As I’ve been writing…Orange County’s goal for Horizon West was to create sustainable communities designed for pedestrians.  The plan for Lakeside Village Center does not meet this goal.  Last week the project (technically referred to as Frye Development PD) appeared on the consent agenda for Orange County’s Development Review Committee meeting on November 3.  This means the developer was asking for final approval to begin moving dirt.

I emailed the package (see last blog post) to the DRC Chairman the previous day, and I attended the meeting.  The package includes most of the same ideas, observations, and tweaks that we previously posted.  These are tweaks which we feel would help to make the Lakeside Village Center uphold the intentions of Horizon West.  I was allowed to join the committee at the table and speak.

To be clear, I could only address Phase 1 which includes the Publix grocery store and two interior buildings.  I could not speak about the typical low density outparcels or the fact that, currently, the main view from the north approach will be the pump-side of the gas station.

I was very discouraged in the meeting as much as I am by the plan that was approved.  One committee member spoke at me very defensively for the entirety of this discussion.  The crux of his argument was that if the developer meets code or the law, how can he deny approval?

Placemaking and good design, whether it be architecture or urban planning, cannot always be codified in numbers and strict regulations.  So first, I’m begging for a change to the Horizon West code to a form-based code or to an approach that would allow context sensitivity.

Second, I felt that the Development Review Committee should not be entrenched in code to this degree.  Isn’t this when we look at the site and the context?  If not, when does this happen?  And where else can the public express an opinion as I was very discouraged by doing so.

As a citizen of Horizon West, I literally bought into the vision more than once.  I know there are better options for a village center than the suburban soulless character-less model we have allowed to be constructed in many areas.  I want a village center in which I feel comfortable walking with my children and a vibrant place that I desire to park my car and get out and walk around.  Also I envision a place that is sustainable for many years.  Lakeside Village Center will be a missed opportunity.

In addition, a true village center would have boosted severely dismal property values.  While this can’t always be calculated, we know that location and amenities are important to the generation of market value.  While the developer finds value in the physical materials used, I firmly believe that value is generated with a genuine sense of place such as a charming desirable village center at which people desire to spend their time and can easily access by foot and bike as well as automobile.  We Americans love our cars, but the key is finding the balance between the pedestrian and automobile.

Orange County received awards for the planning of Horizon West.  It will be a case study for years to come, but if this approval process doesn’t change, I’m afraid that it will be an example of what not to let happen.

Author: Tory