Putting the old town in a new package
New Urbanism takes Durango by storm

Celebration, Florida, Disney's take on New Urbanism.Architect Janet Wiley’s home sits in a typical suburban setting at the end of a cul-de-sac. Its nondescript front door is adjacent to three large garage doors. However, a step inside the split-level home is refreshing, opening to hardwood floors, an open floor plan, a vaulted sun room and intricate brick and wood work. And resting on the table is a set of plans with a mission of forever eliminating cul-de-sacs and garage doors fronting public space. It is a plan to get back to basics and away from the car-based suburbia that has dominated American building for the last 40 years.

“It’s just a more logical way to live,” Wiley says of “New Urbanism,” which is the basis for her design of Dale Kneller’s Rivergate, a development proposed immediately south of Durango on Sawmill Road. Wiley is not alone in this belief. New Urbanism is about to take Durango by storm. Every major development proposal before the Durango Planning Commission includes a component of the “back-to-basics” development strategy.

New Urbanism can be traced back to the early 1980s and Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk’s development of the Florida town of Seaside, which served as the too-perfect backdrop for the 1998 film “The Truman Show.” With Seaside, the husband-and-wife time intended to recreate a 19th century southern town in an effort to defy contemporary suburbia and America’s obsession with the automobile.

“If Martians landed, they would think the cars were in charge,” Duany has been quoted as saying. “Suburbia is designed around one ideal: Keep the cars happy.”
New Urbanism, on the other hand, gets back to traditional town- and cityscapes. As an excellent example of New Urbanism, City Planner Millissa Berry and Janet Wiley both point to the obvious: downtown Durango. “We really took our image for Rivergate off of downtown Durango,” says Wiley.

“New Urbanism is basically going back to the tried and true ways of development,” says Berry.

Suburban sprawl, like this scene near Denver, is one of the ailments of growth that  New Urbanism strives to alleviate.Like downtown Durango, Rivergate will include a pedestrian corridor, a mix of residential and commercial uses with businesses opening to the main thoroughfare, a substantial number of trees lining transportation corridors, an accessible park, natural landscaping and trails. Unlike downtown, the first phase of Rivergate includes three large buildings atop a large parking structure. The buildings sport a modern design and would include both businesses and residences, one-stop shopping so to speak. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the plan, but also its keys component, is density. The first phase includes plans for 64 to 85 loft-style apartments, as well as up to 30,000 square feet of business space.

On one hand, Wiley says, “This is such a prime site. It doesn’t make sense to subdivide it into eight units and only allow eight people the views and proximity to town.”

On the other, she notes that density is one of the cornerstones of New Urbanism. “To make this kind of development work, it has to be higher density,” she says. “People attract people, and the object is to keep them out of their cars and create a sense of community within a community.”

She adds: “Durango really warrants this kind of development. We can get higher density closer to the city limits, where the infrastructure’s already in place, where it’ll increase the tax base and decrease pollution and sprawl. It’s pretty exciting to be working on something that could be really good for Durango.”

Good for Durango

City Planners are in agreement that New Urbanism and specifically Rivergate could be good for Durango. The city’s Planning Commission has received Kneller and Wiley’s work with praise, approving the development’s first phase Aug. 26. Meanwhile, the City Council is considering writing requirements into city code to encourage similar trends in development. And while there have been in-fill projects like the renovation of the Morehart building with mixed uses and elements of style, Rivergate is the first development of its size to bring New Urbanism to the table. But it will, by no means, be the last. Every other major plan in the pipeline contains at least elements of the building style, according to city planner Berry. The River Trails Ranch (formerly Kroeger Ranch) development proposed north of Durango, Ewing Mesa development with its 1,725 units proposed above Highway 3 and the Southern Ute Tribe’s proposal for 2,000 new homes in the Grandview area, among others, all contain New Urbanism designs or design components.






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