Just between you and me, I only want a developer that knows what he's doing. If the developer knows what he's doing, the city promising to guide the developer with FBC regulations just doesn't bring much to the table.
We have gone thru reasons ad nauseam about why North Shore should be office and warehouse development. The very limited residential land remaining should be presided over by FBC. No more 75' x 120' lots. Living units will be attached, or very, very close together. Some might not have streets in front of their houses. There will be a park, instead. You can tell any visitors that you might have invited to your house to please park their car as close to the park as they can get, then carry any packages a block to the house.
The simple explanation of Form Base Codes is the urbanization of your town. There are places where it works pretty well. There are places where it doesn't. Folks that grew up in small towns are not normally eager to move into a replica of inner city Philadelphia.
I think the urbanization of downtown Rowlett is probably a pretty good idea. I think it will look good, make more efficient use of land, and create a walking and dining/entertainment environment that will sell or rent well.
On the other hand, if you impose these "urbanization" codes on the remainder of Rowlett residential development without any consideration of people's wants, therefore without any consideration of the marketplace, it is my opinion that a considerable disservice is being done the town. I have never seen urbanization of a cow pasture work real well. It has been done, but in my opinion, not successfully.
I have never said all Form Base Codes are bad. They aren't. Sometimes they work well. I even like the look of FBC products in some settings. I like the nostalgic look that FBC products usually create. At this time, I don't think I want to buy a townhouse, duplex, condo, or tightly spaced home, but there might be a time when I might. That's okay. I would like to have available areas in my hometown whereby I could move into, if I wished, with these features. However, there is a flip side.
I, for one, am currently not a candidate for buying a FBC product. Most of my friends and acquaintances prefer the traditional subdivisions in what they see as rural America. Some like the tighter concentration of living that FBC offers. I have not run a scientific study. However, I know a lot of people all over this land of ours. And, of the ones I have talked to about high density housing (more than you. It is my business to do that), I would estimate that perhaps 75% prefer the type of housing we currently have in Rowlett. I could safely say that perhaps 25% favor high density housing. Nobody is wrong. It is simply a matter of preferences. Of course, whether my numbers are wrong or not, is not really the point. We are talking about the marketplace. It includes not only people in Rowlett, but people that are contemplating moving to Rowlett. It includes families that are being transferred to Texas and will be looking for a new home. If they move in from inner city Philadelphia, they would probably be delighted with a new, well done, high density residential development. However, I would suggest to you that someone moving in from Tucson, Salt Lake City, or Jackson, Mississippi might not. They are all part of the marketplace.
So........after mandating FBC, what have we (Rowlett) accomplished? We have decided that the balance of the residential land to be developed (all of it) will be done under the rules and regulations of Form Base Codes. You had the Form Base Codes forced down your throat. No? Did you vote for them? Did you discuss the pros and cons? Did anyone give you an unbiased presentation of what they can do........or not do? Do you even know what they are? In our infinite wisdom, we have decided that no one wanting a 75' x 120' lot can live in a brand new house in Rowlett. They're not welcome here. Using my admittedly unscientific numbers, 75% of the marketplace is black balled. However, you did vote for Form Base Codes didn't you? Well, if not, how did they get here? I'll tell you in a minute. I want to share some numbers with you.
In today's Dallas Morning News was an article entitled, "Who's buying houses?" It had some stats. I like studying them. Most of the data came from interviews of homebuyers, for the period of mid 2013 to the summer of 2014, conducted by American Association of Realtors.
There were many questions asked by The realtors. One of the main questions was, "Why buyers picked the neighborhood." Of the reasons given by the buyers, the number one reason, 17 points above the nearest other reason, was "Quality of Neighborhood," with a 69% response rate. Now, what can be a neighborhood? Well, it can be a few contiguous blocks, or it can be a perimeter town around a major city, like Rowlett. Each are neighborhoods, depending on the context of the conversation. Each almost have the same criteria for excellence. Fire and Police protection, good streets and alleys, parks, pride of ownership, and most of all, community involvement. There can be other amenities. For example, how many suburbs of Dallas have a 23,000 acre lake in the middle of town, or a terminus DART station and a toll road feeding straight into the employment centers of Plano and Richardson. Anyone working at the new Toyota facility is about 30 minutes commute from Rowlett.......during peak drive times. From the new State Farm office building, its only about 20 minutes. If Rowlett is successful in annexing Robertson Park, Rowlett probably has more ingredients for superb success than has ever existed in Rowlett, or most other communities, for that matter.
In all the features listed above, do you know what is not listed? Aw, come on. What's not on the list? Okay,..........Form Base Codes are not on the list. Now, if we return to the 14 reasons given for purchasing a home, in 12th place with only 10% of the respondents is "Planned Community." Planned community is a euphuism for "controlled community." That is usually where Form Base Codes reside. Now, before you conservatives load your shotguns, let me say that some control is good and not all bad. It's a matter of degree. If there is too much control, developers will not build, renters will not rent, or buyers will not buy. Ladies and gentlemen, Form Base Codes control.......a whole bunch. And, it has been decreed that henceforth, Rowlett shall have Form Base Codes.
So, can the City Council change things? Yep. Will they? Nope. The marketplace has wrestled them to the ground and pinned their shoulders, and they still do not recognize that North Shore has upscale residential development written all over it. They refuse to see it. There are a number of adjectives that describe that behavior. Pick one. Be nice. There are some on P&Z and City Council that apparently think it's okay to wait a third of a century to find out if they guessed wrong, or not. I don't happen to share that type of wisdom.
Well, if you didn't vote for Form Base Codes, where did they come from? They came from an almost dictatorial personality of our previous city manager and her disciples. Our previous city manager was the most control oriented person I have ever met in my life. What made her doubly dangerous was that she was smart, and very conniving. For reasons I don't know, she decided that Form Base Codes was what Rowlett needed, and she set about getting them by any means possible. She collected her disciples. She fired people that didn't agree with her. She hired people that would......without question. She often said, "I can count to four." That meant if she had four votes on City Council, that's all she needed. The other three votes could go fishing. They weren't necessary.
Some might say that is efficient management. It is. Hitler was efficient. But, I don't believe it's good management. One problem is that you never hear the truth. The subordinates always tell you what you want to hear. It doesn't have to be the truth. Our ex-city manager had an unbelievable ego. She thought only she knew anything. Therefore, supported by her disciples, that's how you got Form Base Codes. Actually, she was the worst real estate analyst I ever knew. She made many very bad, and costly decisions regarding real estate.
Unfortunately, some residual is left over from that regime. There still remains some people in "officialdom" that think Form Base Codes solve all problems. The danger here is that these people stop looking for mistakes and cleverly hidden problems in development proposals because they think FBC solves everything. They don't properly vet the deals before them. Our real estate analysts are not the best I have ever seen. They shouldn't be over taxed.
I think Form Base Codes should be re-visited with the idea of learning what they really do and applying the good features, but remain willing to toss out the bad features anytime circumstances warrant it. Vis a Vis, hospital and cow pastures.
Two really good things are present in our new and first FBC subdivision. The two builders. They are good ones. They are not stupid. However, what we don't know is how strong the commitments are to build out the subdivision. In other words, if the purchase contract is "soft," the builders can walk after a market test. If their first 20 houses don't sell as fast as they think they should, there is probably an escape hatch in the sales contract. To buy that many lots with a "specific performance" contract is a huge gamble.
We should have a test before the next election. Start thinking about candidates. In a year and a half, there may be a fair sized mess to clean up. On the other hand..................maybe not. Depends on experience.