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Delivering New Designs

Pike charrette ends as designers reveal preliminary plans.

Plans for redevelopment along Columbia Pike coalesced into some semblance of order last week, the designers said. But it was only the halfway mark.

Victor Dover, the head of one of the firms running the charrette on Columbia Pike revitalization plans, presented preliminary designs last Thursday, Sept. 12, in the conclusion of the weeklong workshop.

The designs were based on community input gathered over last weekend. Dover’s firm, Dover, Kohl & Partners, along with designers from urban planners Geoffrey Ferrell Associates, heard from residents and neighbors of the Pike over Friday, Sept. 6, and Saturday, Sept. 7.

They also led Pike residents in a workshop Saturday morning that let them draw their ideas for the Pike on maps of the five-mile-long street. After those sessions, Dover, Kohl and Ferrell designers heard from area residents Sunday and Monday, as they stopped in the offices of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) offices.

They synthesized designs based on input from all four days, and presented it Thursday night, Dover said. It wasn’t easy. "This vision is being put before you by folks who basically stayed up all night," he said.

It also wasn’t the final design for the Pike revitalization. Ferrell Associates is due back in Arlington in mid-October, to present final design codes for the Pike, which would be implemented over years to come.

<b>SOME ELEMENTS</b> of the redesign plans were suggested by the designers’ ideas.

"We all feel street trees are about 50 percent of urban design," Ferrell told the audience in the Sheraton National ballroom on Sept. 6.

When he returned with design suggestions, the use of street trees was evident. In one set of before and after slides, Dover illustrated the redesign’s pedestrian scale. A retaining wall at the western end of the road towers over pedestrians. A redesign would make it more pedestrian friendly, Dover said, showing a picture of the same block, lined with trees.

The change met with applause from the audience. Indeed, many of the proposed redesign elements met with applause or cheers from the audience, including additional pedestrian facilities and a possible transit, which could mean bus rapid transit or light rail along the Pike.

But the primary changes in the design dealt with street front retail. One of the things people dislike about buildings on the Pike, Ferrell said last week, is that they are all surrounded by parking lots, with business fronts facing into their parking lots, away from the street.

That happens when business owners and developers aren’t sure what will be built next door, or across the street from them, he said. To avoid a drop in property values, they turn their businesses into self-contained islands.

<b>REDESIGN PLANS COULD</b> be influential in getting future businesses built to face the street, Ferrell said, because business owners and builders would have some guarantee that surrounding buildings would look somewhat like their own. That would eliminate some of the blank walls that now front the Pike’s sidewalks.

But it would not mean the elimination of parking. Instead of putting parking in front of businesses, the redesign calls for parking in the rear of buildings, or enclosed in the center of a square block.

The vehicle for those changes would be form-based codes, Dover said last Thursday. In the past, building codes regulated what could go on inside a building, and imposed restrictions based on that.

But the plans to revitalize the Pike would center on form-based codes, which would put some restrictions on the exterior of a building while allowing a greater mix of uses for the interior.

That doesn’t mean dictating the entire exterior. "Our thinking, based on your comments, is that we don’t need to be very strict about regulating architecture," Dover said. "We should set a ‘dress code,’ but let the street reflect the hands of different architects."

<b>HOWEVER, REDESIGN PLANS</b> for the Pike are not a cure-all, said Tim Lynch, executive director of CPRO. The organization is pursuing plans for public transportation along the street, and trying to encourage economic development as well, he said.

Some of those plans are furthered by redesign plans. But the plans are not mandatory, and some businesses may decide to build along the Pike without adhering to them.

Even if all businesses building along the Pike get on board, it will take a long time before the street really changes, he said, a word of warning echoed last Thursday.

"This is not development that happens overnight," Dover said. "This is very long range."