community meetings to solicit input from members of the community that were unable to attend the kickoff meeting or the charrette. The meetings allowed for more public input on the city's plans for future development.
"We strategically held them in the four quadrants of the city," Jones said.
On June 8 a joint meeting of the city council and the Planning and Zoning Commission was held to evaluate the updated plan for development. HOK briefed the council and commission on the plan that was developed based on community input. After input from the council members and commissioners the consultant team was able to establish guiding principles for the plan based on the consensus achieved at the meeting regarding the city's plans for the future.
"The council and the Planning and Zoning commission gave a consensus for 13 guiding principles," Jones said.
The consultant team took the principles out into the community on July 18 during a community wide open house meeting. During the meeting participants were shown a draft framework of 13 strategic opportunity areas, which were the original five broken into subareas. There were approximately 50 people at the meeting asked to give their feedback on each of the opportunity areas using a keypad voting system. Based on the results of this input the consultant team was able to prioritize the opportunity areas by importance.
"We felt like it was necessary to go back into the public and get their input," Jones said.
A meeting was held on July 21 with the project's steering committee to analyze the data and preferences gathered from the community. The steering committee assessed the information and the framework of the plan to ensure that it clearly conveyed the vision for the city's future so that future city leaders would be able to carry out the plan.
"It was important for them to know that someone could open this up in eight years and feel the same excitement that we felt about the plan," Jones said.
A second joint city council - Planning and Zoning commission meeting was held on Aug. 9 to provide a detailed overview of the specific areas and solicit feedback. During the meeting there were very few questions asked because the council members and commissioners both determined the major issues had been addressed already. At the end of the meeting a consensus was reached to accept the plan elements as they were presented.
The city then held two public hearings regarding the plan. The first public hearing was on Aug. 30 during the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting. Following the hearing the commission recommended approving the plan with one small change. The commission asked that "single family detached" be removed from the recommended areas in the lakeside living section of the plan.
The second public hearing was held during the city council meeting on Sept. 6. During the meeting a presentation of the final plan was made to allow for final input from the public regarding the plan.
"Only one public hearing is required. We chose to have two to allow the public as many opportunities as possible to have their voices heard," Jones said.
Final adoption of the plan is scheduled for the Sept. 20 council meeting.
"The Realize Rowlett 2020 plan is truly the community's plan," Jones said.
"I think this has been exciting work and I am so thankful for the citizens that have come forward and participated in it," said Donna Davis, city councilwoman. "We still have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us."
Strategy and implementation
The Realize Rowlett 2020 plan is shaped around 13 guiding principles that were established based on input from the community and a consensus of the city council and Planning and Zoning Commission.
"The guiding principles developed as a result of this plan should be considered during all future zoning decisions," Jones said.
The principles are to value existing neighborhoods; grow the city's economy through diversification of job and business opportunities; make Rowlett a community that is attractive to people at all stages of their lives; invest in places of lasting value and distinctive character; maximize the benefits of major public infrastructure investments; both existing and planned; use Lake Ray Hubbard and Rowlett's natural assets to create a distinctive identity and the quality of life desired by the community; diversify mobility options within the city and connect activity areas; create centers with a mix of activities at key locations in Rowlett; balance growth through efficient development patterns; support quality educational resources to meet the needs of Rowlett residents throughout their lives; position Rowlett for an appropriate scale of investment and reinvestment supported by market trends; fund public investment that leverages desired private investment and ensure that Realize Rowlett 2020 is a statement of the city's policy for future development and investment.
The plan will be implemented in two tiers. The first tier is developing city-wide goals and the second tier is developing goals within the subareas.
"It is really important that we get the right types of development in here," said Todd Gottel, Rowlett Mayor.
The first tier will require several actions by the city to prepare for future development. One of the actions that the city must accomplish is establishing guidelines and standards for the different subareas and their product types. The guidelines and standards will provide a basic understanding of what is expected in each area. More specific details in each subarea will be determined during tier II of the development process.
The city will also need to investigate the creation of an entity that can acquire, position and dispose of property to interested parties. This will allow the city to ensure that the land is acquired by developers that share the city's vision.
Changes will need to be made to the city's building code to align it with the city's vision as defined by the Realize Rowlett 2020 plan. The changes will ensure an efficient delivery of redeveloped properties that adhere to the city's vision. Zoning code and support tools will also have to be established that are consistent with the city's vision.
"We have to make sure that building code is representative of what the citizens expressed in this plan," said Anne Ricker, representing consultant Ricker-Cunningham.
The city will need to prepare a zoning overlay to ensure the city's vision is being met until building and zoning codes can be rewritten to align with the new plan.
"If we want to protect the vision we have to put some safety nets in place," Ricker said.
A transportation plan for all waterways serving the community will have to be developed that addresses the types of crafts that can be used in specific areas, the location of docks and marina services and public access points.
"We acknowledge some of the concerns about how big of a craft should be allowed," Ricker said.
The city staff will have to continue discussions with property owners and developers in strategic opportunity areas -- Woodside Living, Signature Gateway, Healthy Living, North Shore, Lakeside Living, and Old Town. During the discussions the city staff needs to ensure that the developer's vision aligns with the city's vision.
"We think the success in one area could greatly impact the success in another area," Ricker said. "They are very connected."
Preparing a subarea plan for Old Town, the downtown area of the city, prior to the completion of the DART rail station is crucial to informing public and private investors about the types of development the city wants in that area.
"There are a handful of these subareas, such as downtown, that we have to get out and look at in detail," Ricker said. "The market will want to respond quickly."
Lakeside Living, Area C-1, will be a destination master planned community for singles and couples throughout the Metroplex seeking a unique low maintenance living environment. The primary modes of transportation in Lakeside Living will be golf carts and walking.
"This is an area where discussions with the property owner will be needed," Jones said.
The area will include townhomes, brownstones, patio and zero lot line homes and some rental units. Most of the commercial development in the area will be limited to businesses that serve the Lakeside Living area itself. There will be some additional businesses that serve a broader area located along the lake and accessible by boat.
"We think it would be really unfortunate if we continue to have more of the same. This is a description of how you could still provide single family homes but in a completely different way," Ricker said.
Family Life, Area C-2, will continue the existing pattern of development, which is primarily single-family homes on large lots. This area will target a move-up market for residents desiring an executive lifestyle, significant acreage, and accessibility to regional amenities and activity centers.
"We saw this area a little bit differently [than other single family areas of the city," Ricker said. "We really do see this as executive living."
The cost to continue a traditional development similar to Waterview was determined to be cost prohibitive to the city.
Gottel said that based on discussions with representatives at Lake Point Medical Center they indicated they lose a lot of doctors due to the lack of executive housing.
"We definitely need more executive housing," Gottel said.
Healthy Living, Area D-1, is a neighborhood for people whose focus -- due to personal choice, field of employment or physical need -- is on health and wellness. It will be the product of a joint initiative between Lake Pointe Medical Center and the city of Rowlett.
"There are many examples of this all over the country," Ricker said. "This will become less of a commercial corridor than it already has been."
The feasibility of the area will be creating a hospital district that aligns the vision of area property owners related to a mix of uses that will develop and redevelop in the area, character of public improvements, and scale of buildings. All investments will reflect a healthy lifestyle including walkability, access to recreational amenities and organic food choices.
The trees and open spaces along Muddy Creek provide the amenity and identity for a residential neighborhood. Woodside Living, Area B-2, will embody the best principles of traditional neighborhood development including civic and public spaces and a mix of private uses including retail, office and residential located beside and vertically within the same structures at a scale informed by a traditional street grid. Standards of design will be high, translating into higher rents and sale prices. Given the proximity of this area to established single family neighborhoods, residential product types within Woodside Living will transition in density from the highest along Muddy Creek, to the lowest at its edge next to existing neighborhoods.
"Probably the most important priority for this area is what happens at the city level with regards to building codes and zoning but also the very unique nature of this area will require an urban design framework that embodies what we are talking about," Ricker said.
Active Living, Area E-5, will be the neighborhood of choice for active young people and families that love the outdoors and that are avid water sports participants. Like Woodside Living, this area within the city will offer one more choice for residents of the community seeking access to area recreational resources -- natural and man-made with supportive commercial spaces. Young professionals and families will be drawn to this area because of the range of housing choices at accessible rates and the strong emphasis on access to water sports.
Given its proximity to established single-family neighborhoods, residential product types within Active Living will transition in density with the lowest on its edge at a scale compatible with surrounding uses and product types.
Like Lakeside Center, waterfront space will be set aside for limited commercial / entertainment venues accessible via multiple forms of transportation including boats. Despite the variety of product types likely to develop, all will appear unified in character and quality.
"This is another one of those residential areas that will be an attractive draw for the very active component of your community," Ricker said.
Rowlett's Signature Gateway, Area E-1, will be the how the area sees Rowlett in the future. The gateway will be the area featured in images of the city in its future marketing efforts. The images will feature the lake, the President George Bush Turnpike bridge and several signature buildings at this important entrance to Rowlett.
Buildings that will serve as the area's anchor will also provide its focal point. The Signature Gateway area will have the tallest buildings anywhere in the city and will be the first visual cue for people approaching Rowlett from the south.
"In this area we must get to that height or you will not be creating the value. You are selling the views and the visibility," Ricker said. "You have to get up over the bridge and be able to see it."
"The vision is that you create that type of density on the point and transition down from there," said Mark Bowers, director of planning for HOK.
A corporate headquarters, residential and lodging towers will be supported by ground-floor commercial, restaurant and entertainment venues. Residents of the residential tower will have access to the concierge services of the hotel.
Commercial and entertainment uses will be located along a water canal running through the property, and serviced by a water taxi. An amphitheater located on the water's edge will serve as an extension of the city's portfolio of civic facilities, and a host environment for performing and creative arts. The city's ability to advance this vision and wait for the right investment and investment partner will have a direct impact on its ability to advance the vision of other subareas in the community.
"Rowlett's Signature Gateway will change the perception of Rowlett in the larger region, raise the standard of development throughout Rowlett and correspondingly the market response to available parcels," Ricker said. "This could be one of the most important subareas in terms of the city waiting for the right investment and the level of investment that happens."
Lakeside Center, Area E-2, like Old Town, will be a center of community life for Rowlett residents. Old Town will reflect Rowlett's history in new mixed-use, walkable development strategically located in the vicinity of the DART station. Lakeside Center will portray a new image of Rowlett.
The city facilities will anchor a variety of community-serving activities near and adjacent to Lake Ray Hubbard. The eastern edge of Lakeside Center and the western shore of the lake will be set aside for public access and development of commercial uses and restaurants that can be accessed by boats or water taxis. Lakeside Center will feature multiple uses, anchored by civic uses and public spaces. Commercial uses in the area will meet the needs of both daytime and nighttime populations.
"The vision for Lakeside Center is not 800 residential units as a single use in this area," Ricker said. "The most important thing is there not be too much of any single use."
Old Town, area E-4, will continue to represent the community's history in the character of its buildings and public spaces. With enhanced access by rail, and given the area's proximity to Lakeview Parkway, development beyond Main Street will likely attract a variety of vertically and horizontally integrated mixed-use product types. South of the railroad tracks, Old Town will continue to be the community's downtown with commercial destinations located along Main Street. The area north of the tracks will develop with predominately commercial and residential uses.
"We need to make sure we are putting the right restrictions in place with regards to commercial uses," Ricker said.
"We are going to get development one way or another. We have got to make sure we get the right standards in place," Gottel said.
Lakeside Center and Old Town will be linked through their development programs, design standards, trolley / shuttle system, and public spaces. Collectively, Lakeside Center and Old Town will appear as a unified district offering different living and working environments. Old Town will have the vintage quality that exists today, yet at a higher density -- more appropriate for uses supported by transit infrastructure. Lakeside Center will have a more contemporary look to it.
"These two areas have to be linked in many physical and marketing ways," Ricker said.
Regional Trade, Area E-3, will be the city's most obvious location for region-serving commercial uses, in-line commercial and professional space users, and moderate scale Class B office buildings. With its visibility and access from PGBT, the Regional Trade subarea will likely attract large format retailers ranging in size from 25,000 to 100,000 or larger square feet. This subarea provides a location in Rowlett for these uses, which are not appropriate in the Northshore, Center for Commerce and Industry, and Business Beltway subareas. The city will need to prepare for the potential loss of existing commercial operators on Lakeview Parkway to sites located adjacent to the PGBT. In the long-term these uses may be replaced by mixed-use products that outgrow their location within Old Town.
"The essence of E-3 is that it is going to want to be retail," Ricker said. "We want this to be the area that drives the city's budget."
Business Beltway, Southshore
Business Beltway, Area D-2, and the adjacent Southshore, Area D-3, subareas will also be a business park and employment address in the city. Largely formed by Lake Pointe Hospital, which anchors the eastern edge of this subarea, uses will support the needs of visitors and employees of the hospital including medical office buildings, dining establishments for daytime and nighttime populations and a variety of housing options.
The natural environment that exists on the corridor will be protected and enhanced. A tree canopy will be introduced and sign standards will be strictly enforced.
Like Healthy Living, multiple modes of transportation will be encouraged, primarily walking and a trolley or shuttle service originating from the DART station.
"The only reason we ended up breaking apart D-1, D-2 and D-3 is D-1 had the hospital anchoring it. D-2 and D-3 seemed more of a continuation of the medical office buildings," Ricker said.
Northshore -- East
A major employment hub within the city, Northshore, Area A, will be home to businesses that seek access to a diverse employment base, high standards of building development, clusters of restaurants and lodging along the turnpike, and available public amenities including bike paths and walking trails. Long-term tenants might also include science and technology companies, a tenancy profile that could be realized sooner were the city to be successful in attracting appropriate educational institutions to the location. The timing of development within Northshore will be directly related to the availability of infrastructure, support of property owners, competitive status of other more obvious business addresses in the Metroplex and policies and regulations that ensure this will be a business address only, meaning restrictions on big box retailers.
"This is one of those instances where it is as important what it is not as what it is," Ricker said. "You kind of have a choice [in this area], do we grab the short term or hold out for the long-term vision?"
Northshore - West
Beyond the Tollway and on both sides of Merritt Road, development will be unified in character and quality. Similar to the best examples of town center development from the past two decades, civic and public spaces will anchor a mix of private uses located side-by-side and vertically within the same structures. While single family units will be allowed in the far western portion of Northshore, they will not be the dominant use. Attached residential ownership and rental products will be more typical and at a scale greater than typical suburban models. Standards of design will be high, translating into higher rents and sale prices. Northshore will not be a low-cost alternative within either the city or the region.
"In this area the priority is establishing those design standards and committing the infrastructure to make this a long-term business address," Ricker said.
Center for Commerce and Industry
Center for Commerce and Industry, Area B-1, uses will mirror those of the eastern edge of Northshore. Floodplains in the area, while limiting the total developable area, will serve as an amenity for businesses and a natural division between business and residential uses. Development of the Center for Commerce and Industry in a consistent manner with the eastern edge of Northshore will be critical, so that the area presents itself as a single business park environment. Each side of the PGBT will offer different features and amenities, but both will be consistent in quality and design.
"The priority in this area will be talking to the existing property owners to see if they want to be part of the vision," Ricker said.
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