Under the recognition program, each proposed development that submits an application to the SGA is evaluated against a set of objective criteria. An independent, balanced jury evaluates each submission, and a letter of recognition is sent to those developers whose projects meet the demanding standards of the program. The criteria include:
- Location — The development must be located in an area designated for growth and appropriate for growth or revitalization.
- Density, design and diversity of uses — These are the “three Ds” of smart growth.
- Transportation, mobility and accessibility – The project should be designed and located to offer alternatives to single-occupancy vehicle trips.
- Environment — Protect and conserve open space, water and air quality.
- Community assets — The project should benefit the surrounding community.
Those projects that receive the recognition can highlight it as they go through the development approval process, and they can use it in their marketing efforts.
“This recognition program is just another component in the process of educating the public about smart growth and the importance of supporting those development that turn smart growth theory into reality,” Garczynski said.
Twelve Washington-area projects have received smart growth recognition since the program began 18 months ago. Some of those developments are now emerging from the development process and a few have broken ground. Their experiences offer an opportunity to assess the program and consider whether it conveys any advantage to the proposed development projects that receive smart growth recognition.
A good example is Station Square at Clarendon, a mixed-use development now under construction adjacent to the Clarendon Metro Station in Arlington County, VA. When completed, the project will include 309 for-sale residential units and 86,000 square feet of retail and office space.
“We’ve broken ground. We’re excavating three levels of parking beneath the project,” said David DeCamp, a managing partner in 2900 Clarendon Development Associates. “We were pleased to receive the smart growth recognition. It’s something we believe in, so we crow about it.”
“We were facing a little bit of NIMBY resistance,” DeCamp added. “There are some folks you will never sway. But there are far more people who can look at a project and see the potential and understand how it can benefit their neighborhood. Bringing a mixed-use project to the marketplace is the right idea at the right time, especially at metro stations in places like Arlington.”
“This is the kind of development that Arlington is famous for,” DeCamp said. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It doesn’t mean there aren’t naysayers. But the county has a vision and they are willing to work with you to achieve that vision.”
The residential units consist of classics and lofts. The classics are traditional condos with crown molding and other high-end finishing. The lofts are less finished, with 10-foot ceilings and exposed ductwork and sprinkler pipes. The retail will be at street level along Clarendon Boulevard and a side street. Above that will be “professional condos” — for-sale office space for professionals who want to build equity in their office space.
The smart growth recognition is likely to help his firm as much on future projects as it has on this one, DeCamp said. “We’ll be able to go to a planning director, show that we’ve received smart growth recognition on this project and show what we’ve done here: ‘Look at the animated street. Look at the mix of uses. Look at how this meshes with the other things around it. Look how we’re taking advantage of local transit,’” DeCamp said. “We do smart growth.”
Another good example is Chase Point, a multifamily development on Western Avenue just inside the District of Columbia. When finished, the project will include up to 125 condos and a childcare center. The complex is just 250 feet from a Metro station and easy walking distance to upscale shops at the Mazza Gallery and Chevy Chase Center.
The developers had wanted to include a significant commercial component, but neighborhood resistance killed that aspect of the project. Still, the high-density, infill project won accolades from smart growth advocates.
"The neighbors aren’t going to change their minds because it’s smart growth,” said Kevin Cosimano, principal of the Stonebridge Associates in Bethesda, MD. “But it is important confirmation to the planners and approval bodies that this project really makes sense in this place.”
The District of Columbia’s professional planning staff embraced the proposal as smart growth, Cosimano said. “But they have to listen to many constituents and they face a lot of political pressure.”
“The smart growth recognition made a difference in the zoning commission,” Cosimano said. “We publicized it, and we’re very proud of it. It was a confirmation of what we were trying to say and trying to achieve.”
Seeking the recognition, Cosimano said, was “definitely worth the effort. It continues as you move forward and confirms that you are a smart growth developer.”
As more people learn about the program, it will grow in importance as a way of educating the public and of promoting smart growth development, Cosimano said. “I’ve had another developer come talk to me about my application and how we did it. I think you’re going to see more people looking for this kind of recognition for similar projects.”
LCOR, a nationally recognized smart growth developer, received recognition for North Bethesda Town Center, a 2.8 million-square-foot mixed-use project at the White Flint Metro Station in Bethesda, MD. When completed, the development will include 1.4 million square feet of residential development, 1.2 million square feet of office space and 200,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.
That project is still in the planning stages, but the developer expects to break ground by the middle of 2005.
“The recognition has added a significant amount of credibility,” said LCOR Vice President Mike Smith. "This is a prime example of smart growth. To have an objective organization judge our project and give it smart growth designation has helped us greatly with the public.”
“We haven’t had much opposition,” Smith added. “A few folks raised concerns about traffic and about the quantity of apartments and the amount of office space. But in our planning efforts we have worked hard to mitigate 50% or more of the vehicle trips that will be generated by our project. Those mitigation efforts have helped to ease neighbors concerns,” he said.
The SGA’s smart growth recognition has made it easier for LCOR to navigate an otherwise very difficult and challenging approval process, Smith said.
“It’s a recognition that has some currency,” he said. “Folks understand it and respect it. They have come to embrace the notion of smart growth through the efforts of ULI and the Smart Growth Alliance.”
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