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Developer Impact Fees Pay for Parks

Residents in downtown Los Angeles are leaping for joy because a brand new park is coming to the revitalized historic core.  Spring Street Park, which broke ground last October, will be the first public park in the neighborhood.  According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 15,000 residents moved into downtown between 2000 and 2010, without the addition of new public greenspace.  The city purchased the property from Council District 9 in 2009 with $5.1 million in Quimby funds.  California state law requires the dedication of land or in lieu fees for park or recreational purposes as a condition of new residential subdivision.  These fees are known as “Quimby fees.”  The 1965 Quimby Act authorizes the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks to spend Quimby funds within one to two miles of a new subdivision.

California is not the only state that uses developer impact fees to purchase or maintain parkland.  According to the Center for City Park Excellence, 36 of the main park and recreation agencies within the 100 most populous U.S. cities have some variation of a developer impact fee and received $55.5 million and over 200 acres of parkland in FY 2010.  Even more impressive, cities spent $64.5 million from their developer impact fee accounts in that same fiscal year (fees collected do not have to be spent in the same year received).  At the top of the list was the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks (spending $15.7 million), followed by the San Jose Department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services ($9.1 million), Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department ($9 million), Riverside, CA Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department ($8.4 million), and Portland, OR Parks and Recreation ($4.5 million).

It is interesting to note that, due to the current economic situation, develop impact fees are actually a declining source of revenue.  In FY 2008, 28 of the major park and recreation agencies received $101.6 million and almost 600 acres of parkland.  Of the $101.6 million received from developer impact fees, $71.6 million was spent in that same fiscal year.

Developer exaction programs have been adopted by many communities to help offset a variety of costs associated with new development.  A sizable percentage of these localities, recognizing that public parks, trails, open space and recreational facilities are critical to ensuring residents’ health and quality of life, have specifically set fees and/or required land dedication for parks.

The majority of these ordinances apply only to residential plats or subdivisions that create additional dwelling units.  A few ordinances also apply fees to office construction, hotels, schools, churches, nursing homes and other types of commercial or even industrial development.

The formulas used to assess the fee or generate acreage vary; some are based on the number of new residents, others on the number of units, others on the square footage of construction.  In addition, the ordinances differ in allowing a developer to substitute land or facilities for paying a fee; in setting the size of the geographical “nexus” within which the funds or land can be applied; in permitting uses for the funds (i.e. land acquisition, facility development, maintenance and even administration); in being flexible as to the types of facilities for which funds can be used; and in setting a time limit within which the funds must be spent or committed.

There is no nationally agreed-upon standard for land (or dollar) donations by developers, and different city or state ordinances use substantially different formulas to determine the exactions. In some cases the ratio is based upon population, in others on dwelling units; some cities prefer outright land gifts while others prefer money with which to buy land.

For more information about the role of developer exactions in the creation of new city parks, read an article here.

Register Now for the 2012 International Urban Parks Conference

Registration has now opened for this summer’s International Urban Parks Conference!  Join us July 14-17 in New York City for Greater & Greener: Re-Imagining Parks for 21st Century Cities. Presented by City Parks Alliance in partnership with NYC Department of Parks & Recreation, Greater & Greener will take place in the city that pioneered the urban park in America 150 years ago and still today is a living lab for urban open space innovation.

The conference will be a four-day immersion in best practices and bold new thinking that can be taken home and applied to green space planning the world over. Its plenaries and workshops — more than 40 of which are coordinated with outdoor tours — will let you experience New York City’s visionary park lessons first hand. Customize your conference experience by building your own program from the more than 100 sessions and events taking place at New York University and throughout the city.

  • Hear thoughts on new park design as a driver of community redevelopment
  • Discover new revenue streams from public and private sources
  • Explore the latest uses of social media for fundraising and advocacy
  • See how eco-design technologies are bringing water, wildlife and whimsy back to urban neighborhoods
  • Listen to experts who’ll help you measure impact and maintain your park effectively
  • Learn how to forge alliances with civic groups, elected officials, private organizations, the National Park Service and entrepreneurs!

Sign up early to bike with the NYC Parks & Recreation Commissioner, kayak down the Hudson, canoe on the Bronx River, visit new green markets and park-based foodie meccas, and join us across the East River in Brooklyn for a marvelous evening of food, wine and breathtaking Manhattan skyline views under the Brooklyn Bridge, in the city’s newest sustainable waterfront park.

Don’t miss an unparalleled opportunity from July 14-17, 2012 to catch up with colleagues, make new contacts, and network with leaders in urban park innovation across North America and around the world!  Visit www.urbanparks2012.org for more details.


Benefitting From a Cover Up: How Concealing Urban Highways Can Create Parkland

A twelfth excerpt from the recently released book published by Island Press called Urban Green: Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities. In this post, we look at some cities who have created parkland by concealing or burying highways.

Urban radicals want automobiles banned. Urban moderates can perhaps live with cars as long as they’re neither seen nor heard.

In European central cities the radicals have the upper hand. U.S. cities are increasingly settling for a compromise–an expensive compromise–by putting freeway segments underground and covering them with parkland. Whether called a lid, deck, bridge, or tunnel, there are already at least 24 of these parks in the country and a dozen more somewhere in the planning pipeline. Surprisingly, because of both undulating topographies and the fact that many cities are already operating on multiple above-and-below-ground levels, there are numerous opportunities to construct more freeway deck parks. As the impact of automobiles becomes ever less welcome in cities, these lids have moved from the novel to the accepted to, increasingly, the expected. The sometimes considerable cost has gone from being dismissed as “porkbarrel” to being redefined more positively as amenity investment with high economic payback.

Drivers passing through Seattle’s downtown core on I-5 go underneath the city’s five-acre Freeway Park, built in 1974.

In a study carried out by the Center for City Park Excellence in 2007, it was found that the average size of the nation’s freeway parks is about 8 acres and each covers about 1,600 linear feet of highway. Most famous is Seattle’s aptly named Freeway Park, designed by the Lawrence Halprin firm and opened with great fanfare in 1976, but the concept actually goes back to 1939 when Robert Moses constructed the Franklin D. Roosevelt Expressway along Manhattan’s East River, tunneled it under the mayor’s home at Gracie Mansion and constructed 14-acre Carl Shurz Park on top. In 1950 Moses did it again, in Brooklyn, when citizens rose up against a planned expressway through the center of Brooklyn Heights. As a compromise he added the 1/3-mile long Brooklyn Promenade with its supreme view of lower Manhattan, remarking self-satisfiedly at the ribbon-cutting, “I don’t know of anything quite like this in any city in the world.” The latest have been New Jersey’s innovative highway redesigns in Trenton and Atlantic City and the Rose Kennedy Greenway park blocks over Boston’s massive “Big Dig.”

The Interstate Highway System, when it was originally conceived in the early 1950s, was designed to link but not penetrate cities. By the 1960s, however, the distinction had been forgotten. Highways became the preeminent tool of urban renewal and redesign, and vast swaths of urban real estate were paved over. Waterfronts were blockaded in Portland, Cincinnati, Hartford, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. Nooses of concrete were wound tightly around the downtowns of Dallas and Charlotte. Trenches of noise and smog cut through Boston, Detroit, Seattle, and Atlanta. Stupendous elevated structures threw shadows over Miami and New Orleans. And wide strips of land were taken from large, iconic parks in Los Angeles (Griffith Park), St. Louis (Forest Park), Baltimore (Druid Hill Park), and San Diego (Balboa Park).

A few downtown parks actually survived the devastation thanks to the intervention of historic preservationists, including Lytle Park in Cincinnati and the National Mall in Washington, D.C. In both cases, citizen outcry forced the highway builders to tunnel underneath (although technically Lytle Park was leveled and then reconstructed three years later).

But it wasn’t until the construction of Freeway Park that the “deck the freeway” concept began getting some serious attention. Because of the constrained, hourglass geography of Seattle, Interstate 5 was a particularly damaging road, and the environmentally oriented populace was dismayed by the impact. “There was a large moat of traffic between downtown and historically residential First Hill neighborhood,” says Freeway Park Neighborhood Association President David Brewster. But the city was lucky–not only was I-5 sunk into a deckable trough as it passed downtown, but a former Seattle mayor, James “Dorm” Braman, had just been appointed assistant secretary of transportation for urban systems and the environment by President Richard Nixon. Braman was amenable to the deck, which was promoted by civic leader Jim Ellis and paid for under the city’s “Forward Thrust” bond initiative. Freeway Park opened in time for the bicentennial and garnered coast-to-coast attention. “It was a model for other cities to heal the scar that cuts right through a neighborhood,” says Brewster.

Freeway Park was beautiful and memorable, but it failed on one major count: acoustics. At 5 acres it couldn’t completely muffle the sound of traffic, and the park experience is accompanied by a constant white noise–not obtrusive, but not minimal, either. Phoenix’s 10-acre Hance Park seems to have solved the noise challenge (as has Seattle’s new, much larger Sam Smith Park). Labeled by the Phoenix New Times “a rare Phoenix instance of nature over traffic–in this case, literally,” Hance Park is decked over the Papago Freeway, uniting uptown and downtown and providing a park adjacent to the city’s central library. The freeway (Interstate 10) was originally planned as an elevated bridge through downtown but opposition by citizens and the Arizona Republic killed that idea in a 1973 ballot measure. Not until ten years later did the city finally accept a below-grade solution with the park as a key sweetener. Hance Park opened in 1992 and today is the site of a Japanese Garden. As a sign of success, it is gradually becoming surrounded by a growing number of upscale condominium towers.

By decking over a portion of I-35, Duluth, Minnesota, was able to save its Rose Garden and provide a park connection directly to its Lake Superior. Credit: Minnesota Dept. of Transportation.

Freeway parks have also bridged the divide between cities and their waterfronts. In Duluth, Minnesota, a plan to build Interstate 35 along the Lake Superior shoreline generated intense opposition from environmentalists and historic preservationists. By shortening the planned freeway’s length (and gaining the backing of powerful Duluth then-congressman John Blatnik) the city used the savings to pay for park covers. Ultimately, three different deck parks were built, including one that saved a historic Rose Garden.

Construction costs for deck parks can be wincingly high, but there is also an upside–the land itself is generally free, made available through air rights by the state transportation agency. In center-city locations this can amount to a multimillion-dollar gift. Land near the Santa Ana Freeway by Los Angeles City Hall, for instance, goes for between $2 million and $3 million an acre. In near-downtown San Diego by Balboa Park an acre is worth up to $13 million. Regardless of cost, the actual force driving–and making feasible–most deck parks is the opportunity for neighboring private development and redevelopment. In Trenton, the New Jersey Department of Transportation spent $150 million on the new 6.5-acre Riverwalk deck over U.S. 29, linking the city to the Delaware River. In response, notes Trenton Planning Director Andrew Carten, “The project resulted in a significant spike in interest and the sale prices of property. After all, would you rather look over 600 trucks barreling past every day, or a scenic park and river?” One lot, worth $120,000 preconstruction, was developed with six housing units that sold for $200,000 each. The presence of the park also helped recruit a new 82-unit market rate residential building.

The cost of the Boston Central Artery–the gargantuan project to bury the elevated Fitzgerald Expressway, which yielded as a surface byproduct the Rose Kennedy Greenway–has caused some people to doubt the feasibility of such parks in the future. But the Central Artery was primarily a transportation project that combined massive demolition along with even more massive construction. It also included major bridges and underwater tunnels. Of the $14-billion price tag, only an estimated $40 million was attributable to the mile-long stretch of four parks that opened to the public in October 2008. Certainly not inexpensive, but very much in line with many other new, showcase destination parks that are helping to redefine the nation’s premier urban centers.

The Woodall-Rodgers Park, planned over a three-block stretch of the Woodhall-Rodgers Freeway in Dallas, will connect the currently separated downtown and arts district from the Uptown neighborhood. Credit: Office of James Burnett.

Projects where freeways are already below-grade are more feasible, and four particularly high-prospect opportunities are currently being explored in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Dallas, and San Diego. In St. Louis, Mayor Francis Slay is promoting the “three-block solution,” a plan to cover a portion of I-70 between center city and the world-famous Gateway Arch. “We’re trying to get the annual 3 million visitors to the Arch into downtown St. Louis,” says Peter Sortino, president of the Danforth Foundation, which is handling the planning. “We’re also trying to help those already downtown more easily reach the Arch and the Mississippi riverfront.” An early estimate put the cost at a minimum of $40 million. Cincinnati faces the identical situation. An interstate highway, Fort Washington Way, is a barrier between downtown and the parkland along the Ohio River. Cincinnati had an opportunity to construct a five-block-long park deck during a road reconstruction (and narrowing) in 2007, but shied because of cost. As a compromise, the new Fort Washington Way was equipped with $10 million worth of steel pilings capable of supporting a future park.

Dallas, on the other hand, is plunging ahead with planning and funding a park over a stretch of the Woodall-Rodgers Freeway. The freeway separates the city’s downtown and arts district from the Uptown neighborhood, and a three-block park cover is seen as both improving the urban form and opening up new opportunities for development. A trolley line would run through the park, and condominium towers are expected to flank it on both sides. A developer of a nearby tower is enthusiastic, telling the Dallas Tribune that the park “will be a fabulous amenity to [my] building.” The park’s price tag is estimated at more than $60 million, but Dallas’s confident and ardent boosters are busily raising matching funds from private sources.

Trenton, New Jersey’s new 6.5-acre Riverwalk deck over U.S. 29 links the city to the Delaware River; it is credited with sparking development and reinvestment in nearby properties. Credit: Vollmer & Associates.

In San Diego, downtown interests are in the early stages of evaluating decking a few blocks of I-5 so as to forge a link with Balboa Park. The city has been in the midst of an unprecedented center city residential construction boom, and the highway presents a major barrier for the thousands of apartment dwellers who have little access to green space. Meanwhile, activists in Los Angeles are determined not to lose their “Freeway Capital of the U.S.” moniker and are evaluating eight different sites. “We want to now become the ‘Freeway Deck Park Capital of the World,’” said Don Scott, chair of the Hollywood Central Park Coalition.

Despite the cost of a park deck, there are numerous sources of local, state, and federal funds that can be cobbled together, particularly if an analysis shows that associated development will generate significantly more tax revenue. Often the deck superstructure is paid for by the federal government while actual park development is financed by the city: Phoenix spent $5 million landscaping Hance Park. The Trenton deck came about through reconstruction of a state highway and was paid for by the state of New Jersey. In Cincinnati, 20 percent of the narrowing of Fort Washington Way was financed through private dollars, including $250,000 from the Cincinnati Bengals football team.

February’s Frontline Park: Louisville Waterfront Park

Louisville’s Waterfront Park is an award winning and popular community greenspace situated on 85 acres along the Ohio River. Once a blighted landscape of heavy industry with no public access to the river, the last 20 years have seen the park become a regional jewel that attracts 1.5 million visitors every year, sparking hundreds of millions of dollars of development in the surrounding area, including a minor league ballpark, new housing, businesses, restaurants and galleries. Waterfront Park’s success has served as a model for a number of other communities undertaking waterfront projects.  Many site furnishings were manufactured by DuMor, Inc.

Waterfront Park in autumn

Talk of redevelopment along the blighted sections of river had gone on for years. More than a dozen public meetings showed overwhelming support for public green space, but no progress was made. That began to change in the early 1990s during a meeting of community leaders led by Humana Chairman David Jones. Jones, along with local philanthropists Sally Brown and Mary Bingham, had participated in an earlier phase of the project by funding the development of the Waterfront Master Plan by San Francisco-based Hargreaves Associates. With the Hargreaves plan in hand, Jones started the meeting by pledging to match the largest contribution to the project. At the other end of the table, Mrs. Bingham reached into her purse, pulled out her checkbook, and wrote a personal check for $1,000,000. From that moment, the project was off and running and hasn’t stopped since. In the twenty years since that meeting, Waterfront Park has completed 3 phases and received more than $40,000,000 in private donations, many in amounts of $10, $100 and $1,000 from a highly engaged community.

Photo Credit: Nfocus Images, Wales Hunter

Waterfront Park will be featured on CPA’s homepage throughout the month of February.

The “Frontline Parks” program is made possible with generous support from DuMor, Inc. and PlayCore.

Parks After Dark: Balancing Safety, Efficiency, and Dark Skies

The issue of lighting in urban parks can be surprisingly contentious. One school of thought is that parks are supposed to offer a refuge within the city, a piece of nature untarnished by the glare of neon, light-emitting diodes, and halogen. Dark-sky advocates argue that while some parks might need more light than others, no park should contribute to worsening light pollution.

Environmental concerns, however, tend to be overshadowed by the fears of community members who think that the darkness will encourage illegal or unsafe activities in parks.

Civic Space Park, Phoenix. By Michael Ruiz.

How can park managers and landscape architects use lighting to increase usability and safety without negatively impacting the environment?  Safer Parks After Dark: New night-lighting methods help provide answers for dark sky advocates, an article originally published in the November 2011 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine, explores this multifaceted issue and finds that economically feasible solutions can be achieved using new technology and careful planning.