First, do no harm. Frequently associated with the Hippocratic oath for doctors, this aphorism could easily apply to any number of professions, including urban planning.
As planners we are architects, not of buildings, but of the social and physical fabric of our communities. We have a responsibility to ensure that new construction responds to people’s desire for walkable and bicycle-friendly streets, aesthetically pleasing landscapes and safe public spaces. It is essential that we put these principles first when considering any new urban development.
Unfortunately, a recent decision by the city of Sacramento’s Planning Department violated all of these principles.
It approved a planning application for a new CVS pharmacy at the corner of Franklin Boulevard and Sutterville Road that literally turns its back on both commercial corridors. The original application proposed that the entrance face the street with a few rows of parking in front. Due to recent changes to the city’s zoning regulations, however, the developer was forced to face the building away from both streets.
The city would not support a variance, which meant that the only way to accommodate the required off-street parking was to orient the building away from both four-lane commercial corridors. As a result, the entrance will face an internal parking lot, while the back of the building will face Franklin Boulevard and one of the sides will face Sutterville Road.
A 30-foot high wall will front Franklin Boulevard for about 100 feet, and a 26-foot wall nearly double that length will be along Sutterville with a couple of fake window facades. There will not be a building “face” on either corridor at this very prominent gateway to the North Franklin Business District.
The project will discourage walking and bicycling and encourage gang tagging and graffiti. With two giant blank canvasses at a very visible and major intersection, who wouldn’t be tempted to paint his or her message?
As a planner with 10 years of experience working in redevelopment, I couldn’t have imagined that I would have to monitor the city to ensure that a new commercial project simply has an entrance that faces the street.
The only way to correct this terrible decision is for the city to refund all planning and building permit fees to CVS pharmacy, permit the variance and require CVS to construct a project that faces the commercial corridor. The refunds would offset the costs to CVS for developing new construction drawings. While the city would not receive fees for new permits, the North Franklin District would be saved an eyesore that everyone will otherwise have to live with for many decades to come.
Sometimes “doing no harm” is far more important than following regulations that have been poorly conceived and executed.
Marti Brown is executive director of the North Franklin District Business Association.