COVER STORY, JUNE 2007
AN URBAN CORE WITH MORE
Cities and developers look to create, revitalize urban neighborhoods through New Urbanism techniques.
As land availability in metropolitan areas steadily decreases, developers and cities are looking inward towards the redevelopment of underutilized areas and existing neighborhoods to revitalize the community and market.
“New Urbanism reinvests in our existing, traditional neighborhoods with a greater emphasis on mixed-use and walkability, much like the neighborhoods built during the first half of the 20th century,” says Stephen Haase, vice president of development at San Diego-based Sudberry Properties.
According to Haase, the focus of New Urbanism helps to develop both physical and social environments and encourages interaction that creates a sense of belonging and place that is lacking in the post-World War II suburbs, which are oriented around the automobile.
By developing within existing communities and neighborhoods, pre-existing infrastructures are recycled in underutilized properties, which adds value to the surrounding market, by responding to market restructure and residents’ needs.
With Sudberry Properties’ involvement in San Diego’s urban development plan, Haase has seen first hand the efforts cities and communities take to revitalize an area.
“The City of Villages strategies adopted by the city of San Diego promotes distinctive neighborhoods and open space characteristics of the city and encourages the creation of unique, mixed-use villages to sustain long-term economic, environmental and social health,” Haase says. “The lack of undeveloped land necessitates a movement to high-quality urban development that leverages the benefits of traditional neighborhood development.”
Revitalizing and redeveloping a city’s urban developments is not as easy as it may seem. Although the infrastructure and many times the physical structures are present, developers and cities still face many obstacles when planning an urban redevelopment.
“Successful urban development rests on a delicate interplay of factors and variables including navigating the planning and entitlement process, an appropriate capital structure and balancing construction costs with project value,” says Scott Chaplan, CEO of Urban Holdings.
Chaplan emphasizes that the willingness and cooperation of the municipality, the residents and the developer to reconcile a project vision and priorities is paramount to a successful development.
Additionally, many local governments fail to keep pace with the need for infrastructure, which results in backlogs for public amenities such as parks, libraries and schools, notes Haase. This deficiency can make residents wary and resistant to the idea of possibly adding to the existing problem.
Haase explains that many communities need to increase residential density to accommodate population growth and use available land more efficiently. New developments are capable of meeting this demand, however residents tend to oppose new development until a resolution is reached for the existing backlog.
“Unfortunately, this prevents much needed private investment in older communities, which would also support essential public services and facilities,” Haase says. Also, many times zoning and infrastructure standards that support existing suburban developments are inappropriate for New Urbanist projects, which adds another obstacle to traditional neighborhood design.
Cities have traditionally relied on a plentiful supply of vacant land to meet the demand of increasing populations, allowing widespread development of single-family detached homes and a street and highway system to support automobile use. These suburban development patterns result in segregated areas and discourages walkability and the use of public transit, notes Haase. “The suburbanization of West Coast cities was typically at the expense of downtowns, as both businesses and residents relocated to green field development,” Haase explains.
As the environmental movement shed light on the unsustainable development pattern of suburban areas, there has been much propagation of various regulations that limit land supply, which increased the cost of green field development and made infill development more competitive. “Frustration with the lack of character and social connectivity of the suburbs, along with ever-increasing commute times, has refocused new development on addressing quality of life issues, in addition to land use design,” Haase says. This new awareness and concern has resulted in a greater acceptance of high-density, multifamily housing in a mixed-use, walkable environment.
Chaplan echoes the increased competitive nature of infill and urban development, as prices have increased dramatically. This increase has reduced the feasibility of most projects regardless of the development’s need or potential value to the community. Additionally, urban developers are facing increasingly restrictive and complex regulation and building code changes, which causes developers to craft a highly skilled team with diverse expertise to compete in the strict regulatory climate.
Since New Urbanism projects are reflections of the community and city in which they are being developed, there are no single projects that are seen as a typical model or prototype. “Each project evaluates the assets of a site and creates a development that meets community needs and fits with the surrounding neighborhood,” Haase says.
With the evolution of retail development from strip centers to regional malls and now to lifestyle centers, New Urbanism has a new outlet for development. According to Haase, adding residential uses to the retail experience would create a community that could further enhance The Grove, a lifestyle center in Los Angeles that includes a strong retail mix with a sense of place and experience.
“By returning neighborhoods to a more human scale, greater emphasis is placed on the pedestrian and less on the automobile, and many new residential subdivisions are being influenced by traditional neighborhood designs,” Haase notes. Otay Ranch in Chula Vista, California, is an example of a series of villages and neighborhoods that provides a high level of walkability to connect residential neighborhoods to retail, parks and schools. Master planned for more than 5,700 acres, the paseos and promenade streets have been designed to encourage outside activity and neighborly interaction with amenities to create a small town character.
Urban Holdings is currently renovating a mixed-use complex at 1963 North Cahuenga Boulevard in Los Angeles’s historic Whitley Heights neighborhood. The complex, which was built in 1925, consists of 104 apartment units, six ground-floor retail/commercial spaces totaling 8,000 square feet, 43 parking spaces and three billboards. The company acquired the property in 2005 and made minor renovations to the apartment units immediately following the acquisition. Extensive upgrades to the property’s common areas, plumbing and electrical systems and commercial component are now underway. The rehabilitation of the retail portion includes the addition of lifestyle amenities such as a yoga studio, a regional coffee franchise and attendant neighborhood retail. The renovations have been designed to preserve the former hotel’s art deco architectural elements. The Whitley Heights neighborhood has been designated a historic preservation overlay zone to ensure the ongoing protection of the neighborhood’s historic character, hilltop view and mix of architecture.
Sudberry Properties' Quarry Falls in San Diego
Sudberry Properties is currently developing Quarry Falls, San Diego’s largest urban village. Located on the last sand and gravel facility in Mission Valley, the 230-acre project will use a public park as the centralizing element and offer approximately 4,500 homes, more than 600,000 square feet of retail space and more than 600,000 square feet of office space. The design promotes efficient land use by minimizing surface parking and including residential development above the retail component. Additionally, the office portion is located in proximity to the transit system. Quarry Falls will also offer many public amenities such as a charter school, a river park museum, a fire station and a civic center that will offer programs and activities to build a sense of community. Planning efforts and approval are expected for the end of 2007, with construction slated to begin in early 2009.
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