I have read many staff reports. In staff reports that pertain to zoning changes, often a reference is made to the UDO. I presume this means the Urban Development Officer. As far as I know, there is no "slot" for a city employee as a "urban development officer," so I presume they are hired as outside consultants. They are not elected nor are they employees. Yet, they developed our Form Base Codes and apparently have a large influence on what we do as administrators to the growth of Rowlett's tax base. Is there any oversight? Is there anyone in Rowlett's government that is qualified to even know if the advice they receive is valid? Do you think our home grown officials are good enough to draft a set of Form Base Codes? I would suggest to you we don't. Where did they come from? Probably we bought them from Townscape, Inc.
I was privy to a conversation in which a past city council person, a sitting council person, and an ex-city manager discussed a FBC expert that Rowlett had apparently hired, or at least interviewed. This person was strongly recommended by the ex-city manager and was supported by the ex-city council person who seemed to know the whole story. That's the way it was in those days. Some council members were on the "inside" with the city manager, and some weren't. I wasn't. Clearly, discussion were held in which I wasn't privy.
Anyhow, future staff reports started making reference to Rowlett's "UDO." Strangely, the person or the company was never identified. Why? Are they embarrassed with them? If so, why hire them? Were they trying to hide the fact that they didn't have the skills to analyze the real estate issue? I have never seen Townscape, Inc. referred to in any staff report I have read. I have never seen an individual referenced. I would think that if they were good enough to be hired by Rowlett, they should be good enough to be recognized by the city. For some reason, the staff seems to be hiding them.
For your information, the Townscape, Inc. official mentioned in the above conversation was Dennis Wilson. He seems to be a nice guy. However, on one occasion I questioned him about one of his FBC rules about three steps required leading up to a porch or entry of a residence. The FBC required this. However, that creates a need for more concrete. Dennis said the problem was solved by grading. Dennis didn't know my background. His comment was not true. The perimeter beam depth of the foundation has to be modified and it can cost a substantial amount of additional concrete, depending on the location of the beam "step down." He should have known that. Dennis seemed to be focused on rules, not costs, marketability, and competition between Rowlett builders and builders in other cities. Dennis wasn't trying to con me. He just didn't know. You have to be a structure architect or builder to know this. To me, that proved a point. That point was that our consultants were more interested in imposing the rules rather than analyzing the entire problem at hand. Some things were not thought through.
If there is anything one should learn here is that all rules do not apply everywhere. This is the problem with Form Base codes and bureaucrats. The bureaucrats must be able to recognize differences.
I have written in the past that FBC can be used effectively by a knowledgeable and informed staff, but if you have a knowledgeable and informed staff, you don't need FBC. Its a Catch 22.
I think I want to clarify my position on a couple of things. In my previous post, I probably belittled the consultant that wrote a report to the city regarding FBC and Lake Pointe Medical Center. I should not have done that. The consultant was an ex-city employee and well educated and experienced in zoning issues and particularly in Form Base Codes and urban design. She is, of course, an advocate of the CNU, Congress of New Urbanism. I generally have nothing against CNU and many times I support their program. However, I also think that CNU and Form Base Codes are not a panacea of all things real estate. As an ex-real estate development loan officer, FBC used to drive me nuts. I was a strong supporter of CNU policies in regards to urban re-development. This is basically the redevelopment of distressed areas, usually in high density areas of major cities. I do not believe FBC and CNU works well in cow pastures and hospitals........which our planning staff seems to think is just fine.
Now I want to bring your attention to something the above consultant wrote very early (2nd paragraph) in her report to the city:
"However, there are some unique circumstances with this property:
It is a hospital and may be considered a Landmark Building which is
eligible for special standards based on merit;"
It seems to me, the consultant was trying to tell staff that there are some unusual circumstances here. Of course, the consultant did not want to anger a client, so the approach was a little soft. Did you ever try to reason with a bureaucrat? It's like talking to a door knob.
I can't think of a building that has a more "single purpose" design than a hospital.........unless its a missile silo.
It seems the staff is ignoring the consultant. That's okay if there is some kind of oversight somewhere by persons knowledgeable in real estate structure, development disciplines, construction savvy, and financial and marketing principles. It ain't all FBC and CNU, whether there is an "A" or not. The consultant tried. So........who's around to say the consultant was correct when staff rejects the recommendation? How many votes on staff? Who's the boss that controls the vote?
I don't trust our staff to design a hospital. Lake Pointe Medical Center is a Tenet Hospital. They are one of the largest hospital holding companies in the country. They know how to design hospitals. There is nothing in FBC that says Rowlett has to be a jerk.