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February 6, 2018 > Editorial: The Art of Pruning

Editorial: The Art of Pruning

Pruning is a bittersweet process. Watching the deliberate amputation of trees and bushes can be painful when growth of a previous year is discarded as debris and unwanted excess. Horticulturists know, however, that in many cases, the welcome development of one year can be harmful to the next generation of growth. Viewing the carnage of a master gardener following prudent pruning techniques can look awful but the following spring, as new buds emerge, will prove that the slaughter was not only necessary, but healthy. The advantage of space to receive sunlight energy and directing growth in welcome patterns becomes apparent. Fruits of these labors are evident.

The concept of pruning has been adopted by the planning community as a metaphor within urban growth. It asserts that haphazard zoning has allowed poorly defined areas of commercial, retail, industrial and residential to mingle. To allow this to continue defeats the constant drumbeat and demand for more housing. Housing is currently king and must be obeyed; a priority above commercial and industrial land use. Agricultural land is a scarce commodity these days and, if found locally, under ominous jeopardy. If land is diverted to uses other than housing, State mandates are in place to demand that a balance of new residential land replace it. This is a one-sided zero-sum game since more and more land is being required or rezoned for housing without a similar demand for balance on the retail/commercial side of things.

Pruning in planning terms borrows from horticulturists by assuming that cutting old and ÒdeadÓ retail/commercial space for housing will energize and stimulate growth in concentrated business sections or corridors. However, cities and communities are not plants; they do not create new land and space each spring. Once land is repurposed for housing, it is difficult to reclaim it, even if desired at a later time. In some instances, repurposing land makes sense and will invigorate and energize an area while in others, it may actually retard or reverse the quality of life for everyone.

Two cases in point will be discussed at the Fremont City Council meeting tonight. One development is called ÒThe CottagesÓ and will replace what is currently zoned as ÒService IndustrialÓ to ÒLow-Medium Density Residential.Ó While adjacent to residential neighborhoods, the impact of removing work spaces and parking restrictions for new residences may present a problem. Now occupied by various automobile repair and contractors, the 3.29 acres in the Centerville Community Plan Area next to railroad tracks will be infilled with 37 housing units. There is no parking available on Blacow Road adjacent to the planned development. This is one more commercial/industrial site sacrificed to housing.

The second illustration is an example of housing fulfilling a local need and using existing space for housing that not only makes sense, but will create a noticeable difference for our community. Eight attached residential units are proposed for a corner of the Pioneer Cemetery in Centerville, site of a former Presbyterian church. Currently, the space is vacant and due to historical relevance, use is restricted. Four units of the proposed development will be housing for Òchurch pastors, youth workers, and church staff, enabling them to continue living in our community.Ó This site, close to work, some retail and mass transit, should have little traffic impact. There will be no sacrifice to land use and affordable housing will be created for a local institution, Centerville Presbyterian Church.
Whether to prune or not is not only the question, but a critical decision about the future of our communities. In the hands of skilled and patient gardeners who have a clear vision of future growth, pruning can take place without sacrificing a plantÕs roots. Completely removing the plant is not pruning, rather clear cutting. This may be helpful at times, but using such drastic measures can also create long range difficulties such as permanent loss of habitat. Those charged with responsibility for gardens, parks and forests know the difference. Does the same hold true for our city planners?

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