Enough Junky Buildings, Mesa Decides

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By Gary Nelson for East Valley Tribune

Back in the day when Mesa first appointed a citizens advisory panel to evaluate the appearance of new buildings in the city, they named it the Design Review Advisory Board.

The acronym – DRAB – may have been unfortunate, but city officials admit it could describe a lot of the architecture passing muster at City Hall over the years.

DRAB is now just the Design Review Board, but body and the city’s professional planning staff still don’t believe they have the tools they need to begin giving the city a facelift.

But it’s about to change.

The City Council has informally signed off on a series of guidelines and ordinance changes will put the city among Valley leaders in requiring high-quality development.

The new proposals emerged from a year-long series of workshops and forums involving more than 500 developers, builders and private citizens.

Nana Appiah, Mesa’s planning director, said voters in 2014 approved a general plan calling for “a recognizable city with a strong sense of place.”

But, he said, “The existing tools have been insufficient in producing the level of quality we want to see.”

Other cities, meanwhile, have codified numerous requirements aimed at improving the appearance of their neighborhoods and streetscapes. Queen Creek, for example, has 26 such specifications. Phoenix has 25, and Gilbert has 17.

Mesa has seven.

But by the time the changes are enacted, Mesa’s total of 21 codified requirements will exceed even Scottsdale, which has 20.

The new regulations will cover every type of building in the city.

For residential properties, it no longer will be allowed to build a house with a “snout garage” juts in front of the rest of the building. And new developments must offer architectural variety, with houses of the same design not being allowed next to each other.

Small-lot developments, in particular, will be held to higher standards, possibly with enhanced requirements for open-space areas and amenities.

Commercial buildings now must “engage the street,” with parking hidden from passing traffic, and offer pedestrian-friendly environments. Drive-throughs no longer will be allowed to parallel busy arterial streets – they must be at the back or side of the building.

Even large industrial buildings are covered, with provisions that, again, limit the amount of parking visible from nearby streets and requirements for a variety of building materials to create a pleasing palette.

The council is expected to approve the new design guidelines on December 2nd, and the associated ordinance changes on December 9th.

Read more at East Valley Tribune.

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