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Provo looks at new urbanism, pocket neighborhoods at zoning summit

By Genelle Pugmire daily Herald - | Dec 4, 2015
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Arthur C. Nelson, professor of Urban Planning and Real Estate Development at the University of Arizona, speaks at the Provo City Zoning Summit on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015 at the Provo City Offices. SPENSER HEAPS, Daily Herald

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People listen as Arthur C. Nelson, professor of Urban Planning and Real Estate Development at the University of Arizona, speaks at the Provo City Zoning Summit on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015 at the Provo City Offices. SPENSER HEAPS, Daily Herald

When it comes to zoning and housing development, Provo’s history does not and should not reflect its future, according to several experts.

Speaking Thursday at a Provo City Zoning Summit, Arthur C. Nelson, professor of urban planning and real estate development at the University of Arizona and an emeritus professor from the University of Utah, addressed the number of changes that will occur in the city during the next 30 to 40 years.

Nelson spoke to the needs of the Baby Boomer generation and the new millennials both nationally and locally when it comes to adapting to new urbanism and housing.

The zoning summit was the brainchild of Provo Municipal Councilman Hal Miller and Dean Jarvis, chairman of the city’s Sustainability and Natural Resource Committee. Nine months ago, the committee completed a diagnosis of the sustainability needs of the city and realized they all correlated to zoning, air quality and other development forces.

“They suggested to the Municipal Council a revision of zoning codes,” Miller said. “The council agreed to have the summit.”

Miller said there is a need for the council, developers and residents to be educated on what should be changed compared to what has been the norm when it comes to zoning and city development.

“The council and administration anticipates a wide ranging revision of the general plan that takes its lead from Vision 2030 and the master plan of the neighborhoods,” Miller said. “In two to three years the general plan will drive the revision of the zoning codes.”

According to Nelson, the national and local trends include reshaping metropolitan America by 2050.

No longer is there likely to be subprime down payments on homes. The new normal is 20 percent down. On a $200,000 home that means a minimum of $40,000 for a down payment. Hence, homes will tend to be smaller and more affordable.

Guest speaker Ross Chapin, an architect, author and specialist on pocket neighborhoods, illustrated the change in housing wants between 1950 and 2014.

Based on the average of 3.6 members per family in 1950, the average single-family home size was 928 square feet. In 1970 the average size climbed to 1,524 square feet, and in 2014 it was up to 2,598 square feet.

However, the trend is reversing, and those numbers are quickly moving back to the 1970 and 1950 square footages. The desire and interest in cottages, tiny homes, apartment dwelling and townhomes will be approximately 41 percent of all new housing in Provo in the next 30 years.

Pocket, or nested, neighborhoods usually are a grouping of four to eight homes, and share common areas, driveways and areas of personal space. Garages are built to the side or back of the homes. They give tenants a sense of community and safety. Often homeowners or renters share tasks like shoveling snow and mowing lawns.

The idea of pocket neighborhoods has a group of residents in Provo looking for a place to build a demonstration neighborhood. Chapin said the biggest challenges are the design, zoning, neighbors and parking, as well as helping developers feel safe with overlay specialty zones and procedures.

“People think you have to have small homes to be a pocket neighborhood; that’s just not true,” Chapin said.

This type of neighborhood zoning is just one of the tools in the community toolbox to improve quality of life, according to Chapin.

“Looking at your city streets, you need to rethink neighborhoods in relationship to cars,” Chapin said. “Smaller confusing streets and no signage are found to be safer because we are more alert.”

When asked about the numerous wide streets in the city, Chapin was educated on the origins of the city plan that was designed from the ideas of LDS prophets Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. The idea was to make the streets wide enough to turn a horse-drawn cart, buggy or other vehicle. Through the years roads have become thoroughfares for cars and less community friendly.

Councilman Gary Winterton, who is also a property manager said, “The hopeful outcome from today is getting people to understand we’re evolving and changing. We need to be prepared to give people what they want in the future.”

That will take long-range planning and designing for future growth, Nelson said.

“The challenges are going to be limited land size, rising costs and stagnating incomes,” Nelson said.


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