Big thanks to Alex Joyce and John Southgate of Cascadia Partners for their excellent presentation on Wednesday, January 24. Entitled "Strategic Investment to Shape and Incentivize Development", this was Part 2 of a two part series exploring a developer's perspective on how land use policies impact development, and how communities can support vision with market realities.
There were several questions that we ran out of time to respond to during the webinar. Alex and John have graciously offered to write-in their responses. Both questions and responses have been edited for clarity and length.
If you are interested in watching the webinars, both parts can be accessed in our webinars archive.
Q: What kind of flooding mitigation was incorporated in the Entergy project? How were the necessary parking space numbers calculated?
A: There is a shared parking lot to the west/left. It has a powerline easement over it, so the development potential is limited, so it is going to be used for parking. Lots of storm water features will be incorporated into the parking area, as well as the development site itself. Parking ratios for our site plan were pretty standard for a city site, approximately 2-3 spaces per thousand for commercial and 1 per unit for residential. The site is well served by transit, and this is a highly walkable neighborhood – it is frequently our experience that jurisdictions require more parking than is ultimately necessary.
Q: What is the best resource for reaching out to potential developers? What websites or publications do developers look to to find out about possible projects?
A: Unfortunately, there isn’t a “one stop shop.” The absolute best way to get the word out is in-person meetings with developers, architects, brokers and leasing agents – once you reach a critical mass of those professionals, you’ll have a good contact list to keep people updated. I would also recommend reaching out to trade and professional organizations, such as Urban Lands Institute, ICSC, NAIOP, National Association of Realtors, CREW. There are local chapters of many of these organizations in many cities, and several have publications. Another thought – if there has been recent development in or near your community which aligns with your goals, reach out to that developer, the architect, etc. Cultivate relationships. And if there are certain users (say, a brewpub in your area that is looking to expand), cultivate relationships with them as well – you may end up serving as a “marriage broker” between a cool use and a solid developer, resulting in a new project that moves the dial in your community.
Q: I am leading a grassroots effort to revitalize an industrial area near downtown Bend, OR. There are many lots and landowners and there is not a lot of public property. In a situation like this, if the city wanted to take the lead on redevelopment, could they offer other incentives (beside land) to partner with developers and what might that look like?
A: The content of the first webinar covered a lot of the best incentives that can be offered, so I would reference that for specific incentive ideas. To highlight a few, look at tax abatement (e.g. Oregon’s Vertical Housing Tax Exemption for mixed use), TIF (urban renewal/tax increment financing), flexibility or financing of fees, expedited entitlement processes, and coordinated infrastructure investments.
Q: In the Baton Rouge project how did the public investment interface with the private development? Did the public sector provide direct funding or favorable lease rates? etc..
A: The public sector provided the land to the developer at a discount, in the form of a discounted land lease. So lower cost land, at least in the early years. The Redevelopment Agency also paid for soils testing, a structural assessment of the buildings, and for consultants (us) to get the zone change, preliminary site plan and financial analysis completed. These costs were minimal and happened before the development offering was issued. The developers were able to secure Historic Tax Credits, which are critical funds for restoration of the two historic buildings. In a future phase, the developer hopes to use Low Income Housing Tax Credits to build mixed-income housing.
Q: Do you have creative alternatives to paint that could serve areas that get SNOW?
A: Good question. I know the technology in paints and other heat-activated striping is evolving quickly. I would reach out to Andrew Howard at Team Better Block for more detailed information.
Q: When is the right time to do 'paint and tape' style projects on streets that currently lack activity?
A: Coordinating these demonstration projects during a larger farmers market, festival or other event when many people are already going to be there can be hugely successful. Piggy-backing on an existing event or coordinating to do the demonstration project in partnership with one or more organizations is a good way to ensure people will be there.
Q: Do you know of any grants to fund this type of streetscaping/community planning work?
A: I would recommend submitting a project application to Community Builders (they can help fund matching-grant projects) and I would also reach out to Andrew Howard at Team Better Block. Another organization to consider, based in Portland, is the Neighborhood Repair Project; they’ve been doing this work for at least twenty years. (editors note: The AARP Livable Communities program occasionally offers grants focused on placemaking implementation. Project for Public Spaces also offers resources).
Q: I would like to hear about more resources that city planners can use to find financial calculators, used to determine if a project is financially feasible. For example, how do developers determine the cost of construction? The cost of parking? How can these financial realities be used to determine if we have the right zoning in place? Or if there is even a demand for the land uses we want?
A: Interviews with developers (generally one-on-one to ensure confidentiality). RS Means is an online resource for average construction costs, but it does cost money to access. Costar is an online resource for rents, lease rates, sales prices, etc. that would allow users to understand market strength, but it also costs money. Market demand is difficult to predict, particularly for development types that do not exist already in your community. One needs to be able to read between the lines of data that isn’t exactly what you’d ideally want. For instance, looking at home sales trends in different areas of a city can give a sense of changing market dynamics – and Zillow provides both free and paid data for that kind of exercise.
Q: Do you know of towns that have preserved their "rural character" while not restricting all development? Can you give pointers to literature that talks about models for the "right kind of growth" in similar settings?
A: While most of my work has been in the Midwest and West, I’ve worked in small towns quite a bit and preserving the “small town feel” is always at the top of the list. Usually what this means, practically speaking, is building scale and certain key design elements that reflect local history. Many codes, however, make building what people like impossible. I would recommend an exercise where you have people choose a specific building that they think captures the “rural character” or “small town feel” and go through an exercise (or hire someone) where you ensure that the code allows you to (re)build those cherished buildings. Usually this uncovers changes that need to be made. Our firm (and others) add into that exercise a pro forma analysis to ensure that the new zoning standards are also economically feasible. One other philosophical point – it’s important to remember (and to point out to those who are fairly aggressively “anti-growth”) that making it difficult to develop in the existing town only puts pressure on nearby rural areas to accommodate whatever growth might come to the area. By all means impose design standards and perhaps a review process that allows the town to protect the qualities it values in the built environment (scale, materials, consistency with historic character, etc.) – but don’t make it so difficult to build that developers go outside and sacrifice the countryside.