Street Talk Plano Goes Urban

The Legacy Town Center throws everything everybody knows about suburbia out the window.

In Texas the idea of endless land has been a kind of birthright- As his small share in that birthright, the Dallas renter has long found happiness in the so-called garden apartment.

The flagship of the cheap and cheerful garden apartment craze in Dallas was Lincoln Properties’ The Village, which opened in 1968 near Greenville and Lovers Lane-a two-square-mile maze of some 7,200 units surrounding grassy areas. Similar dwellings are still going up throughout Dallas-Fort Worth, although these days developers call them “apartment homes” and outfit them more luxuriously with nine-foot ceilings and crown moldings. The newly-opened Villas at Spring Creek in Piano, for example, may have high-speed Internet access and flashy stone cladding, instead of the brick and wood typical of older buildings in The Village. But, like its predecessor, this development is really selling lawn, parking, and fences- without any forethought or consideration of where its renters shop, go to school, or work.

Challenging the garden apartment orthodoxy is a handful of stylish new higher-density, mixed-use developments in and around Dallas designed to liberate renters from their cars and give them the opportunity to live and work in a compact, culturally vibrant town setting. At Addison Circle four-story red brick buildings house retail on the ground level and apartments above, reminiscent of traditional European or Manhattan apartment buildings. The same idea is underway in Uptown near the intersection of McKinney and Allen and in the new Legacy Town Center under construction on the front lawn of EDS’ headquarters in Piano. These developments-no less appealing for young families-follow the rules of The New Urbanism, a set of development principles that eschew suburban sprawl and encourage a return to neighborhoods that mix housing, offices, libraries, theaters, and shops in a compact, walkable grid. Instead of the lawn, tenants of New Urban apartments have inner courtyards or nearby parks. Instead of the security fences. New Urban renters have front stoops and pedestrian-filled sidewalks. Instead of strip malls. New Urban apartments have ground-level retail.

“The principal amenity of garden apartments is the yard and the gate,” says Andres Duany, the Miami-based urban planner who is seen as the father of New Urbanism. “If we say we are replacing those amenities with a neighborhood and a walkable street, then it’s an even trade.”

Duany and his wife Elizabeth Playter-Zyberk are the designers of Legacy Town Center, Dallas’s most dramatic experiment with New Urbanism. On what was once a cotton field at Legacy Drive east of the Tollway. EDS is supervising the construction of a pedestrian-oriented downtown of shops, apartments, and civic space forthe32,OOOemployeesofthe blue-chip corporations in the Legacy business park- employees whose 24/7 work style sometimes makes them virtual residents of the business park. The Town Center and its 2,500 apartments will also serve as a retrofit for Piano, one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States.

Duany knows his New Urbanist theories may cause some suburbanites to take offense. “It is one of the most unpopular things you can say to any American-thai their suburb is homogenous and their house is interchangeable with others in California, Florida, Pennsylvania.” he says. He denounces car culture and what he calls “dead worm streets’’ that curlicue through gated communities and isolate residents-the very thing that some Dallas area residents love. But his prescription offers an inviting idea; to not have to drive to work, school, or the theater, and to meet your neighbors out walking. In Seaside he planned for houses with front porches, sidewalks everywhere, and varying street widths. At Legacy his regulations specify, for example, that several architects should execute the facades so that the town looks as though it were built at different times. “Avoid stubby little awnings” is one commandment. “To invite pedestrians in, awnings should extend as much as possible,” These ideas are quickly entering the vernacular, with New Urbanist town sites in the works across the country and two new books about Celebration, Duany’s 10,000-acre town outside Orlando: The Celebration Chronicles by Andrew Ross and Celebration, U.S.A. by Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins.

It is intriguing to watch these conflicting visions sparring in Piano. Last October at the official Legacy Town Center groundbreaking under a high blue prairie sky, the city fathers congratulated themselves for their vision in zoning this 155-acre town site some 15 years ago, when EDS first bought the land. Yet elsewhere in Piano, car-reliant gated developments that would be anathema to Duany continue apace.

Mayor Pro Tern Rick Neudorff agrees that it is too late for Piano to embrace Duany’s theories of New Urbanism everywhere in town. “Piano is almost built out,” he says. “Only seven per cent of our land is not committed.” Also, there are no other areas of concentrated employment to support more town centers. Meanwhile, homeowners associations, while admiring the corporate campus, bristle at the idea of the town site’s contemplated 2,500 apartments, fearing more traffic.

The apartments are a focal point of the development. At the groundbreaking ceremony. Post Properties CEO John Williams emceed, not anyone from EDS. Post is investing $31 million to develop Legacy’s first 384 one-and two-bedroom luxury apartments in mixed-use four-story buildings. The buildings will contain ground-floor retail fronting the street, like a typical Paris street block. Fehmi Karahan of the Dallas-based Karahan Company has the contract to develop phase one’s 345.000 square feet of retail shops and sidewalk cafes as well as office loft spaces above. At the time of the groundbreaking, Karahan had not closed on the land and did not announce the retail tenants. But the presence of Rice Box restaurant co-owner Essi Molavi at the event suggested that a Rice Box may be under consideration. Drake Leddy of The Leddy Company has started construction on a four-star 404-room DoubleTree Hotel, which will be the only luxury full-service hotel in Piano. “I’m entirely grateful that there’s a hotel involved,” says Duany. “It makes the town cosmopolitan.”

Not everything in Duany’s plan has survived to blueprint stage at Legacy. Where Duany’s sketches envisaged two five-story art deco office buildings at the entrance to the town from the Tollway, the new plan shows a hulking big-box store on the south side and small retail on the north. Other art deco renderings seem to have yielded to a prairie look with hipped roofs. A lake, which appears in the Duany drawings as a modest pond with a separate fountain, now appears in the drawings by Post’s architects. RTKL Associates, as a lake with a plume of water sprouting artificially from the center. Indeed, when Legacy director Marilyn Kasko drove me around the site in her Chevy Blazer in November, she enthused about such “water features” in nearby surburban housing projects.

The key issue is how Planopians(asGeorge W. might call them) will react to this high-density development, which effectively thumbs its nose at everything they stand for. At the groundbreaking, former Piano mayor and now Texas State Senator Florence Shapiro was all smiles about what Legacy Town Center would mean to the current pressures she faces at the state level in addressing air quality problems. “This is a great answer to the EPA.” she enthused.

As for Piano City Council, it continues to approve non-Duanyesque developments. Since 1995 about 40 to 50 percent of new residential construction are garden apartments. In 1998 the city approved building permits for 3,338 new multifamily units. “The master plan for Piano called for a ratio of 25 percent apartments to 75 percent single-family dwellings,”” says Piano Homeowners president Jim Wilck. “With rezon-ing, we are headed toward something in excess of that.”

Piano’s City Council has approved two new developments that pick up on some of Duany’s ideas. A residential/office/shopping complex by Haggar Investments at Highway 121 and Preston Road is what she calls a “hybrid New Urbanism.” And in Piano’s downtown, developer Robert Shaw is planning a new city block called Piano Transit Village, adjacent to the new Dart station. It will offer retail below and 100 units of residential above.

Duany himself argues that he never aimed to persuade Piano to convert its remaining developments to New Urbanism. His goal is to show that, given the option, suburbanites will flock to a setting that provides the amenities of city dwelling. If he can prove that case in Piano, he can prove it anywhere.

THE RULES OF NEW URBANISM



AS PRONOUNCED BY GURU ANDRE DUANY



WHAT YOU WANT

Wide spectrum of housing options for all incomes, ages, and family types in a single neighborhood.

Civic buildings-such as government offices, churches, and libraries-placed on town squares or other prominent locations to serve as landmarks.



Garage apartments or cottages in the backyards of single family houses.



Varying street widths.

Parking lots at the rear of buildings or center of blocks so that they do not interrupt sidewalks and only the entry is visible.

Good public transit.

Sidewalks.

A network of streets so that there are alternative routes to most destinations and less reliance on main arteries.

The distance from the edge to the center of the neighborhood is a five-minute walk at most.

Parallel parking.



WHAT YOU DON’T WANT

Uniform exterior housing materials that convey the sense that the entire development was built at one time.

Segregating affordable housing or single-family housing to one area.

Shopping centers or malls surrounded by vast parking lots.

Office parks with no residences or shops.

Cul-de-sacs.

Parking lots as the major visual element.

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