Making the Rest of Portsmouth as Special as Downtown

To determine how to make the rest of Portsmouth as special as downtown, we first had to determine what made downtown special to us. We like the architectural beauty of the commercial district, the waterfront, the natural gathering areas such as cafes, the historic South End, Strawberry Banke and Prescott Park. We also enjoy the downtown neighborhoods with tree-lined streets, attractive streetlights and brick sidewalks that invite neighborhood interaction.

To make the rest of Portsmouth as special as downtown, we need to connect it to the rest of Portsmouth. There are three aspects of connectivity - physical, visual and cultural.

We would like to see the architectural and commercial structure of downtown expand to include the adjacent commercial areas - the Islington Street corridor, Market Street Extension and the Northern Tier. Also, by developing and redeveloping the other commercial areas of the city, particularly Route 1 and Woodbury Avenue, we can match the spirit of downtown.

We would also like to expand the visual beauty of downtown - the waterfront, Strawberry Banke and Prescott Park - outward to the rest of the city. We can improve the gateways to the city, require more green space with developments and control such things as signage, fencing and bridges.

Finally, we need to connect all of Portsmouth culturally. There are great neighborhoods with tree-lined streets and brick sidewalks that give them a singular identity. Other areas are not neighborhoods as much as adjacent streets without a cohesive identity. We need to both include all neighborhoods equally in government improvements and services and invite greater participation and cooperation between neighborhood groups and city government.

Each of these issues is addressed separately below followed by addenda with additional supporting information.

Physical Connectivity

One aspect of making the rest of Portsmouth as special as downtown would be to spread the architectural beauty of the downtown commercial development outward. Of particular interest are Islington Street, the Northern Tier, Woodbury Avenue and Route 1.

The goal for Islington Street is to blur the line between Congress Street and Islington Street. The long-term plan would be to redevelop existing buildings to provide mixed use residential, office and retail, similar to the existing downtown, in buildings architecturally cohesive to downtown. The existing homes could mingle well with redeveloped commercial buildings to give a look more like Court and State Streets.

The 1999 study of the Northern Tier suggested a conference or convention center. Instead, we would like to see a continuation of downtown. The Parade Mall, clearly not cohesive with Congress Street, along with the Portsmouth Herald and adjacent buildings, provide a tremendous planning opportunity to create a second downtown. This large area could be redeveloped with mixed use residential, commercial and retail development, architecturally cohesive to downtown, planned with, perhaps, a courtyard park and other green space, connected to Congress Street with a landscaped walkway from Fleet Street to Vaughn Street. A year round farmer’s market, similar to the one in Portland, ME, would be a welcome addition. This could be done in conjunction with development of recreation areas along the North Mill Pond.

Woodbury Avenue and Route 1 present a completely different challenge. To redevelop these areas is unrealistic, at least in the near term. The goal, then, would be to create clusters of retail and commercial development that would be more attractive than the current haphazard mix of big box stores and strip malls. One component would be retail and commercial villages. Instead of strip malls, create village settings that would resemble a downtown streetscape on a smaller scale. Several interconnected ‘villages’ would provide an alternate, intimate shopping area with close in parking.

Big box stores are probably here to stay, so the goal in this case is to minimize the impact. We recommend identifying one section of Route 1 for big box stores and cluster them, similar to a mall, and make the most of the rest of Route 1 through village development.

Finally, we must create the process. The near term task is to create four new overlay districts, one each for Islington Street, the Northern Tier, Woodbury Avenue and Route 1. The four new overlay districts would be the responsibility of a new Portsmouth Redevelopment Authority (PRA). The PRA would be a commission comprised of Planning Department and Economic Development Commission members and business people to plan and approve all redevelopment and development of property in the new overlay districts. The City Council would create the districts and task the PRA, along with considerable public input, to form a vision for each district, identify those existing properties that fit that vision and identify those properties that need to be redeveloped to match the vision of that overlay district. Their mission would be to establish guidelines for commercial and residential development, the aim of which would be to extend the architectural beauty and functionality of downtown to the overlay districts.

The key to the success of the PRA would be to provide incentive to commercial property owners to redevelop their properties to match the vision for the districts. That incentive would be access to capital. In Winchester, Virginia, a prominent local bank offered very low, below market rate loans to finance redevelopment of downtown buildings. The idea was to provide a short-term loan while the property was being redeveloped or renovated to ease the cash flow requirement of the business during a time when the property was not generating any revenue. Once the work was completed, the loan would be called or rewritten to market rates and the low cost capital would move on to the next property. The goal was to have the low interest loan revolve from property to property about once a year.

By using these short-term loans in Portsmouth, a significant area could be redeveloped over time, depending on the amount of capital available. Also, federal or state grants may be available to the PRA or even venture capital from local investors interested in seeing certain areas of Portsmouth revitalized.

Implementation Strategies

Tasks: 1. Establish Overlay Districts

Who: City Council
When: Fall 2004

Tasks: 2. Establish the Portsmouth Redevelopment Authority (PRA)

Who:City Council and Planning Department
When:Fall 2004

Tasks: 3. Hold public hearings and write vision statement for each overlay district

Who: PRA
When:Fall 2005

Tasks: 4. Find access to incentive capital

Who: PRA
When: Fall 2006

Visual Connectivity

Downtown Portsmouth is renowned for its beauty. Visitors and residents alike love its charm, quaintness and historical value.

The problem is that the promoted visual image of Portsmouth is almost completely limited to the Market Square, Prescott Park and Strawbery Banke area. The outlying areas of the city often lack the downtown’s visual beauty. If we want to make the rest of Portsmouth as special as the downtown, visual connectivity needs to be addressed.

Portsmouth’s other neighborhoods must be given equal consideration in the planning, development and implementation of their visual surroundings.

Ideas for Creating Visual Unity

Gateways to the City: Create attractive entry signs and landscaping at all entry points to Portsmouth.

Signage: Expand Portsmouth’s sign ordinance to give specific guidelines, so that future signage reflects the spirit of downtown.

Billboards: Eliminate all billboards in Portsmouth. Vermont and Maine do not allow billboards anywhere in their states – we should follow suit.

Satellite Parks: Develop parks in the underutilized or potential green spaces of Portsmouth’s outlying areas. Imagine if our Great Bog became a park like Plum Island, MA?

Store and Shopping Mall Beautification: Create specific guidelines so that the appearance of all new businesses reflects those in the downtown area.

Roadway, Sidewalk, and Fence Beautification: Safer, more appealing sidewalks, better curbs, and improved landscaping on roadsides are needed in the rest of Portsmouth.

Beautification of Bridges: Our small bridges should be a visual asset, not an eyesore.

Recommendations for beautifying “the rest of Portsmouth”

The website http://www.scenic.org/growthstrat2.htm lists the following four helpful strategies for promoting good design, and creating visual connectivity.

1. Education: Invite landscape architects, historic preservationists and architects to deliver presentations to residents, business owners and town officials on how the community can adopt good design principles to protect and enhance its character.

2. Volunteerism: Establish an awards program that honors outstanding signage improvement, innovative landscape design, or a model development project. Organize voluntary measures like planting, trash pickup and restoration efforts.

3. Incentives: Incentives can motivate developers to adopt design guidelines for new construction or adapt older buildings to new uses. Grants for improved signage, landscaping or maintenance can make a big difference in community appearance.

4. Regulation: First, enact clear legislative guidelines to regulate how a new development or rehabilitation project’s signage and landscaping should enhance the area. Second, establish a design review board made up of local citizens, business owners and officials to keep people involved and engaged in how their community looks.

Implementation Strategies

1. Establish a Beautification Committee to focus on “the rest of Portsmouth”
Planning Department
Fall 2003

2. Identify and prioritize importance of:

  • Signage issues
  • Potential sites for satellite parks
  • Problem bridges, sidewalks, fences and roads
  • Business areas in need of landscaping
    Public Works
    Planning Department
    Spring 2004

    3. Research successful town ordinances (like Stowe, VT) regarding signage.
    Planning Department
    Spring 2004

    4. Create a moratorium on new billboards and start to work on eliminating existing ones.
    Planning Department
    Spring 2004

    5. Present educational city presentations about “design ideas for outlying areas.”
    Planning Department
    Spring 2004

    6. Develop voluntary programs aimed at the rest of Portsmouth:

  • Establish awards for improvement
  • Organize planting and clean up efforts
  • Promote “adopt a spot” in outlying areas
    Public Works
    Spring 2004

    7. Develop grant and matching funds for improving signage in outlying areas.
    Community Development Block Grant Program
    Winter 2004

    8. Develop grant and matching funds for improving landscaping in outlying areas.
    Community Development Block Grant Program
    Winter 2004

    9. Develop grant and matching funds for park development in outlying areas.
    Community Development Block Grant Program
    Winter 2004

    10. Develop regulatory guidelines addressing signage and landscaping for new businesses and developments.
    Economic Development Commission
    Planning Department
    Winter 2004

    Notable Web Sites

    http://scenic.org/factsheets.htm#billboards: Excellent information source about signage

    http://scenic.org/billboards.htm: Information related to fighting billboard blight

    http://scenic.org/growthstrat2.htm: Strategies for smart community growth

    http://www.muni.org/iceimages/Planning/1-10-03_DRAFTOrdinance.pdf: Anchorage Alaska's extensive sign standards

    Cultural Connectivity

    There are some cities throughout the world that people simply love to live in and visit. Included among such cities are Paris, Barcelona, Charleston, SC and Portsmouth. These cities share a number of common qualities. Their buildings are low enough to provide an open, safe feeling. Their major water bodies are visible and accessible to the community. They are inclusive in regard to people, the arts and commerce. They are people-oriented in things social, recreational and commercial. They are visually pleasing and individual. They have developed neighborhoods that provide for a unique visual experience while retaining a connection to the personality of the city.

    The quality of life of a city is dependant on the individual neighborhoods within it. Neighborhoods provide a sense of community and a means of personalizing the overall ambience and resources of the city. Neighborhoods reflect the individual character of their residents, but the city government must be aware of neighborhoods’ desires for services and infrastructure improvements.

    Portsmouth has 35 neighborhood associations and the number is growing. The “Portsmouth Listens” process has signaled that taking additional steps in strengthening neighborhoods is desirable. However, some parts of the city were not initially represented in study circle groups so there was a danger that their voices would not be heard. A finding of the study circles was that the resources and attention of the city are not equitably allocated to the various sections of the city.

    We can learn from the successes of other cities. Burlington, Vermont has a history of supporting neighborhood associations by grouping them into neighborhood planning “assemblies” for the purpose of improving advocacy and communication with the city government. About four years ago, it formally studied 15 other cities with well-developed neighborhood associations and updated the overall process of organizing and using these assemblies. Burlington sees itself as a leader in benefiting from strongly developed neighborhood associations and assemblies.

    Seattle, Washington is instructive because it undertook development of detailed long-term plans for (and by) each of 37 neighborhoods. Those plans were approved by the city council and are now being implemented.

    The key is to have all neighborhoods represented. To demand citizen participation is unrealistic. However, to add the currently unrepresented neighborhoods to the existing 35 associations would require only a few more interested neighborhood residents. These associations could be combined into several groupings based on geographic, socio-economic or other relevant bases. The critical next step would be to assign one grouping of associations to each city council member to give all residents a vested voice on the council and for the council to hear the neighborhoods’ desires for services and infrastructure improvements in an equitable manner.

    Implementation Strategies

    1. Create a neighborhood association for every neighborhood

    City Council
    Spring 2004

    2. Combine associations into several groupings

    City Council
    Spring 2004

    3. Develop a charter for the association groupings for developing neighborhood goals for services and infrastructure requests

    City Council
    City Manager
    Director of Planning
    Fall 2004

    4. Assign one city councilor for each grouping

    City Council
    Fall 2004

    Notable Web Sites

    Burlington, VT: www.cedoburlington.org/neighborhoods/nrcp1.htm

    Seattle, WA: www.ci.seattle.wa.us/npo/default2.htm ,

    www.cityofseattle.net/neighborhoods/# .

    Addenda

    The following two addenda, Billboard Control and Smart Growth, are taken from the Scenic.org website.

    Facts for Action
    Billboard Control
    Fighting for Beauty
    Viewpoints (pdf)
    Back to Facts for Action List

    Billboard Control is Good for Business!

    "Billboards contribute a minuscule amount to our economic well-being, but they impose a high cost.  They detract from Colorado’s attractiveness to tourists and from the pleasant surroundings for our residents."  The Honorable Richard Lamm, former Governor of Colorado

    More than 700 communities nationwide prohibit the construction of new billboards.  Why?  Because billboard control improves community character and quality of life - both of which directly impact local economies.  In fact, despite billboard industry claims to the contrary, communities and states that enact tough billboard controls enjoy strong economic growth.

    While some signs are necessary to provide direction and index our surroundings, most billboards merely contribute to visual clutter.  For example, on one section of road in Hampton, Virginia, there were so many signs that a driver going 45 miles per hour would need to read 1,363 words per minute just to understand all the information.  That is five times the normal reading speed of a stationary person!

    The billboard industry often claims that controlling outdoor advertising will turn even the most dynamic locale into an economic ghost town.  In fact, the undeniable aesthetic improvement to a community that comes from controlling billboards actually helps the economy.  A five-year study of 35 cities by the Mississippi Research and Development Center concluded "The way a community looks affects how both residents and visitors feel about it.  An attractive community has a better chance at industry, including tourism."

    Fewer Signs - It’s a Sign of Growth

         Communities can thrive without billboards.  Why?  Because most billboards have no connection to the local economy.  They advertise either national brands or out-of-state products and services.  In addition, while billboard owners often pay little or no local taxes on the actual boards, they enjoy high profit margins of 15 - 50 percent on every billboard face they own.

    Billboard industry naysayers claim that businesses such as gas stations and eating and drinking establishments would be financially devastated by reducing or eliminating their outdoor advertising.  On the contrary, in cities and towns such as Williamsburg, VA, Raleigh, NC, and Houston, TX, the period following implementation of stricter billboard controls and/or bans on new billboard construction was marked by steady growth of sales in those industries.

  • In Williamsburg, VA, sales for eating and drinking establishments grew from $48 million in 1988 to $81 million in 1992, three years after billboard controls were toughened.  In 1991 alone, total retail sales rose 44 percent despite an ongoing recession.

  • In Raleigh, NC, sales for eating and drinking establishments rose from $243 million in 1989, before billboard control, to $307 million in 1992, after controls were introduced, a rise of about 20 percent.

  • The total retail sales in Houston, TX, grew over 100 percent from $9 billion in 1981, the year after the Houston City Council prohibited new billboard construction, to about $19 billion by 1992.  For eating and drinking establishments alone, the total rose from $908 million in 1981 to $2.1 billion in 1992.  That year, the City Council strongly approved a new ordinance with amortization provisions to further reduce the number of billboards.

    Photo: Vermont Board of Tourism

    Billboard Control is Good for Tourism

         Billboard control is especially important for communities that depend on tourism.  According to the Travel Industry Association of America, travelers spent $541 billion nationwide in 1999.  The President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors reported that natural beauty was the most important criteria for adults choosing a site for outdoor recreation.  The more a community does to enhance its unique natural, scenic, historic, and architectural assets, the more tourists it attracts.  Consider the following:

  • Vermont took down its last billboard in 1975.  From 1976 - 1978, tourism revenues increased by over 50 percent.  According to Christopher Barbieri, President of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, "Although there was some initial sensitivity that removing billboards might hurt tourism, it has had the opposite effect.  Tourism is up for all businesses large and small."

  • Vermont Country Store founder Lyman Orton said:  "The billboard ban provided not only a level playing field for all of us, it opened the roadways to scenic vistas and created more than compensating publicity.  The absence of billboards in Vermont is the best billboard for all of the tourist business."

  • Many prime tourist destinations all prohibit new billboard construction even as their tourism revenues keep rising: Palm Springs and Big Sur, California; Key West, Florida; Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts; Kitty Hawk and Nags Head, North Carolina; South Padre Island, Texas; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Aspen and Boulder, Colorado; Holland, Michigan; and Portland, Oregon.

  • Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and Vermont all prohibit billboards statewide and still draw people from around the world to their scenic wonders.  The Hawaii Department of Transportation commented that "Tourism is important to the economy of our state and the state’s business community understands the need to protect and preserve the beauty of the islands."

    Billboard Alternatives Work

         Billboards are not essential because alternatives do exist.  The most common are logo signs and tourist-oriented direction signs (TODS).  Logo signs and TODS display only essential information for travelers and are smaller, less obtrusive, more affordable, and easier to read than billboards.  Logo signs advertise gas, food, camping, and lodging at nearby highway exits and already exist on interstates in at least 44 states.  TODS appear on non-interstate highways to supply information about local tourist attractions, such as distances and directions.

    Tourist Oriented Directional Signs (TODS) are an attractive and effective way to guide visitors to local sites of interest.  (Photo: Sally Oldham, Scenic America)

    Finally, sophisticated information and communications technology may soon render billboards obsolete.  John Paul Nichols, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Cendant Hotels, commented in a recent interview that ". . . terrestrial billboards . . . are becoming a thing of the past. . . . my little handheld (electronic) device can find every hotel in the United States; I don’t need to wait for a billboard.  The cell phone will alert me to my hotel preferences, not some sign I will find by accident."

    Growth in Vermont Tourism After

    Billboard Removal: 1976 - 1978

    Year

    Visitors

    Revenue

    1976

    6,800,000

    $280,000,000

    1977

    7,100,000

    $310,000,000

    1978

    7,400,000

    $420,000,000

    States with Logo Signs Programs:

    AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, MD, MA, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI, and WY.

    States with TODS Programs:

    IA, NY, OR, and WA

    States with Pilot TODS Programs:

    AK, CO, ID, MA, MN, MO, NH, OK, WI, WY

    States with Alternative Sign Programs:

    VT and ME

    Resources

         The following publications are available from Scenic America at (202) 543-6200, or through our secure online bookstore at www.scenic.org.

    Fighting Billboard Blight: An Action Guide for Citizens and Public Officials.  (1999).  $20.00.  Scenic America.  Everything you need to know about reducing billboard blight in your community.

    Guide to On-Premise Sign Ordinances for Rural and Small Communities.  (1998).  Free, plus $3.50 shipping.  Scenic America.  Includes recommendations for adopting sign regulation, a model ordinance and illustrations of terms.

    The Highway Beautification Act: A Broken Law.  (1997).  $10.00.  Scenic America.  A study demonstrating how the HBA encourages and subsidizes billboard blight across the country.

    Sign Regulation for Small and Mid-size Communities.  (1989).  $28.00.  E.D. Kelly and Gary Raso, APA.  Addresses legal and aesthetic issues for on-premise and billboard sign control.

    Signs, Signs: The Economic and Environmental Benefits of Community Sign Control.  Video.  (1992).  $20.00.  Scenic America.  An excellent tool for persuading decision makers that sign control is good for your community.

    Warning Signs: Billboards, Signs, and Traffic Safety.  (1996).  $3.00.  Scenic America.  Summaries of both field and laboratory studies looking at the correlation between signs and traffic accidents.

    The billboard industry often claims that controlling outdoor advertising will turn even the most dynamic locale into an economic ghost town.  In fact, the undeniable aesthetic improvement to a community that comes from controlling billboards actually helps the economy.  A five-year study of 35 cities by the Mississippi Research and Development Center concluded "The way a community looks affects how both residents and visitors feel about it.  An attractive community has a better chance at industry, including tourism."

    Moreover, billboards are both a symptom and a cause of urban blight.  Pointing out the problems of a heavily traveled, low-income neighborhood, the Wilmington, North Carolina, Journal noted:  "Nothing points out the lack of concern for Dawson Street and its citizens more than the numerous billboards that line both sides of the street.  Billboards outnumber trees, and abut up against homes and churches . . .destroying the privacy of both . . ."

    Fewer Signs - It’s a Sign of Growth

         Communities can thrive without billboards.  Why?  Because most billboards have no connection to the local economy.  They advertise either national brands or out-of-state products and services.  In addition, while billboard owners often pay little or no local taxes on the actual boards, they enjoy high profit margins of 15 - 50 percent on every billboard face they own.

    Billboard industry naysayers claim that businesses such as gas stations and eating and drinking establishments would be financially devastated by reducing or eliminating their outdoor advertising.  On the contrary, in cities and towns such as Williamsburg, VA, Raleigh, NC, and Houston, TX, the period following implementation of stricter billboard controls and/or bans on new billboard construction was marked by steady growth of sales in those industries.

  • In Williamsburg, VA, sales for eating and drinking establishments grew from $48 million in 1988 to $81 million in 1992, three years after billboard controls were toughened.  In 1991 alone, total retail sales rose 44 percent despite an ongoing recession.

  • In Raleigh, NC, sales for eating and drinking establishments rose from $243 million in 1989, before billboard control, to $307 million in 1992, after controls were introduced, a rise of about 20 percent.

  • The total retail sales in Houston, TX, grew over 100 percent from $9 billion in 1981, the year after the Houston City Council prohibited new billboard construction, to about $19 billion by 1992.  For eating and drinking establishments alone, the total rose from $908 million in 1981 to $2.1 billion in 1992.  That year, the City Council strongly approved a new ordinance with amortization provisions to further reduce the number of billboards.

    Billboard Control is Good for Tourism

         Billboard control is especially important for communities that depend on tourism.  According to the Travel Industry Association of America, travelers spent $541 billion nationwide in 1999.  The President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors reported that natural beauty was the most important criteria for adults choosing a site for outdoor recreation.  The more a community does to enhance its unique natural, scenic, historic, and architectural assets, the more tourists it attracts.  Consider the following:

  • Vermont took down its last billboard in 1975.  From 1976 - 1978, tourism revenues increased by over 50 percent.  According to Christopher Barbieri, President of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, "Although there was some initial sensitivity that removing billboards might hurt tourism, it has had the opposite effect.  Tourism is up for all businesses large and small."

  • Vermont Country Store founder Lyman Orton said:  "The billboard ban provided not only a level playing field for all of us, it opened the roadways to scenic vistas and created more than compensating publicity.  The absence of billboards in Vermont is the best billboard for all of the tourist business."

  • Many prime tourist destinations all prohibit new billboard construction even as their tourism revenues keep rising: Palm Springs and Big Sur, California; Key West, Florida; Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts; Kitty Hawk and Nags Head, North Carolina; South Padre Island, Texas; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Aspen and Boulder, Colorado; Holland, Michigan; and Portland, Oregon.

  • Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and Vermont all prohibit billboards statewide and still draw people from around the world to their scenic wonders.  The Hawaii Department of Transportation commented that "Tourism is important to the economy of our state and the state’s business community understands the need to protect and preserve the beauty of the islands."

    Billboard Alternatives Work

         Billboards are not essential because alternatives do exist.  The most common are logo signs and tourist-oriented direction signs (TODS).  Logo signs and TODS display only essential information for travelers and are smaller, less obtrusive, more affordable, and easier to read than billboards.  Logo signs advertise gas, food, camping, and lodging at nearby highway exits and already exist on interstates in at least 44 states.  TODS appear on non-interstate highways to supply information about local tourist attractions, such as distances and directions.

    Tourist Oriented Directional Signs (TODS) are an attractive and effective way to guide visitors to local sites of interest.  (Photo: Sally Oldham, Scenic America)

    Finally, sophisticated information and communications technology may soon render billboards obsolete.  John Paul Nichols, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Cendant Hotels, commented in a recent interview that ". . . terrestrial billboards . . . are becoming a thing of the past. . . . my little handheld (electronic) device can find every hotel in the United States; I don’t need to wait for a billboard.  The cell phone will alert me to my hotel preferences, not some sign I will find by accident."

    Growth in Vermont Tourism After

    Billboard Removal: 1976 - 1978

    Year

    Visitors

    Revenue

    1976

    6,800,000

    $280,000,000

    1977

    7,100,000

    $310,000,000

    1978

    7,400,000

    $420,000,000

    States with Logo Signs Programs:

    AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, MD, MA, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI, and WY.

    States with TODS Programs:

    IA, NY, OR, and WA

    States with Pilot TODS Programs:

    AK, CO, ID, MA, MN, MO, NH, OK, WI, WY

    States with Alternative Sign Programs:

    VT and ME

    Smart Growth

    Strategies for Smart Growth and Scenic Stewardship # 2

    Promote Good Design

    The distinctive appearance of business and residential neighborhoods is important in determining how we feel about our community.  Many people identify with the places they live and take great pride in their neighborhoods.  However haphazard development, or sprawl, can easily alter the unique character of a community.  Preserving the aesthetic continuity of the built environment helps communities maintain their spirit and appeal.

    Design guidelines and design review, as well as a variety of non-regulatory measures, can help local communities, homeowners, landowners, and developers choose the right design options.  Design guidelines are aesthetic regulations based on the issues, needs, and desires of the community.  Design review is a more rigorous procedure that examines proposed development and determines if a project meets community regulations and standards.  Smart growth strategies that promote good design policies allow communities to maintain or enhance the aesthetics of building design, ensure efficient land use, and protect natural resources.

    Strategies For Constructing Community Character

    A key component of smart growth is limiting the impact of sprawling development by promoting good design.  Using the following strategies, your community can build a better place to live.

    Education

    A community design workshop is a great way to introduce local residents, business owners, developers, and officials to the benefits of good design.  Invite town planners, landscape architects, historic preservationists, developers, and architects to deliver presentations on how your community can adopt good design principles to protect, enhance, and maintain its character.  Organizations like Scenic Hudson use educational strategies such as creating exhibits highlighting contrasts between good and bad design, placing articles in local newspapers, and encouraging local artists to create murals celebrating community design heritage.  (Adapted from: Signs of the Times: Creative Ideas for Signage in the Hudson Valley)

    Voluntary

    One of the best ways to encourage good design is to establish an awards program that honors an outstanding restoration project, an innovative design, or a model development project.  The Heritage Conservancy in Bucks County, PA has honored the owners of distinctive buildings since 1975.  This favorable attention has helped preserve over 650 buildings in Bucks County (Saving America’s Countryside).  Other voluntary measures include organizing painting, cleaning, or restoration efforts, thereby encouraging people to maintain the beauty of their community.

    Incentive-based

    Incentives can provide significant motivation for developers to adopt design guidelines for new construction or adapt older buildings to new uses.  Grants for restoration, maintenance, or landscaping can make a big difference in community appearance.  Other incentives include offering local business and home owners matching funds for building rehabilitation, and giving tax breaks to businesses that agree to occupy restored buildings.  For example, Wisconsin, Oregon, Michigan, Minnesota, and North Carolina all grant tax incentives for building and land conservation efforts (Adapted from: Saving America’s Countryside).

    Regulatory

    1.  Enact clear design guidelines.  Establishing legislative guidelines to regulate how a development project looks and fits into an area can help preserve a community’s "feel."  Regulatory guidelines address issues such as building design, commercial signage, site layout, and landscaping.  For example, guidelines in Albemarle County, VA require commercial franchises and chain stores to develop designs that are consistent with community character, preserving a sense of place and creating a more attractive space for customers than typical "big box" designs set in the middle of a sea of asphalt.

    Your community can also enact legislation protecting special or sensitive areas from inappropriate development.  The most common designation is an historic or neighborhood conservation district operating under strict design guidelines that help design review boards maintain the unique character and integrity of the district.

    2.  Establish a design review board.  A design review board made up of local citizens, business owners, and officials is a good way to involve the community in the design process and give people a say in how their community looks.  The governing body should enact clear review standards that follow established design guidelines including, but not limited to, the height, size, architectural style, color, materials, siting, and landscaping of a proposed project.

    For example, Sante Fe, NM has preserved its Native American character by permitting only buildings that have flat roofs, stuccoed exteriors, and a limited amount of glass or other reflective materials.

    Historic and Neighborhood Conservation Districts

    Historic districts are areas where the built environment has remained predominantly intact for a considerable length of time (typically 75 years or more) and represents the unique history, culture, character, or architectural tradition of a community.  Development and design is tightly regulated in historic districts to preserve the area’s integrity.

    Neighborhood conservation districts are designed to preserve only the general character of an area, not its historic fabric.  The flexibility of neighborhood conservation districts allows them to accommodate a wider variety of building styles and time periods than an historic district.  This makes neighborhood conservation districts an effective way of preserving unique residential character, emphasizing a neighborhood’s cultural attributes, or buffering historic districts, without unduly hindering development.  Dallas, TX, Philadelphia, PA, and Cambridge, MA have all used conservation districts to preserve their neighborhoods’ distinct character.

    Resources for Promoting Good Design

    All of the publications listed below are available from Scenic America at (202) 543-6200 or through our website at www.scenic.org.

    Aesthetics, Community Character, and the Law.  (1999).  $34.00.  Christopher J. Duerksen and R. Matthew Goebel.  APA and Scenic America.  A comprehensive guide to legal mechanisms communities can employ to protect their natural beauty and distinctive character.

    Saving America’s Countryside: A Guide to Rural Conservation, 2nd ed.  (1997).  $26.00.  S. Stokes, A.E. Watson and S. Mastran.  Johns Hopkins Press.  How to organize a rural conservation program, work with local government and much more.

    Balancing Nature and Commerce in Gateway Communities.  (1997).  $21.95.  J. Howe, Ed McMahon, and L. Propst.  Island Press.  How to preserve the character and integrity of communities and landscapes without sacrificing local economic well-being.

    Fact Sheet: Scenic Beauty Benefits Business: Design Guidelines for Business Districts.  Free.  Scenic America

    Residents and visitors alike enjoy well designed and preserved communities.

    (Photo: Deborah Myerson, Scenic America)

    Scenic America is a national nonprofit membership organization dedicated to protecting natural beauty and distinctive community character.  We provide technical assistance across the nation on scenic byways, billboard and sign control, place-sensitive road design, wireless telecommunications tower location, transportation policies, and other scenic conservation issues.  We promote scenic conservation by educating Congress and state legislatures and by conducting site-specific projects in various states.  In addition, we produce a full range of publications on preserving scenic beauty, open space, and quality of life.

    Scenic America is grateful to the George Gund Foundation for its support of our Smart Growth and Scenic Stewardship Initiative.

    Voluntary

    One of the best ways to encourage good design is to establish an awards program that honors an outstanding restoration project, an innovative design, or a model development project.  The Heritage Conservancy in Bucks County, PA has honored the owners of distinctive buildings since 1975.  This favorable attention has helped preserve over 650 buildings in Bucks County (Saving America’s Countryside).  Other voluntary measures include organizing painting, cleaning, or restoration efforts, thereby encouraging people to maintain the beauty of their community.

    Incentive-based

    Incentives can provide significant motivation for developers to adopt design guidelines for new construction or adapt older buildings to new uses.  Grants for restoration, maintenance, or landscaping can make a big difference in community appearance.  Other incentives include offering local business and home owners matching funds for building rehabilitation, and giving tax breaks to businesses that agree to occupy restored buildings.  For example, Wisconsin, Oregon, Michigan, Minnesota, and North Carolina all grant tax incentives for building and land conservation efforts (Adapted from: Saving America’s Countryside).

    Regulatory

    1.  Enact clear design guidelines.  Establishing legislative guidelines to regulate how a development project looks and fits into an area can help preserve a community’s "feel."  Regulatory guidelines address issues such as building design, commercial signage, site layout, and landscaping.  For example, guidelines in Albemarle County, VA require commercial franchises and chain stores to develop designs that are consistent with community character, preserving a sense of place and creating a more attractive space for customers than typical "big box" designs set in the middle of a sea of asphalt.

    Your community can also enact legislation protecting special or sensitive areas from inappropriate development.  The most common designation is an historic or neighborhood conservation district operating under strict design guidelines that help design review boards maintain the unique character and integrity of the district.

    2.  Establish a design review board.  A design review board made up of local citizens, business owners, and officials is a good way to involve the community in the design process and give people a say in how their community looks.  The governing body should enact clear review standards that follow established design guidelines including, but not limited to, the height, size, architectural style, color, materials, siting, and landscaping of a proposed project.

    For example, Sante Fe, NM has preserved its Native American character by permitting only buildings that have flat roofs, stuccoed exteriors, and a limited amount of glass or other reflective materials.

    Historic and Neighborhood Conservation Districts

    Historic districts are areas where the built environment has remained predominantly intact for a considerable length of time (typically 75 years or more) and represents the unique history, culture, character, or architectural tradition of a community.  Development and design is tightly regulated in historic districts to preserve the area’s integrity.

    Neighborhood conservation districts are designed to preserve only the general character of an area, not its historic fabric.  The flexibility of neighborhood conservation districts allows them to accommodate a wider variety of building styles and time periods than an historic district.  This makes neighborhood conservation districts an effective way of preserving unique residential character, emphasizing a neighborhood’s cultural attributes, or buffering historic districts, without unduly hindering development.  Dallas, TX, Philadelphia, PA, and Cambridge, MA have all used conservation districts to preserve their neighborhoods’ distinct character.


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