Five Questions for Kimara Z. Snipe

14 Jul

Kimara Z. Snipe is a community servant. In addition to her work as a Youth Services Specialist for the Omaha Public library she serves on the Omaha Public School Board and is the current President of the South Omaha Neighborhood Alliance (SONA). She will also be our guest this Friday, July 17th at 8 a.m. for our monthly Coffee Chat. We will be talking about South Omaha and the work SONA is doing. We asked her five questions.

1. What are the areas and issues covered by SONA? 

The mission of the organization is to enhance South Omaha Neighborhoods through communication, collaboration, empowerment and promoting positive perceptions.  That being said, we focus on issues that affect the quality of living in different neighborhoods, which varies even within South Omaha.  Our areas and issues range from addressing gang violence and graffiti, to acting as a liaison between our neighborhood members and the city and state governments.  We have addressed issues such as violence, transportation, graffiti, police and community relations and more.

2. What is a transportation project or proposal you would consider a success in South Omaha?

This is a great question.  I never want to speak for the entirety of SONA.  I think that transportation is something that leaves a lot to be desired in both North and South Omaha.  

3. What is a specific transportation challenge facing South Omaha neighborhoods?

This answer varies. I’ve had numerous complaints from people who live within the RE/CAP (racially and/or ethnically concentrated areas of poverty) that the elimination of bus lines has caused numerous issues.  I would say that public transit is definitely an issue and needs major adjustments.  I would also say we lack alternative modes of transportation.  South Omaha is full of walkers – they need safe walkways and ways to bike and get around.  South Omaha currently has 2.5 cars per home, this also causes major parking issues which can often lead to penalties, which are disproportionate for people of color as it is.

4. How can people get involved with SONA?

I’m so glad you asked.  The first thing I would suggest is to sign up for our email list.  This way they can receive our meeting invites and other news.  We meet (currently virtually) every 1st Thursday of the Month at 7:00 PM.  Secondly, I would suggest that any person living in Omaha find out if they have a neighborhood association and join.  If they don’t have one, start one and I’m happy to help them get started.  You can verify if you have a n.a. by checking the Mayors website.  Third, reach out to me.  I’m happy to meet up virtually or at a park practicing social distancing to explain the benefits of membership.

5. If you could magically change one thing in Omaha with regard to transportation what would it be?

I would invest in multiple modes of transportation.

Support Transit Oriented Development by 6/29!

18 Jun showing improved streetscape

By: Liz Veazey, Mode Shift Omaha Board member

I am excited to see more dense development in my neighborhood due to the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Plan currently proposed by the City of Omaha.  The TOD plan is connected to the new Omaha Rapid Bus Transit (ORBT) that is launching later in 2020 and in addition to proposing new zoning for areas surrounding the ORBT route, the plan includes requirements for bike parking and improved pedestrian friendly streetscapes (example in image below).

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Mode Shift has encouraged members to attend past neighborhood TOD sessions around town and generally supported increased density in Omaha.  I live on the edge of Dundee and my neighborhood association, Dundee Memorial Park Association (DMPA), has done some good work educating my neighbors about the TOD: see article starting on page 1 from the June newsletter , putting a flyer on neighbors’ doors, a recent Facebook livestream & discussions like this on the DMPA Facebook page.  However, DMPA is organizing people to push back against the recommendations of the city and request a lower density zoning designation for most of Dundee (specifically they want most of the orange color below–TOD 3-MNR to only be TOD 4-SFA). The new zoning is only opt-in and would require each property owner to make the case to their neighbors and City Council before a change would be made to the zoning.

Here’s the Dundee area TOD plan (see key below & more info here)undefined

Mode Shift supports diversity of building types, preservation of historic buildings, and cultivating interesting pedestrian landscapes.  We have been involved in fights to save historic buildings in Omaha including the Specht Building downtown, which was saved from demolition through collaborations between Restoration Exchange, Mode Shift and other groups.  I am a member and supporter of Restoration Exchange, I have worked to preserve my 1940s home, and I support historic preservation. At the same time, I support increased density in our neighborhood and I think we can have increased density and continue to preserve the historic and beautiful characteristics of our neighborhood. 

Here is a quote from a former Mode Shift board member, Stephen Osberg, from the chat during the DMPA Facebook Live event on TOD: 

In response to that question about how the new zoning is applied (which is confusing due to the opt-in nature of things): once the TOD zoning is approved, everyone’s zoning will remain unchanged. If you are R7 now, you will stay R7. If you are R4, you will stay R4. The TOD designation provides an alternative treatment that people can opt into by going through the typical rezoning process. That requires going to the Planning Board and City Council, which require public comment. This doesn’t automatically rezone anyone’s property.

Two things: 1) The zoning for the vast majority of Dundee is higher than what is being proposed (R7 & R8). Much of what people say they fear would actually be easier under the current zoning than the proposed zoning. 2) Because the zoning is opt-in, people could develop under either the new zoning or old. If you want more control over the type of development in Dundee, try to move away from the opt-in route to a mandatory rezoning.”

Show your support for increased density and TOD by signing the Missing Middle Housing Campaign’s petition here and you can submit comments to the City of Omaha on the TOD plan here–includes the full plan (you can include general comments at the end or just reach out to Derek Miller in the Planning Department: Derek.Miller@cityofomaha.org ) DEADLINE is June 29th

For reference here is a Coalition Letter in support of Omaha’s Proposed TOD:

The following groups wish to express gratitude and support for the City’s proposed Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Implementation Policy and Code.  This policy is a significant step towards an Omaha with more home choices of all shapes and sizes, near jobs, schools, and transit, and neighborhoods where all Omaha’s citizens can afford to live. 

By supporting more “missing middle” housing in Omaha like townhomes and pedestrian scale apartments, this plan will help provide seniors the options they need to age-in-place by staying in their neighborhoods, and bring about the vibrant walkable conditions attracting young people and their employers, all while protecting Omaha’s historic neighborhoods through its careful consideration of the TOD zone placement.

We have a choice in Omaha, we can either allow compact and convenient homes near transit as we once did adjoining the early 20th century streetcar system, or we can continue largely restricting our residential neighborhoods to one form of building; the large-lot detached house.  This zoning policy of exclusion has not served Omaha well, stonewalling renters, low and middle-income citizens, and young people in search of a starter home, out of neighborhoods-of-opportunity.  It has created unchecked suburban sprawl and its accompanying vast swaths of pavement, engine smog, and straining city budgets.  While this plan has aspects that can be improved, it was considered after extensive public outreach, input, and deliberation.

We ask the Mayor and City Council to approve the proposed TOD Implementation Policy and Code.

To Sign Your Organization on to this letter reach out to: missingmiddleomaha@gmail.com

All images are from the Transit Oriented Development plan here

Five Questions with Brandon Garret

15 Jun

For our June Coffee Chat, we’re crossing the river, so to speak, and have invited Brandon Garrett, Director of Community Development for the City of Council Bluffs. He will be talking about the FIRST AVE project. The Coffee Chat is Friday, June 19th at 8 a.m. on Zoom, and you can register for the event at this link.

Brandon Garrett

Brandon Garrett is originally from Great Bend, Kansas.  He has a degree in Geography from Kansas State University with a minor in Regional and Community Planning.  He has a master’s degree in Community and Regional Planning from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  He is a Certified Public Manager and an AICP certified planner.  Brandon has worked in the non-profit, private, and public sectors since 2004.  He was a long range planner for the City of Lincoln for eleven years and has been the Director of the Community Development Department for the City of Council Bluffs for the last three years.

We asked Brandon Five Questions.

1.   What is a brief summary of the First Avenue Project? 

First Avenue, a former railroad corridor, is a 66’ wide right-of-way stretching from I-29 in the west to Indian Creek in the east. It is one block south of West Broadway and represents an opportunity to link downtown Council Bluffs with downtown Omaha and all points in between. Roughly 30% of Council Bluffs residents live within a half mile of First Avenue. The corridor is lined with businesses along West Broadway, destinations such as Thomas Jefferson High School and Cochran Park, and numerous opportunities for mixed-use and multi-family residential redevelopment.

FIRST AVE” is an acronym that stands for Furthering Interconnections, Revitalization, Streetscapes, Transportation, and Aesthetics for a Vibrant Economy.

2.   How will First Avenue change the transportation environment in Council Bluffs? The broader metro area?

The trail in 1st Avenue will be 12’ wide and runs parallel to and one block south of West Broadway, CB’s main east-west corridor (former Highway 6).  The corridor links downtown CB to downtown Omaha.  The corridor is also being studied for transit which could ultimately link the medical centers in Council Bluffs to downtown Omaha and UNMC.  That vision could link tens of thousands of jobs and over 50,000 people within walking distance of the corridor on both sides of the river.

3.   What can Omaha do to enhance or complement the First Avenue project as we make our own development toward the river?

The greatest river cities have multiple linkages.  There are relatively few crossings of the Missouri River. There are tremendous redevelopment opportunities in Council Bluffs in very close proximity to the river and downtown Omaha—that should be factored in when planning for future growth.

4.   What can First Avenue demonstrate about how to build the city of the future?

We are focused on higher densities and mixed use built around a “multi-modal” corridor.  Whether people choose to get from place to place by foot, bike, scooter, car, bus, or streetcar, expanding these mobility choices improves quality of life.

5.   If you could magically change one thing in the metro area, or Council Bluffs in particular, with regard to transportation — without concern for cost or political will — what would it be?

In regards to transportation, I think it is difficult.  OK—ignoring all impossibilities of cost and politics….  There are not enough pedestrian/bike crossings of the Missouri River to unite the communities.  The Bob Kerrey Bridge is a great start, but the next opportunity for a pedestrian to cross is about four miles to the south at Veteran’s Memorial Highway.  In addition, our metro area crosses two states.  It would be great if we had a public transportation system (bus, BRT, and streetcar) that had “authority” across city, county, and state lines to best serve the whole metro equitably.  The way it works now for CB is we separately contract for bus service with Metro.  I have not looked at the numbers, but my assumption is that CB disproportionately pays for public transportation in relation to our share of the metro area population or more specifically, people living in poverty in this metro. In addition, what we pay for is not impressive in terms of cost versus ridership, leading many to question its value to the community.  In order to form a more equitable public transportation model, the cost burden of the provision of public transit service should be spread out across the whole metro.