Commission Corner Commissioner Chard On The City’s Comprehensive Plan

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By: Commissioner Jim Chard Special to the Delray newspaper

The City is engaged in an intensive effort to write a new Comprehensive Plan which will guide City staff and elected officials for the next 25 years. The Plan specifies policies, strategies, and budgets which will shape the way we live, work and play in Delray. Not only is a Comprehensive Plan rewrite a state mandated requirement, it’s a good idea.  A friend of mine used to say “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” As long term residents, recent arrivals, and visitors who love our Village by the Sea, the Comprehensive plan is the very best way for you to make sure that our City evolves in the right direction and is prepared for what the next quarter century has in store for us.

The Comprehensive Plan is comprised of Elements including Environment, Housing, Transportation, Education, Economic Development, etc.  The overall plan will probably exceed 200 pages and is being guided by a task force of 35 interested citizens and the Planning Department.  The task force consists of members from throughout the City and all age groups. The overall effort will probably take two years. You can find out more about the effort to date by going to www.alwaysdelray.com .

City staff have conducted 5 community meetings in various locations throughout the City.  Although the community meetings are now completed, you can still attend Task Force meetings as they are open to the public. And you are welcome to submit your own ideas for consideration. If you have burning issues or have read something recently that could make a difference to Delray, let our City officials know. Feel free to contact the Planning Department, especially Mark Stivers our long term planner.

I am pleased to have served on the Task Force and weighed in on some of my favorite topics. I’ll list some of them below as examples you might want to address to the City.

Sea Level Rise –  The recent Rising Waters Task Force report projected that the sea will rise by as much as 3 feet in our lifetime. They suggested one course of action was to locate key municipal and commercial services on higher ground. One consideration is to rezone the area around the ridge along Seacrest in response to the changing climate scenario. Obviously this is a drastic change in the City’s land use but may be necessary as we seriously consider what is happening around us.

Re-invigorating neighborhood retail and commerce – Many cities have revived their walkable corner markets and repurposed them as restaurants serving locally grown produce, galleries, specialty coffee, and co-op work space. They have become hubs of rebirth and growth. Delray has historically used zoning to separate uses, like many Florida cities, but as we run out of land and incur traffic congestion, the idea of working, living and playing in a single neighborhood is catching on. The Comprehensive Plan can accelerate this trend.

Fiber network – Delray is bandwidth constrained, reducing our appeal for tech companies. If we want Delray to promote innovation and technology the way we promote fashion and the arts, we need to encourage the installation of high speed fiber networks, the lifeblood of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, big data, and augmented reality.

Electrical Power – Although the electrical power we receive in our homes is adequate, tech companies, especially along the Congress Avenue Corridor, are underserved.  We are losing companies to our neighboring communities because we just can’t supply the power they need. If we include electrical power as part of our infrastructure strategies in the Comprehensive Plan, we can work with FPL to provide the power needed to attract high tech, new industry jobs over the next 25 years.

Undergrounding – Currently, Delray does not have a policy to underground utility lines for cable, phone, and electric. The consequence is visual blight caused by overhead lines and disfigured trees. Above ground utility lines are also more susceptible to storm damage. We require new development to underground utilities but the City as a whole does not have a policy. This is a difficult decision as it does come with a cost.  The city of Palm Beach recently passed a referendum to underground their utilities.

Canopy trees – Speaking of trees, Delray has a “tree canopy” of around 20%, in some neighborhoods, like the Southwest communities, the canopy declines to 10%. Most cities aim for a canopy of over 40%. Canopy trees cool our streets (think Atlantic Avenue), generate gentle breezes, sequester carbon, provide homes for birds and wildlife, clean the air, and reduce water pollution. Palm trees are usually non native and provide few of these benefits. Current regulations do not significantly reduce the ongoing elimination of canopy trees. Nor does the City have a policy of replanting trees or sufficient resources to maintain the ones we have.

Alternative mobility – Many residents are frustrated by traffic congestion and parking challenges and yet the City continues to maintain automobile friendly policies rather than encourage alternatives to the automobile. We could be providing the underpinnings of alternative transportation such as the Downtowner point to point transport, bike share, pedicab, and golf carts. Uber and Lyft also provide alternatives to the automobile. And it is clear that autonomous driving cars are on the horizon and car companies will act more like utilities providing mobility as a service. These clear indications should inform how the Transportation element of the Comp Plan should evolve for a future with fewer privately owned cars.

Co-op work space –  Start-up companies require low cost shared space, hack labs, and support infrastructure to grow and thrive. Delray has many of the key ingredients to incubate an exciting, supportive tech ecosystem. As indicated by GE’s recently announced move from sylvan Connecticut to bustling downtown Boston, corporate headquarters want to move into vibrant downtowns…like ours. To attract millennials and compete for skilled workers, companies are looking for communities like Delray that stand out and celebrate quality of life. The Comprehensive Plan can set the stage for the kind of work space, land use policies, and amenities that will draw both startups and established companies.

Parking lots – A significant portion of Delray real estate is devoted to parking lots. As transportation and mobility systems evolve, much of our parking space will go unused, except in a few peak periods. And yet City regulations require significant parking space based on use, not evolving transportation technologies. Parking lots also do not promote a sustainable environment because they generate urban heat islands, are not permeable, and cause storm water runoff rather than water capture. By reducing the requirement for parking lots, the City can free up significant real estate for creative reuse.

Urban farms – Many cities are encouraging roof top farms and other strategies to bring fresh produce to popular restaurants. The restaurant scene in Delray markets its local roots (pun intended) and the ongoing demise of the Ag Reserve generates a market for produce grown nearby. This is a long term trend the City is already recognizing (via recent regulations for Urban Agriculture) and should encourage as part of our thriving hospitality ecosystem.

These are just a few ideas which could be incorporated into our Comprehensive Plan.  I encourage the readers of Delray Newspaper to add to the list or come up with better ideas.