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Rickert on new urbanism

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Rickert on new urbanism

Postby jjoyce » Thu Feb 23, 2012 1:55 pm

This is a good one.

http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/ ... 963f4.html

For those who have followed the issue, Grandview Commons is sort of a new urbanist development on Madison's far east side. The original plan of the neighborhood included a 25,000 square foot grocery store. It's part of the whole smaller footprint commitment seen elsewhere in the development (small yards, alleys instead of driveways, skinny streets). But now they want to change that to a 58,000 square foot Copps.

People built their houses in the development thinking retail was going to look one way, now it's going to look another. And if you have beef with that, suck it up, says the State Journal's metro columnist, Chris Rickert.

I like Grandview Commons' raison d'être, but for reasons that are as nostalgic as they are economic, I've always been partial to the old new urbanism (or maybe it's just called "urbanism"): dense and walkable, yes, but also really old.
And I accept the trade-offs that come with it: the potholed streets, the occasional unkempt property, and, in the case of my house, brickwork in dire need of tuckpointing and drafty windows in need of replacement.
New urbanism in general and Grandview Commons in particular strike me as attempts to live the trade-off-free life — to take all that was good about the old neighborhoods and leave the rest.
Which is fine, as far as it goes. Because there will always be trade-offs.
The people who first lived in early 20th century urban neighborhoods like mine — and which new urbanism idealizes — for example, often had to accept living cheek by jowl to noisy, smelly factories.
And I bet that most of them would have jumped at the chance to have the selection, affordability and convenience of a 58,000-square-foot grocery store they could walk to.


Huh.

So let me get this straight. If you want to live in an "urbanist" setting, you'd better do it the right way. The Rickert way, rooted in the values of those who put up with factories (???) in their midst, or something. And if you don't, you have no right to complain should the developer take your neighborhood in a different direction than was promised when you bought the land and built your house.

Reads kinda like he's telling the customers to quit whining and excusing a bait and switch, or is it just me?
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Re: Rickert on new urbanism

Postby Ned Flanders » Thu Feb 23, 2012 2:19 pm

So the train's a "no-go" too?

I think what he's saying is that this development is the Disney version of an urban environement, so deal with it suckers.
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Re: Rickert on new urbanism

Postby jjoyce » Thu Feb 23, 2012 2:22 pm

Ned Flanders wrote:deal with it suckers.


That's what I thought he was saying.
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Re: Rickert on new urbanism

Postby Ned Flanders » Thu Feb 23, 2012 2:28 pm

jjoyce wrote:
Ned Flanders wrote:deal with it suckers.


That's what I thought he was saying.


And he kinda has a point. My neighborhood is probably the model that new urbanists base their developments on. But, as the author notes, although it is "quaint" in some ways, there are old, unkept homes, crime, traffic problems, trash etc. You need to see through some of that and appreciate the lakes, running and biking paths and the revitalized Hennepin-Lake Street shopping-dining district. Maybe the people in Grandview Commons need to do the same.
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Re: Rickert on new urbanism

Postby HamsterArmageddon » Thu Feb 23, 2012 2:38 pm

It was a bait and switch. A necessary one. Take your pick, get a grocery store that is financially viable, or don't get one at all.

One of the risks anyone involved in a multi phased long term development is exposed to is the developer moving away from the original plan, which only had a short term forecast to begin with. Expecting 100% accuracy on a 5 year forecast is stupid. Changing laws (this is Madison, liberal regulators and the professional left pull this stunt all the time), changing values and tastes, changing financial circumstances... These are to be expected in an uncertain world.

I've never understood why anyone would buy anything in an unfinished development without a contract that stipulated that if the developer did something that substantially reduced your property value by the time they were finished with the development they would have to make up the difference. Within reason of course. If you're uncomfortable with that risk, pay more for established property. That's why establishment costs so much more, it's established, it's known what you will get.
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Re: Rickert on new urbanism

Postby HamsterArmageddon » Thu Feb 23, 2012 2:40 pm

Ned Flanders wrote:I think what he's saying is that this development is the Disney version of an urban environement


If you put words in people's mouths and spin it jjoyce style, this ^^^

It's a transplanted near eastside on the edge of Madison, without all the dilapidated buildings being historically protected!
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Re: Rickert on new urbanism

Postby snoqueen » Thu Feb 23, 2012 5:15 pm

The developer faces several questions:

1) if he allows the big grocery, will it enhance or diminish the saleability and pricing of the lots and houses he still has for sale in Grandview Commons?

2) if he allows the big grocery, will it diminish his reputation for following through on his promises to future buyers in future developments, thus damaging his business as a whole?

The present homeowners face several questions too:

1) do they want the big new grocery with all the congestion and activity it inevitably brings, along with any added convenience? (people seem to have already picked sides on this one)

2) if the big grocery comes, will it damage or enhance their property value and comfort?

That question comes with a related one: If they think their property value and personal comfort are diminished, should they try to sell now, hoping for a buyer who likes the new plan better than they do, so they can hang on to as much of their home's value as possible? If they sell at a good price to a buyer who knows a big grocery is coming and feels pleased with that idea, that's OK -- if it happens.

As it stands right now, I would think twice and then think again about buying a home in Grandview Commons or another similar development if I preferred the ambiance as it is now. These plans are showing themselves to be written in sand, and living next to a large grocery (say, a block or two from Woodman's) doesn't appeal to me. My own guess is the value of the properties nearest the new grocery will be damaged, and they'll end up being used as relatively short-term rental on the lower end of the affordability scale.

But the only way to know how the changes actually shake out is to build the big grocery. There will be unforeseen consequences -- that's understood -- but a pattern may emerge that tells us whether this type of new urbanist development actually works, or is a sham.

Right now, to me it looks like it's turning out to be a sham, and I am disappointed but not really surprised. Social engineering for profit (and profit is perfectly fair here) is something of a contradiction.

A little grocery is a different matter. The Jenifer St Market enhances its whole neighborhood and is very popular. But then, it was already present when most people bought their homes nearby, so people knew what they were getting. Likewise, people seem fairly OK with living near Trader Joe's, though the condos above sold incredibly slowly (I think a few are still empty).
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Re: Rickert on new urbanism

Postby jjoyce » Thu Feb 23, 2012 6:03 pm

What if zoning for a small grocery didn't just get buyers interested, but made it possible for the thing to be approved?

Seems like a nice business strategy: Promise one thing up front, then pull back a few years later.
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Re: Rickert on new urbanism

Postby gargantua » Thu Feb 23, 2012 7:28 pm

The aspect of the controversy that Rickert somehow seemed to miss was the bait and switch. If you sell me a home, something that is the largest investment in most people's lives, and make assurances to me on what my neighborhood will be like, don't act surprised if there is some blowback when you break your promise.

So, the developer says things have changed? That's the developer's problem, not mine. Or at least it should be.

Some have suggested that people who don't like it should sell. In this market? If you hold this opinion, I can only hope that something like this happens to you. Hey, suck it up. It's not like these people moved next to an airport and are now complaining about the noise. They are being screwed. They have every right to fight back.
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Re: Rickert on new urbanism

Postby arizmendi » Thu Feb 23, 2012 7:52 pm

25K could be a nice coop grocery store, or even a jenifer st market. That would fit the plan very nicely. Before the anti-coop snark happens, coops don't have to be high priced organic, that is just the US model. In Europe and canada, they are price leaders and fairly mainstream.
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Re: Rickert on new urbanism

Postby fennel » Thu Feb 23, 2012 8:17 pm

Gargantua, you are spot on. [On the other hand, I would've insisted on formal guarantees before buying in.]

As an aside, I don't think even the potential buyer made the claim that a smaller grocery store could not be economically viable – only that it's not within their particular business model. They're a big box operation.

The hard part, of course, is finding a more innovative buyer who's willing to try a more conservative model. Anyone who does that will have to build stronger ties with the community to lessen risks. That's to say it will need to behave like a truly local business in order to compete with the generic norm. It could work.

Aside number two: I'm not a longtime Madison resident, so I wonder if this bozo, Rickert, was always so patently a stooge or whether he has any vestigial record of journalistic integrity.

I mean, WSJ wasn't always such a mouthpiece for moneyed interests, was it?
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Re: Rickert on new urbanism

Postby snoqueen » Thu Feb 23, 2012 9:05 pm

It's not just the homeowners who got screwed. Don't miss the point that the developer is screwing himself several ways.

Buyers for his residential lots and properties won't trust his plans to hold up, damaging the prices he might be able to get for the ones he's still trying to sell.

His present homeowners will be telling all their friends how they got tricked and bought one thing that turned into something else, further damaging his reputation.

The city will likely not trust the next development plans he presents for approval.

I can't see why he's not looking harder for a small grocery store. You can't tell me there isn't one grocery within 250 miles that wants to expand into a small location with a ready-made neighborhood full of households that thought they'd have a grocery store in walking distance.
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Re: Rickert on new urbanism

Postby fennel » Thu Feb 23, 2012 10:36 pm

Yes, but the developer will probably euphemistically frame this as a business decision (which, these days, seems to be shorthand for escape route), then try to buy back its reputation in better times. Maybe they'll hire Newt.

I hope the residents don't buckle.
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Re: Rickert on new urbanism

Postby gargantua » Thu Feb 23, 2012 10:38 pm

I agree with Sno. As things stand right now, the developer is sort of backed into a lose-lose corner.

I don't buy the idea that a 25,000 square foot store would be an automatic loser in that location. It really depends on the store. I shop at Trader Joe's a minimum of every other week, and I live nearly 3 miles away from it.
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Re: Rickert on new urbanism

Postby hellogoodbye » Thu Feb 23, 2012 11:07 pm

Sno & Gargantua, you cats are on to something. I drive to Trader Joe's too. But I'd definitely go to the same or equivalent if at Grandview, heck it's a lot closer. Seriously, why isn't this a Willy East Co-op....or Cap Center Foods kind of plan? Those models would fit that 25,000 footprint more appropriately.
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