August 22, 2006 > Home, Sweet Home
Home, Sweet Home
Just the word, "home" can conjure Norman Rockwell images of an easy chair next to a cozy fireplace and a happy family settling in for an evening of good, clean fun. The dreamy-eyed ET got the same point across on the big screen even though otherworldly fireplaces may be a bit different. Of course, everyone recognizes this as fantasy, especially in this hectic world filled with television, computers, double shifts, mountains of homework, long work hours and extra curricular activities.
Not only has the environment within a family residence changed, locations have shifted as well. The small residential community surrounding a central business district or a large city with bustling downtown commercial and residential quarters has ebbed and flowed with urban decay, suburbia and revitalization with urban renewal. Throughout most of these shifts, planners have considered each segment of our lives - home, school, work, play - as coherent and contiguous. For instance, homes were typically placed within zoned neighborhoods from which residents traveled to work. Some retail was mixed within residential areas for local shopping but primarily houses bordered other houses and did not mix with many other uses.
The planning watchword of today has become "mixed use" in which residential and commercial units coexist as high density packages. In some ways, this is a return to a village concept when people lived and worked in close proximity. Coexisting with this model, mass transit interests have now introduced "smart growth" that asks planners to consider residential proximity to transportation in order to minimize impact on highways. Neighborhoods are shifting from single family dwelling, low density on a horizontal scale to vertical, high density apartments and condominiums. In some cases, apartments and for-sale units will even share access and landscaping.
Now, residential developers are eyeing light industrial and business park property. An item on the Milpitas City Council agenda on August 15th brought this idea into focus. The question before the council is whether to abandon or at least modify existing General Plan principals to allow 659 residential units to develop within the confines of an industrial park. The old concept of dirty and polluting industrial development has given way to much cleaner and in some ways antiseptic business parks. Here, hundreds of employees travel to daylight housing to park themselves behind a computer screen for eight or more hours each day. The greatest pollution from these businesses is the exhaust from the cars transporting workers.
Combining industrial and residential uses has been used before in Santa Clara County and appears to work although it creates residential islands with little or no relationship to shopping or a larger community. The question is whether the value of contiguous industrial usage should be sacrificed in the name of the new planning god, housing. The arguments on both sides of this equation are persuasive and valid although the overriding issue is whether during an economic downturn, land reserved for business growth should be rezoned and lost to future business expansion.
There are additional areas within the greater Tri-Cities that have suffered from business vacancies and may also be under the watchful gaze of residential developers. Fremont has already rezoned several strip centers as "mixed use" that will probably, in fact, become residential. How much business and industrial land is at risk? A myriad of questions surround this type of development and are of great import to cities: Will ease of access to work outweigh access to parks and recreation? Will business vandalism increase? If either the residential or business property element declines will it create problems for other? A primary consideration is whether the strength of a city is in its neighborhoods and if so, will this trend signal civic decline?
[A report on the decision facing the Milpitas City Council can be found on page 18 - A New Trend in Zoning - of this issue.]