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Reminder: public hearing on the developer’s special permit application tonight at City Hall. According to Alderman Ted, it’s late on the agenda.

Having established that the proposed development on the site of Skipjacks/International Bicycles is generally an improvement, what’s disappointing about the plan?

Four major beefs, only two of which are likely fixable:

  • Center driveway
  • One story, not two
  • No provision for undergrounding utilities
  • Mean sidewalks on three sides

No question, the driveway situation is improved, with access to all parking from the Avalon driveway. The current site is something like 40% curb cut (it’s actually not just the number of curb cuts, but the fact that the curb cuts are enormous). Two curb cuts of more modest proportions make for a better situation*, but neither proposed driveway is really necessary to get in and out of the lot.

According to the attorney for the developer, the developer needs the center driveway to establish a visual entrance to the site for drivers. Fair enough. It’s a shame that the site wasn’t developed at the same time as and with better coordination with Avalon because all sorts of alternatives are possible to serve both the retail needs and the (relatively light) needs of the residents. Another solution would be on-street angled parking, which would make the whole storefront a visual entrance.

I wouldn’t create a single building. Rather, expand the buildings a bit and have a nice alley down the center. Keep the west-side driveway if need be.

In any case, not likely to change.

Also not likely to change, but still too bad is the fact that the buildings are single-story. It would make for a more vibrant streetscape and a more established village-like setting if the street facade were two-story. And, office space on the second floor would increase the number of people in the area, increasing traffic into the local stores, increasing feet on the street, &c.

Parking is almost certainly the culprit. The lot isn’t big enough to serve demand from the retail and additional uses. It’s a shame, because the total capacity for parking in the immediate area is almost certainly less than the total demand would be if there were a second story. Again, blame the lack of coordination with Avalon Bay. Parking demand for office use is highly complementary with parking residential parking demand. The need comes at different times of the day. An integrated mixed-use development needs less parking than the separate uses on their own.

Couldn’t they figure out a deal to use the chronically underused parking lot just to the east?

There does not appear to be any provision for undergrounding utilities. Undergrounding is certainly expensive. And doing it piecemeal probably makes it more so, but, at the very least, the city should insist that the developer build conduits that could be used later when undergrounding is done along the street.

Finally, the internal sidewalks. The front sidewalks promise to be quite generous. Kudos. But the sidewalks on the other three sides of each building look to be a little mean. As a general matter, sidewalks around buildings on Needham St. suck. We went to Modell’s the other night. The sidewalk is so narrow, the kids walk in the parking lot. There is no reason to have sidewalks less than six feet. If people are going to walk (and people who park almost always have to walk from the car to the store), give them some space.

* Curb cuts are bad for two reasons. First, the more curb cuts, the more different turning locations, which creates havoc with traffic. Fewer curb cuts means better flowing traffic. Second, curb cuts and the driveways they serve spread the storefronts out, making for a less walkable retail environment. Pedestrians are best served by denser retail.