Feds Get Smart

Feds Get Smart

Suburban Louisville, Kentucky, is headed back to the drawing boards. Low-density development on the city’s fringe is the target of a federal grant aiming to implement smart growth strategies in an effort to create compact centers and a sustainable urban pattern. It is one of four projects from a pool of over 100 applicants that were awarded Smart Growth Implementation Assistance (SGIA) grants in 2009, the first year the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development joined the Environmental Protection Agency to coordinate technical assistance.

Through the Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities, the three agencies will offer support to local governments seeking to implement smart growth policies, and will include improving environmental impacts of development, increasing quality of life, and promoting alternative transportation options. According to Louisville officials, the grant study area “presents a suburban context where a ‘business as usual’ pattern of growth threatens the community’s quality of life and long-term livability.”

Las Cruces, New Mexico, seeks to stimulate a depressed commercial corridor while preserving existing community services; Montgomery County, Maryland, is implementing a new Climate Protection Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through land-use decisions; and the state of California is developing a framework for helping municipalities determine strategies for implementing smart growth and sustainable practices.

As part of the SGIA grant, Louisville will be studying a suburban corridor adjacent to a planned 4,000-acre series of parks along the Floyds Fork stream watershed, expected to spur development. The city wants to “create a more vibrant center where walking, bicycling, and public transportation are real options for residents.”

Smart growth strategies will be developed in accordance with Louisville’s Cornerstone 2020 comprehensive plan by using tools such as form-based codes. Planner Ken Baker said the city is addressing a “need to shift the emphasis of suburban development in this community from an auto-dependent to a multimodal-oriented design.”

Officials with Planning & Design Services have been working with federal agencies on scoping the project site and goals for the nearly 2,000-acre study area. The team is preparing to bring on a consultant and will hold a series of charrettes this summer to engage residents and stakeholders.

Baker said there’s a “definite public participation process to come.” One key component of the grant is the education of the general public about smart growth principles. Once complete, a planned development district drawing on the local context will be established and implemented under the Louisville Metro Planning Commission.

Louisville hopes to conserve farmland by implementing compact growth patterns, protect the local watershed by mitigating sanitary sewer overflow, retrofit the current arterial road structure to create safe pedestrian infrastructure, address center design at the site of a highway interchange, and improve local air quality by reducing vehicle miles traveled.

Baker said the process is “about a different way of development that improves the neighborhood’s quality of life.” Smart growth provides more options for residents to safely get around, where today the community must rely solely on automobile transport. Planner Connie Ewing added that it’s as easy as “actually having sidewalks so you can get to your destination.”

Even while Louisville prepares to transform the suburban corridor into a walkable center, several pending projects are moving forward before new standards can be established. Baker said there is little the city can do in the short term to halt development, but believes the study can still make a significant impact.

Baker said the city will be able to redesign the street network to promote walkability and influence future projects when the plan is complete. “The goal is to lay the framework for a regional center— a new suburban paradigm that is pedestrian- and transit-oriented,” he said. “We’re creating a compact, mixed-use center.”