September 06, 2012The High Point City Project, which is only fitfully supported by the High Point City Council, is finally breaking free to try to do something on its own.
At a meeting of the City Project's board on Tuesday, Sept. 4, City Project leaders said that, during September, they will attempt to raise $450,000 to hire the Miami-based architectural firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. to design a new High Point city center along North Main Street.
City Project officials said that High Point University – read: High Point University President Nido Qubein – has pledged $124,000 toward that goal.
A city center is exactly how the City Project has been pitching Uptowne, the stretch of North Main Street between Ray and State avenues – as a walkable "downtown" of stores and restaurants that only happens to be outside of High Point's traditional downtown, which has been taken over by furniture showrooms.
It takes a little imagination to envision that now. As Aaron Clinard, the chairman of the board of the City Project, said, North Main Street is more speedway than shopping center now.
"The Main Street area is really just a highway right now," Clinard said. "People go 45 or 50 miles an hour down Main Street, and there's no way they're going to pay attention to stores at that speed."
The City Project brought architect Andrés Duany – a founding partner of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. and a founding member of the Congress for the New Urbanism – to High Point in March for a series of meetings with High Point officials, business groups and the public.
Duany attacked most downtown building codes as impediments to private development, and especially to the development of old-school, or New Urban, downtowns, whichever you want to call them. He called for throwing out most of the rules generated by city planners.
Meanwhile, High Point is planning to rewrite its entire development code.
Would-be High Point redevelopers on Monday, August 27 met with representatives of the Chapel Hill office of Denver-based Clarion Associates LLC, a consultant the High Point City Council hired in May to spend two years rewriting the development ordinance.
Clarion said it would be guided by an advisory committee of developers, redevelopers, High Point Planning and Zoning Commission members, architects, city planners and the City Project, which the City Council created in an effort to redevelop High Point's traditional neighborhoods. In other words, it said it would hold a bunch of public hearings and listen to people. It's uncertain to what extent Duany is among them.
Qubein was cited several times at the August 27 meeting for his support of Duany – the implication being that Duany's ideas conflicted with those likely to come out of the zoning rewrite.
Clarion has its own ideas about how a zoning ordinance should be written – but a two-year rewrite leaves a large window for lobbying, and that's what the City Project hopes to do by hiring Duany.
Duany, when he was here, railed against any zoning ordinance too complicated to let him build Charleston, South Carolina – in other words, almost any zoning ordinance in effect today.
City Project members argue that High Point's zoning ordinance, written to guide suburban development, almost prevents redevelopment of old High Point neighborhoods, and they want most of the rules thrown out the window when it comes to Uptowne and other old mixed-use neighborhoods.
Clinard said that Duany has a way of changing zoning ordinances to make them less restrictive in older neighborhoods, especially ones that mix stores, restaurants, industry and residences. He acknowledged the possibility of Duany clashing with Clarion and the High Point Planning and Development Department.
"That's the trick," Clinard said. "You have two different organizations looking at the thing. But it would be silly for them to ignore what he has to say. Our goal would be to make sure that when we get Duany back here, we get the two together and make sure they're not at cross purposes."