On Common Ground: Summer 2005


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Strengthening Older Neighborhoods

When the Smart Growth discussion began in the mid-1990s among citizens, public officials and planners, the primary focus was on managing growth at the urban fringe. The conversion of large amounts of farm and forest land to low-density development was a major concern then, as it remains today. But over the past few years, it has become more widely recognized that the revitalization of existing communities is also a vital element of Smart Growth, and maybe a more fruitful arena for focused attention.

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On Common Ground: Summer 2005

  1. 1. Revitalization meets Smart Growth W hen the Smart Growth discussion began in the mid-1990s among citizens, public officials and planners, the primary focus was on managing growth at the urban fringe. The conversion of large amounts of farm and forest land to low-density development was a major concern then, as it remains today. But over the past few years, it has become more widely recognized that the revitalization of existing communities is also a vital element of Smart Growth, and maybe a more fruitful arena for focused attention. 2 ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2005
  2. 2. There are obvious advantages to developing in existing communities — infrastructure is already in place, and meeting growth demand with infill and redevelopment could help reduce the gob- bling-up of open countryside. But targeting older communities for growth and investment also offers great opportunities for improvement. These com- munities have experienced decades of disinvest- ment and often provide little in the way of retail services that are taken for granted in the newer suburbs. Growth — new housing and commercial development — can be used to complete these neighborhoods by offering a wider range of hous- ing opportunities and by creating mixed-use walk- able neighborhoods that meet an increasing market demand. We have tracked the increasing interest in walkable, mixed-use communities in the Smart Growth surveys undertaken by NAR as well as the surveys of others. Increasingly, consumers are saying they want to walk to destinations such as shops ban expansion, and and restaurants, and they are willing to live Smart Growth pro- in higher-density housing in order to ponents still need to achieve this lifestyle. Last year, 12 percent focus energies and of all existing home sales in the country budgets on preserv- were condos, and condos appreciated more ing open space and in percent of value than detached houses. improving the plan- As articles in this issue of On Common ning models for new Ground illustrate, this demand is being met suburban and exur- with new housing and retail development in ban development. the downtowns of cities large and small, in But investing in and older suburbs that are creating new mixed- strengthening older use downtowns, and in smaller Main Street towns. communities is a winning Smart Growth strategy Make no mistake, the predominant develop- for creating better neighborhoods and a wider ment pattern continues to be low-density subur- range of housing options. For more information on NAR and Smart Growth, go to www.realtor.org/smartgrowth. On Common Ground is published twice a year by the Government Affairs office of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (NAR), and is distributed free of charge. The publication presents a wide range of views on Smart Growth issues, with the goal of encouraging a dialogue among REALTORS®, elect- ed officials and other interested citizens. The opinions expressed in On Common Ground are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policy of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, its members or affiliate organizations. Editor: Joseph R. Molinaro, Manager, Smart Growth Programs NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® 500 New Jersey Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20001 Distribution: For more copies of this issue or to be placed on our mailing list for future issues of On Common Ground, please contact Ted Wright, NAR Government Affairs, at (202) 383-1206 or twright@realtors.org. SUMMER 2005 ON COMMON GROUND 3
  3. 3. 28 Attractions of the Small Town 58 All Aboard! 52 16 The Code New Life in the Old Burbs Word Is Smart 4 ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2005
  4. 4. On Common Ground Summer 2005 6 New Downtown Housing Not just the biggest cities. by Martin Zimmerman 22 10 If You Rebuild, Will They Come? The revitalization of Main Street. by Brad Broberg 16 The Code Word is Smart Growth What Was Once Building codes are reflecting Old Is Now New the demand for revamping older structures. by John Van Gieson 10 22 What Was Once Old Is Now New Transforming greyfield sites into new communities. by Jason Miller If You Rebuild, 28 Attractions of the Small Town Will They Come? by Brad Broberg 32 No Vacancies Cities struggle to reclaim abandoned properties. by Jason Miller 38 Smart Growth Redo of Mid-Size Cities by Heidi Johnson-Wright 44 Commercial Comebacks by David Goldberg 52 New Life in the Old Burbs Diverse home buyers are reviv- ing older, inner-ring suburbs. by Steve Wright 58 All Aboard! Streetcars lead the way to Neighborhood Reinvestment. by Christine Jordan Sexton 64 Smart Growth in the States On Common Ground thanks the following contributors and organizations for photographs, illustrations and artist ren- derings reprinted in this issue: Baltimore County Office of Communications, Boulevard Centro, Payton Chung, City of North Miami, Congress for the New Urbanism, Continuum Partners LLC, Kay Dannen of Shiels Obletz Johnson, Inc., Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., Alan Feinberg of Central Maryland Development, Inc., Flaherty and Collins Properties, Jill Freeman, Francesca Gambetti, Shiels Obletz Johnsen, Inc., Val Giannettino of Downtown Partners Inc. in Burlington, Iowa, Leslie Grower of Center City Commission, Emily Hall of Durkee, Brown, Viveiros & Werenfels Architects, Hillsborough Area Transit Authority, Hoyt Street Properties, Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, Littleton Main Street, Inc., Alex MacLean, Rich McLaughlin, Ed McMahon, Urban Land Institute, Metro 2005, Darrell Moore, Myhre Group Architects 2004, Novare Group, Steve Rosenthal, Joe Schilling, Patricia Shetley of Patricia Shetley and Associates, Inc., Michael Stevens, DC Marketing Center, Douglas S. Storrs of Cornish Associates, LP Told , Development Company, Unity Council, Beth Van Der Jagt of Looney Ricks Kiss Architects and Wisconsin Department of Tourism. SUMMER 2005 ON COMMON GROUND 5
  5. 5. new downtown housing Not just the biggest cities By Martin Zimmerman T he Upsurge To the relief and surprise of those who savor an urban lifestyle, the housing boom which has flourished in and near down- towns over the past decade shows no signs of abating. Equally unexpected is that this boom is common to cities of widely varying sizes and in all regions of the country. In cities with an industrial legacy, converted warehouses within easy walking distance of downtowns are attracting the young, affluent professional market. Hip and artsy districts are taking root with names like SoMa, Lodo, SoDo and DUMBO…all derived from Manhattan’s cast iron Soho district where it all began. Let’s call this Type I. Type II is characterized by the construction of new housing on close-in open sites. Type III is associated with the conversion of vacant but architecturally notable buildings such as department stores or office buildings. Type IV focuses on new infill projects. Type V has just begun to emerge in some of the bigger cities and consists of new luxurious high-rise con- dos planned for the over privileged. And what of the loft? Its popularity is so pervasive that it is being replicated in the three other types of buildings…and with no apologies to Soho. Charlotte, N.C. 6 ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2005
  6. 6. The Determinants However, to truly contribute to an urban lifestyle, downtown housing depends on a support system, i.e. a set of determinants. Based upon a study by the Brookings Institution, these are listed as follows: • Downtown political and business leadership must be pro-housing. • City financial subsidies must be allocated to housing. • Zoning must mandate high-density housing in conformance with compact, coherent districts based on the New Urbanist model. • Downtowns must express a rich blend of old and new architecture. • Downtowns must slow down the auto, minimize parking and give the pedestrian and cyclist priority. • Downtowns need to encourage and tolerate pedestrian-intensive activities such as farmer’s markets, street theatre, political leaflet- ing and sidewalk vendors. This means the kind of spontaneous interaction that is impossible in the suburban malls. • Downtowns must be clean and safe. • Neighborhoods bordering downtowns should be attractive with unhampered access to downtowns by foot, car or bicycle. • A downtown management entity must coordinate the affairs of the various facets of a downtown. Springfield, MO Downtown Springfield sits within a city of 150,000, including two uni- versities located a few minutes away. Throughout the 1980s and early 90s, downtown remained a fraction of its former size, the only evidence of housing being a few makeshift lofts and rooming houses. Things began to change in 1998 when a maverick developer bought a vacant building and converted it to five lofts. Over the next two years another 55 units were added and a local business pumped $3.2 million into a start-up brew pub. Soon other pubs and restaurants sprouted, a nonprofit Downtowns need to encourage and tolerate pedestrian-intensive activities. Community Development Corporation (CDC) was formed, a downtown plan was prepared and 13 banks pooled money for gap financing. All of this set the stage for the real housing surge. In the last three years anoth- er 166 units have been built, 60 are currently under construction and 86 are planned. This raises the total to just under 400. Rents have remained affordable in the $600-$1,200 range. In Springfield, virtually all of the housing is Type III — adaptive reuse of older buildings. “In bigger cities, inserting three- or four-hundred housing units of housing in the downtown does not make much impact. In Springfield it has had a major impact,” says John Simmons, director of the Urban District Alliance. Charlotte, NC Unlike other cities which stood helpless while businesses fled, Charlotte, in keeping with its corporate ethos, fought back with a vengeance during the 1970s and 80s. Such zeal came at a price as numerous historic structures fell to the wrecking ball, and the Brooklyn African-American community was leveled to make way for a sterile gov- ernment center. SUMMER 2005 ON COMMON GROUND 7
  7. 7. By the 1990s a consolidation and redirection Hope VI effort mixed race, income and housing took place consistent with the determinants stated types to create a model neighborhood of 750 resi- above, and several blockbuster projects were built. dences, now called the Garden District. Building Foremost among these was the Nations Bank head- setbacks, architectural scale and street presence quarters, a centerpiece for uptown (as referred to in were all conceived in accordance with New Charlotte) which combined an elegant 60-story Urbanist principles. The Gateway mixed-use proj- tower with a home for the Charlotte Symphony. ect combined 699 units of mid-rise housing with a Meanwhile, residential population remained static Bank of America office facility and a New Urban at 3000 units. campus for Johnson and Wales University. In 1998 the housing upsurge began with a num- As a result, residential units increased in uptown ber of different projects moving forward simultane- from 3,000 in 1995 to 9,500 in 2005. In the past 10 ously. The heaviest concentrations occurred in two months developers have unveiled plans for eight projects — Hope VI and Gateway Village. In addi- high-rises, including one that will soar to 56 stories. tion to replacing deteriorated public housing, the It looks like a goal of 12,000 by 2007 is within reach. Other Cities Downtown housing is a Birmingham, Alabama – By 1998 this city had long-awaited and much- added 14 apartment buildings with six more planned. Initially rentals, there has been a shift to heralded success. a 45-percent ownership level. Developers also have been working towards conver- sion of the John Hand building, one of Birmingham’s first skyscrapers, Planned housing development in Charlotte, N.C. into a mixed-use facility with a bank, residences, offices and a health club. Memphis, Tennessee – The cre- ation of downtown housing in Memphis has been a mix of large and small projects. Mud Island, an ongoing effort which straddles the downtown zone, has grown to 2,600 housing units since the late 1980s, of which 75 percent are apartments. As of 2003 plans were afoot for another large undertaking mixing Hope VI subsidized units with mar- ket-rate units. Financing was being arranged through HUD ($35 mil- lion), City of Memphis ($18.1 mil- lion), private equity and loans ($58.5 million) and public and private grants ($14.7million). Other intrigu- ing projects include the conversion of the imposing central rail station to housing and the Rivermark Apartments, converted from a Holiday Inn. Cleveland, Ohio – Despite an ominous population decline in the city overall, the 2000 census indicat- ed a 51-percent growth in downtown housing to a total of 8,105 units. The regeneration of the Warehouse District has contributed to this change, where an investment of $133 million has paid off with 1,000 apartments and associated night life. 8 ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2005
  8. 8. Mixed housing and affordable housing must exist. Conclusion Clearly downtown housing is a long-awaited and much-heralded Memphis, Tenn. success. But is that really the case? Upon closer scrutiny, it appears that unless several warning signs mass transit use and undermines aspirations for a are heeded, downtown housing may fall short of 24/7 lifestyle. its full potential. In too many situations, vital serv- How downtowns will relate to suburbs is yet ices such as grocery stores, hair salons, dentists or another issue. Even in larger cities, downtown dry cleaners are missing. Houses of worship, populations will not likely exceed 30,000 resi- branch libraries, YMCAs and public schools are dences while metropolitan regions are in the mil- also absent. lions and still growing. Even more foreboding is a Lower-income and family living is essential to recent contingent of suburban developers who bring balance to the current dominance of affluent have jumped on the bandwagon with plans to con- singles and wealthy empty-nesters. Given the rise struct loft condos “for people who don’t want to that has already occurred in land values, such a live in the city.” move will most likely require public subsidies. Nevertheless, the hope is that with each project Before high-rises are built, their architectural completed, downtown housing will take another qualities require design review. An ugly building step toward overcoming the warning signs while that is three stories high cannot mar the skyline of continuing to enrich the urban experience in the a downtown as much as a slapdash structure ris- process. ing 30 stories. Parking, when allowed to remain at or near Martin Zimmerman is an architect, planner and urban suburban ratios, means less walking, biking or affairs journalist currently residing in Charlotte, N.C. SUMMER 2005 ON COMMON GROUND 9
  9. 9. If you rebuild, 10 ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2005
  10. 10. will they come? the revitalization of Main Street By Brad Broberg A s former director of the National Trust Main Street Center, Kennedy Smith knows Smart Growth when she sees it — even when serendipity rather than strategy is driving the bus. A program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Main Street Center helps towns and neighborhoods revive declin- ing business districts through a tried-and-true blend of design, development and restoration activities. Supported by public and private investment, the Main Street approach provides communi- ties with a blueprint for reviving and preserving the unique histo- ry, architecture and vitality of old-fashioned downtowns. In most cases, says Smith, communities adopt the Main Street approach as a way to fight back against outlying shopping malls and superstores that have sucked the life out of their longtime com- mercial cores. However, like a box of Cracker Jacks, Main Street initiatives offer something besides the popcorn and peanuts of eco- nomic development. They also offer a prize — Smart Growth. By transforming downtrodden downtowns into desirable desti- nations, Main Streets not only give communities an economic shot in the arm, they also give them a new tool to manage both commer- cial and residential growth — whether they know it or not. “Every community comes to it from a different direction,” says Smith, now a principal with the Community Land Use and Economics Group. Some recognize the Main Street approach as a Smart Growth strat- egy and treat it that way. In most communities, though, the link between Main Streets and Smart Growth remains “a happy coinci- dence,” she says. SUMMER 2005 ON COMMON GROUND 11
  11. 11. In Connecticut, for instance, the power company spreading as Main Street initiatives — both new started a statewide Main Street program because it and old — begin to include more housing, says wanted to spark growth in places where it already Smith. And why not? Downtown residential growth provided service and douse demand for new con- not only offers a potential alternative to sprawl, it nections outside of town, says Smith. “They were generates more customers for downtown mer- Smart Growth advocates without realizing it,” she chants, she notes. says. Consider Burlington, Iowa, population 26,500. Either way, if done right, Main Street initiatives Perched on the banks of the Mississippi River in promote key principles of Smart Growth — including the southeast corner of the state, Burlington was If done right, Main Street initiatives promote key principles of Smart Growth. Burlington, Iowa density, walkability and infill — with both a carrot once a bustling steamboat port and booming rail- and a stick. The carrot is a rejuvenated business road hub. But that was 100 years ago. Over time — district that attracts people and development alike and under pressure from a new shopping mall — and makes the entire community more prosperous the city’s once-thriving downtown slowly declined. and appealing. The stick is a set of zoning regula- Burlington’s nadir came in 1980 when the once tions that force — or at least strongly steer — devel- prestigious Hotel Burlington — or the H tel opment toward Main Street rather than letting it Burlingto as locals dubbed it after letters started ooze to the outskirts of town and beyond. disappearing from its sign — closed, says Smith. Smith can point to many communities that are Fed up with being boarded up, Burlington making all the right moves, using Main Street launched a Main Street initiative in 1986 that strategies to rekindle traditional business districts steadily turned downtown around. In the begin- while at the same time fostering Smart Growth. It’s ning, that meant restoring downtown’s retail pulse a two-birds-with-one-stone game plan that’s by forming public-private partnerships, recruiting 12 ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2005
  12. 12. hundreds of volunteers and encouraging commu- nity-based investment to redevelop hundreds of once-proud properties in need of some TLC — and tenants. Now, however, it’s time to reassess where new opportunities lie, says Val Giannettino, executive director of Downtown Partners Inc., which man- ages the town’s Main Street program. “We have to reinvent ourselves,” she says. Taking its cue from a statewide push to promote downtown living, Burlington is adding more and more housing to its downtown mix, says Giannettino. Yes, she admits, uttering Iowa and downtown living in the same breath sounds akin to associating Manhattan with corn fields, but that doesn’t bother Burlington. “We have a downtown that would welcome all kinds of people,” says Giannettino. “We have tons of room to grow.” The story of Schramm’s Department Store sym- bolizes Burlington’s possible new future. After anchoring downtown Burlington for more than 150 years, Schramm’s closed in 1996 and sat vacant until a developer converted it into a mixed- use building with commercial tenants below and 13 upscale condominiums — featuring expansive views of the river — above. “When people tour the building, they are blown away,” says Giannettino. The Schramm’s project followed in the foot- steps of downtown Burlington’s first big residen- tial project — the use of tax credits to help convert the Hotel Burlington into 75 units of senior hous- Littleton, N.H. ing in 1998. Now, with the help of a $615,000 fed- eral grant, three downtown property owners are converting the upper floors of their commercial buildings into a dozen affordable housing units, says Giannettino. We have a downtown The tax credits and grant, while welcome, point to one of the biggest hurdles facing many Main that would welcome all Street towns as they pursue residential growth. “The greatest challenge is cost,” says Giannettino. kinds of people...and “There is a short list of people here with the money to do those kinds of projects.” tons of room to grow. The other challenge involves geography. Burlington is not within commuting distance of a metropolitan area or its suburbs and offers limited robust residential market, says Ruth Taylor, direc- ways for people to earn a living. Still, the potential tor of the community’s Main Street program. to absorb residential growth downtown is enor- Littleton, a 220-year-old town outside White mous as numerous classic brick warehouses stand Mountain National Forest in the northwest part of empty along the river waiting for a second life. the state, launched its Main Street program in “We’re poised and very ready for growth,” says 1997 after being hit hard by the loss of manufac- Giannettino. turing jobs. At one point, residents saw 17 vacant Littleton, NH, is another Main Street town storefronts every time they went downtown. With where housing is becoming a bigger part of the community-funded facade improvements, special downtown mix. In Littleton’s case, demand is events and market research providing the initial strong as a housing crunch — fueled in part by the momentum, the Main Street approach soon area’s recreational attractions — has created a helped pull Littleton out of its tailspin. SUMMER 2005 ON COMMON GROUND 13
  13. 13. We like to see a mix of uses downtown and housing is part of that. Littleton Main Street, N.H. Having regained its commercial health, down- housing is part of that,” says Phil Meyer, director of town Littleton is entering a new stage as the hot community and neighborhood services. Also in the housing market and a glut of office space are driv- mix are a growing number of new restaurants and ing the conversion of upper-floor offices into apart- galleries complementing traditional retail and ments, says Taylor. “More would be great,” she service business — a trend symbolized by the open- notes. ing of a brew pub in a former hardware store. Still, density can be a hard sell in a state where Located just west of Grand Rapids a few miles “zoning almost doesn’t exist” and the official motto from the shores of Lake Michigan, Holland, popu- is “Live free or die,” says Taylor. A proposal to build lation 33,000, kicked off its Main Street initiative in clustered housing within walking distance of 1984 to counter competition from a series of pro- downtown was rejected at the town meeting two posed outlying shopping malls. “Downtown was, I years ago, she says. The decision came despite the wouldn’t saying dying, but it was tired and strug- fact that sprawl is a very real threat, says Taylor. gling quite a bit at the time with the changing pat- “Unless you’ve lived in a city, you don’t understand terns of shopping,” says Meyer. the value of dense housing,” she says. Things heated up — literally — in 1988. That’s Founded in the 1840s by Dutch settlers, when the Main Street Committee spearheaded a Holland, Mich., is a Main Street town with a comprehensive public-private streetscape project diverse and growing mix of downtown housing beautifying downtown’s main drag and installing a options, including housing for students and staff network of pipes below the pavement that provide from Hope College, two large senior-housing com- radiant heat to keep a five-block area of downtown plexes, a pair of upscale condo communities and ice- and snow-free during the winter. numerous apartments above storefronts. One of the challenges facing any Main Street “We like to see a mix of uses downtown and initiative is the need to provide ongoing support. In 14 ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2005
  14. 14. Holland, a Downtown Development Authority vehicle for the long haul came recently when a (DDA) appointed by the city council supports the shopping mall that had once threatened down- Main Street initiative by assessing property own- town Holland and inspired the downtown’s revi- ers to provide management and maintenance talization went bankrupt. “They lost out not only services. The DDA also collects an assessment to to downtown, but also to another shopping mall provide free customer and employee parking. In built further away,” says Meyer. addition, assessments to fund marketing and pro- motion are collected via a state-authorized princi- Brad Broberg is a Seattle-based freelance writer special- pal shopping district. izing in business and development issues. His work appears regularly in the Puget Sound Business Journal Proof that Main Street initiatives provide a and the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce. THE NATIONAL TRUST MAIN STREET CENTER is the nation’s clear- inghouse for information, technical assistance, research and advocacy related to commercial district revitalization and preservation — all based on the center’s trademark Main Street Four-Point Approach. Design: Enhance the physical appearance of the commercial district by rehabilitating historic buildings, encouraging supportive new construc- tion, developing sensitive design management systems and promoting long-term planning. Organization: Build consensus and cooperation among the many groups and individuals that have a role in the revitalization process. Promotion: Market the traditional commercial district’s assets to cus- tomers, potential investors, new businesses, local citizens and visitors. Economic restructuring: Strengthen the district’s existing economic base while founding ways to expand it to meet new opportunities — and challenges — from outlying development. Source: National Trust Main Street Center of the National Trust for Historic Preservation (www.mainstreet.org). SUMMER 2005 ON COMMON GROUND 15
  15. 15. The Code Word is Building codes are reflecting the demand for revamping older structures SMART growth By John Van Gieson 16 ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2005
  16. 16. T he historic city of Newark, New Jersey’s largest, had fallen on hard times. Racked by a deadly riot in 1967, Newark spiraled downward into decay, poverty and crime. Its population plummeted from a peak of 473,000 in 1950 to about 273,000 currently. But today, Newark is going through a remarkable renaissance assisted in large part by a New Jersey building code facilitating renova- tion of older buildings. Known as the “Rehabilitation Subcode,” the new code in Jersey was designed to remove the barriers that made revitalization of vacant and underutilized older buildings prohibitively expensive and ridiculously complicated. In the Garden State, a densely populated state where half the housing stock was built before 1959, that’s a very good idea. “The Rehabilitation Subcode has led to a ‘rehabilitation renaissance’ in New Jersey,” said Susan Bass Levin, commissioner of the state’s Department of Community Affairs. “Because the Rehabilitation Subcode eliminates unnecessary regulatory barriers to the reuse of existing older buildings, projects throughout the state that were once overlooked by developers are finding new life and expanding housing and job opportunities for New Jersey residents.” Smart building codes promoting rehabilita- tion of older buildings have become a valuable Smart Growth tool. Maryland adopted a smart building code based largely on the New Jersey experience, followed by Rhode Island, New York and other states. Cities that have adopted smart buildings codes include Wilmington, Delaware; Wichita, Kansas; and Kansas City, Missouri. Existing building codes typically impose requirements that make sense in new buildings but may impede reuse of older buildings. “Local codes and regulations often act as impediments to Smart Growth, urban revitaliza- tion and livable communities,” said Ed SUMMER 2005 ON COMMON GROUND 17
  17. 17. McMahon, a senior resident fellow at the Urban Concerns that rehabilitation codes may compro- Land Institute. “Developers who would protect the mise the safety of older buildings is also a factor, but environment or restore a historic building are often smart building code advocates say it shouldn’t be. stymied by inflexible regulations.” “All of the rehabilitation codes that I know of “While these laws differ in their specifics, they have very high standards as far as safety require- all share a recognition that while older buildings ments go,” Hopkins said. need to meet standards for safety and accessibility Given the slow pace at which rehab codes are (just as new buildings do), they can be evaluated being adopted, it will take years before other states and regulated differently,” McMahon said. catch up to New Jersey. Smart Growth advocates, building code organiza- Toward the end of the last century, Newark tions, historic preservationists and home builders all appeared headed for a place on the scrap heap of extol the virtues of smart building codes promoting wasted cities. To its advantage, however, Newark revitalization of older buildings, but the movement had a large supply of fundamentally sound old has been relatively slow to catch on. buildings that with the right tools could be convert- Smart building codes promoting rehabilitation of older buildings have become a valuable Smart Growth tool. The best available information on the number of jurisdictions using smart building codes comes from the International Code Council (ICC), which adopted its model International Existing Building Code in 2003. Shortly after New Jersey adopted its new code in 1997, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development developed its model code, the Nationally Applicable Recommended Rehabilitation Provisions (NARRP) for use by other jurisdictions. The ICC drew heavily on HUD’s model code in developing its code for rehabilitation of existing buildings. The National Fire Protection Association has also developed a model rehabilitation code. “With the endorsement of the two national groups at the core of code writing, we’ll hopefully see more state and local jurisdictions adopting reha- bilitation codes,” said Johns Hopkins, executive director of Baltimore Heritage, a historic preserva- tion organization. The ICC reported that four states have adopted its existing building code: Michigan, Montana, New Mexico and West Virginia. Local governments have adopted the ICC code in 12 other states. HUD spokesman Brian E. Sullivan said it comes as no surprise that local officials have been slow to adopt new building codes promoting rehabilitation of existing buildings. “Adoption of a new code for- mat takes many years to be fully accepted in the thousands of local jurisdictions that adopt codes,” he said. “Also many communities have not adopted an existing building code but rely on their regular building code.” 18 ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2005
  18. 18. ed into the centerpieces of a dynamic, revitalized city. The New Jersey Rehabilitation Subcode helped to provide those tools, along with the open- ing of the $187 million New Jersey Performing Arts Center in downtown Newark in 1997. For the first time in years, New Jersey residents had a rea- son to reconsider Newark. Many existing homes have been or are being rehabilitated in the city’s residential areas, and sev- eral major redevelopment projects are planned for downtown Newark, including: •Clinton Street Lofts, a 10-story Beaux Arts office building constructed in 1906 that is being converted into apartments renting for $800 to $1,375 a month. •Hahne-Griffith, an old department store and next-door office building that are being converted into 266 apartments. •National Newark Building, the city’s tallest at 465 feet, an Art Deco office building that opened in 1931, that was converted into a high-tech office tower where cheaper rents are luring tenants across the Hudson River from New York. •1180 Raymond Boulevard, a vacant 448-foot Art Deco office building being converted into 195 market-rate apartments and 315 apartments for Seton Hall University Law School students. The National Newark and 1180 Raymond Boulevard renovations are projects of Cogswell Realty Group, which is spending $180 million to renovate the historic skyscrapers in the heart of Newark. Cogswell has taken the lead in investing in the new downtown Newark. The Rehabilitation Subcode was an important factor in redeveloping Newark, Jersey City and other New Jersey cities, said William M. Connolly, director of the New Jersey Division of Codes and Standards. In the first year after the code was The New Jersey code was specifically designed to remove barriers...that were discouraging renovation of old buildings. SUMMER 2005 ON COMMON GROUND 19
  19. 19. adopted, rehabilitation spending in the state’s five the extent to which the project had to comply with largest cities increased by 60 percent, compared to building codes. If the value was between 25 and 50 1.6 percent the previous year. percent, all of the rehabilitation work had to con- “The (1180 Raymond Boulevard) project archi- form to the building codes. If it was greater than 50 tect told us that without the new code it would not percent, the entire building had to be brought up to have been feasible,” he said. code. The New Jersey code was specifically designed The old New Jersey code went even farther, to remove barriers, such as requiring renovators to requiring full compliance with light, ventilation, widen hallways, that were discouraging renovation egress and fire safety provisions if the rehabilita- of old buildings. It creates four distinct categories, tion involved more than 5 percent of the building’s repair, alteration, addition and change of occupan- floor space. cy, with separate rules for each. There was a certain amount of flexibility in the New Jersey, along with many other jurisdictions, old code, but flexibility is frequently incompatible used to apply the “25/50 Rule” to rehabilitation with bureaucracy. projects. If the estimated cost of the rehabilitation “Codes are ultimately enforced by human beings work was less than 25 percent of the building’s and some peoples’ interpretations vary and that’s value, building officials had flexibility to determine what it is,” Hopkins said. “That aspect of it has not Local governments that embrace the code are rewarded with financial incentives. 20 ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2005
  20. 20. Smart Growth cannot work if you cannot build, if people cannot reuse, and if people cannot redevelop. changed with Smart Codes; it’s still enforced and interpreted by human beings, but what we said we were setting out to do (in Maryland) was codify common sense.” Maryland built on the New Jersey experience in 2000 when it adopted a building rehabilita- tion code known as Smart Codes. Local governments that embrace the code are rewarded with financial incentives. The Maryland incentives include priority for participating in state funding programs, his- toric preservation tax credits, and refunding up to 20 percent of the cost of rehabilitation. “It made huge numbers of projects feasible that were not feasible before the refunds when into effect,” said Harriett governments need to make it possible for builders to Tregoning, chair of the Smart Growth Leadership convert old buildings to new uses. Ultimately, Smart Institute. She is the former director of the Growth cannot work if you cannot build, if people Maryland Office of Smart Growth. cannot reuse, and if people cannot redevelop.” Even political groups are endorsing smart building codes. In an article on its Web site, the John Van Gieson is a freelance writer based in New Democrats Online concluded, “In order to Tallahassee, Florida. He owns and runs Van Gieson save our stock of historic housing, state and local Media Relations, Inc. SUMMER 2005 ON COMMON GROUND 21
  21. 21. 22 ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2005
  22. 22. new What once was old is now By Jason Miller Transforming I n the evolution of retail, shopping malls as we know them represent the end of an era. Increasingly, underperforming or obsolete malls — a.k.a. “greyfield” sites — are going the way of the dinosaur and being replaced by mixed-use neighbor- greyfield sites hoods, which allow residents to reach many of their daily needs by simply taking a short walk from their residences. Shops, restaurants, transit links, parks, offices, cultural buildings such as libraries and other needs of modern life are situated near res- into new idential choices that include single-family homes, apartments, condominiums and live/work buildings. Greyfields are becoming an increasingly common sight in the American landscape, the most common iteration of which is the communities conventional strip mall whose anchor tenant has moved out or whose bottom line has succumbed to the pressures of competi- tion from discount stores, Internet commerce and newer malls in newer suburbs. In its 2001 study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) reported that 19 per- cent of the nation’s 2,000 regional malls were in greyfield status or vulnerable to becoming so, having sales per square foot of $150 or less (one-third the rate of sales at a successful mall). Other studies have estimated between 4,000 and 5,500 smaller greyfield malls nationally. Resources for revival The CNU maintains certain principles for success when transforming greyfields into desirable places: • Evolve the site from a single structure into a district with subdistricts • Establish a street pattern • Reorient activity to face the street • Connect with the surrounding community • Integrate multiple uses • Design for human scale • Include housing • Customize to fit local needs But following these principles can be a challenge for munici- palities that are uncertain how to proceed or unaware of the resources available to them. One such resource is the third phase Left and above: Belmar in Lakewood, Colo. of the CNU greyfields study, slated for release in summer 2005. SUMMER 2005 ON COMMON GROUND 23
  23. 23. Following up on the first two phases, which identi- become a bustling, vibrant downtown district for fied the greyfields problem and presented case Lakewood, which had no such district before the studies on in-progress projects, the third-phase renovation effort began. report aims to serve as a guide for property owners, The recipient of a 2005 CNU Charter Award, developers, city officials and other community Belmar is approximately 40 percent complete at leaders to use in analyzing greyfields in their press time, with build-out scheduled for another neighborhoods. The report encourages an open- seven to 10 years. It represents the cumulative will minded approach to greyfield redevelopment, stat- of the city of Lakewood and its residents, who clam- ing that a mixed-use neighborhood is not always ored for a downtown, an identity for the city, says the best strategy for renewal; often, renovation or Will Fleissig, director for planning and design with reuse are more feasible approaches. For more infor- Continuum Partners LLC, the project’s developer. mation on the study, visit the CNU Web site at “The community had a very clear vision about www.cnu.org. what it wanted,” says Fleissig. “And now the vision Greyfield projects are booming, according to has national implications. We took a 1.4-million- New Urban News, a New Urbanist newsletter square-foot mall and worked with the city to down- based in Ithaca, New York. In late 2003 it counted size the retail and make the site denser without cre- 43 infill, greyfield and brownfield developments in ating a burden on the existing street — the transit its annual list of New Urban projects. The more lines allowed this. If you can increase a site’s den- mature greyfield redevelopment projects are the sity by two or three times while not increasing the beneficiaries of committed local city governments, burden on the adjoining roads, well, that’s what we and are following New Urbanist principles to much need to be doing in America — especially in the success. inner-ring suburbs.” In order to get out of the ground, however, Belmar Belmar needed more than political and community Lakewood, Colorado will. “To create a downtown, you need to create One of the more sweeping greyfield transforma- some kind of structured parking, and that can be tions in the nation, Belmar is a mixed-use renova- difficult to afford,” says Fleissig. “The city worked tion and redevelopment of the failing Villa Italia with us on investment that allowed for the new mall in Lakewood — Colorado’s fourth-largest city. sales tax revenues from the project to be garnered Composed of 23 city blocks (104 acres), Belmar has for the roads, the trees, the parking. It was a perfect financing solution — and it worked.” The market at Belmar Greyfield projects are booming, according to New Urban News. 24 ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2005
  24. 24. Belmar in Lakewood, Colo. Local response to Belmar has been encourag- ing, says Fleissig. “We’re seeing quite a bit of rein- It feels like a real vestment around the site — a resurgence in devel- opment in the vicinity. There’s at least a half downtown — and it’s dozen of these types of development nearby, try- ing to leverage our success.” only been created in Belmar has only recently opened up its first res- the last year. idential offerings, but even in these early stages, the home-buying public likes what it sees, says Steve Jones, a REALTOR® with Denver-based “The people who visit on the weekends are Kentwood City Properties. “We’re presently sell- overwhelmed at how many people are out and ing 12 loft-style condos in a mixed-use building, a about, enjoying the space,” says Jones. “In my more modern style and type which is pretty much opinion, five years down the road, Belmar is going the first of its kind in Lakewood. Out of those 12 to be used as a model across the country for how units, we’ve closed four and have four more under to do a huge infill project out of a mall. It feels like contract. a real downtown — and it’s only been created in “The response has been really good, and even the last year.” though some people look in and find the modern loft concept a little too harsh, the people who have Santana Row bought these properties are just blown away by San Jose, California having someone offer something this contempo- Santana Row started with a bang. In August rary in Lakewood. The buyers tend to be young, 2002, barely a year into its construction and a single, professional people who can’t afford to live mere month before its scheduled grand opening, in downtown Denver, but want the feel of an urban an unexplained fire erupted, torching 34 apart- loft.” ment units in the development. It was the largest The Belmar loft condos are selling for $239,000 fire in San Jose history, and it put a damper on to $255,000. All are 1,020 square feet and offer one Santana Row’s momentum, pushing the grand bedroom with a study or a den, plus a bathroom, opening out to the end of 2002. private outdoor spaces, garage parking and addi- Borrowing its name from Santana Park, a near- tional storage. by half-acre park that eventually will be incorpo- SUMMER 2005 ON COMMON GROUND 25
  25. 25. A place where residents can live, eat, shop, stay, and play — without ever getting in their cars. rated into the project, the 42-acre Santana Row is 18-plus restaurants — many from San Francisco, the largest mixed-use project ever built in San Jose. like Blowfish Sushi and the Straits Café — are get- At $1 billion, its price tag bears that out. In its past ting great reviews, and a traditional farmers’ mar- life, Santana Row was the Town & Country Mall, a ket helps to leaven the scene with a bit of down-to- conventional, single-story strip mall that had suf- earth flavor. fered from reduced patronage and sales tax rev- Cutting-edge technology inclusions mix well enue. In March 1997, Maryland-based developer with the elegant European ambience here. The res- Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRIT) purchased idential dwelling units offer broadband Internet the property, razing the mall and beginning con- access, wireless capabilities, 500-channel DirectTV, struction in 2001. This paved the way for a new, and multi-line phone service. A high-tech, 24-hour mixed-use development that FRIT contends will fitness center hosts residents. At the same time, two provide a “unique mix of shopping, dining, enter- parks are just a stroll away, outfitted with outdoor tainment and living, designed to enhance the indi- chess, an outdoor theater, splashing fountains and vidual experience.” eye-candy landscaping. So far, that prediction has held true. Modeled These condo properties were available for sale after a typical European urban space, Santana Row mere days before this article went to press. But with boasts high-density, mixed-use buildings that wall-to-wall amenities only steps away from resi- house every urban amenity imaginable — includ- dents’ doorsteps, few can doubt the sales potential. ing the 213-room Hotel Valencia and a 12-screen Already, Santana is generating sales tax revenue cinema. The raw numbers alone are impressive: for the city of San Jose and the numbers are rising • 558,000 square ft. of retail (680,000 sq. ft. at steadily. completion) Like most redevelopment projects of its scale, • 501 residential units, of which 219 are condos though, Santana Row has not been without contro- (1,201 residential units at completion) versy. While some observers hail it as a model for Retail options at Santana Row are decidedly Smart Growth, others have criticized it for compet- upscale, but many offer their wares to residents for ing too aggressively with San Jose’s newly revital- a discount. Walk down the pedestrian-friendly ized downtown — just 3 . 5 miles away — and main street and you’ll see more than 100 stores, another neighboring retail concern, the Valley Fair with names such as Gucci, Diesel, Ann Taylor, Mall. But Santana Row’s retail tenants dispute this Burberry, Anthropologie, and Crate & Barrel. The concern, saying those claims are unwarranted, that the development is filling a retail Santana Row, San Jose, Calif. niche that will attract a different market segment: one that will respond to Santana Row’s promise of a place where residents can live, eat, shop, stay and play — without ever getting in their cars. Bayshore Glendale, Wisconsin Built in 1955, the Bayshore Mall in Glendale, Wis., is about to get a new lease on life. In need of serious renovations, the mall struggled to compete in the changing marketplace of south- eastern Wisconsin. Since many residents in the area leave the state and travel to the Chicago area, where there is a 26 ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2005
  26. 26. Santana Row, San Jose, Calif. wider variety of retail options, developer Steiner + square feet of office space and 150,000 square feet Associates saw an opportunity to bring upscale of entertainment space, including several restau- retail to the region. In addition, Glendale, a com- rants and a possible comedy club and/or art the- munity minutes from downtown Milwaukee, was ater complex. Also included in the mixed-use proj- in need of its own town center to attract visitors ect is a residential component that will consist of from all over the state and bring Glendale a better 81 townhouse condominiums and 120 upscale sense of community. apartments. A one-acre “town square” park will The owner of the mall, Dallas-based Corrigan also grace Bayshore, providing a suitable locale Holdings, partnered with the city of Glendale’s for public gatherings, concerts and possibly ice Community Development Authority, which pro- skating. vided crucial public funding to move the $300- At press time, Bayshore had begun its construc- million project through the planning stages and tion phase. The project is slated for completion in into the construction phase. “This is an exciting fall 2006. time for the city of Glendale and its surrounding Reclaiming the land communities,” says Glendale Mayor Jay Hintze. “Over the next few years, Bayshore Mall will be Belmar, Santana Row and Bayshore are just transformed into a community gathering place — three examples of a nationwide effort to transform a town center that we’ve never seen before. The troubled properties into vibrant places where peo- evolution of the new Bayshore Mall will be excit- ple want to live, work and play. As malls and other ing to watch and will have a tremendous impact large-scale developments buckle under their own on the city of Glendale and the entire North unsustainable weight or unforeseen market forces, Shore area.” more opportunities should arise for knowledge- When complete, Bayshore will combine its able city officials, developers, community leaders open-air, town-square-style components with a and REALTORS® to reclaim the land, fix the mis- revitalized, enclosed mall component, offering 1.2 takes or simply move a property toward its next million square feet of retail space. Retail choices incarnation — hopefully, one that will last longer will range from large anchor tenants like Boston and contribute more to its community. Store, Sears and Kohl’s Department Store to many Jason Miller is a freelance writer, editor and publishing smaller retailers. Bayshore will include 180,000 consultant based in St. Paul, Minnesota. SUMMER 2005 ON COMMON GROUND 27
  27. 27. Small towns are drawing population, but they too must practice Smart Growth By Brad Broberg Walworth County, Lake Geneva, Wis. attractions of the small town I n the ebb and flow of American population Growth advocates, Feinberg and Tittas are passion- trends, many older towns and small cities have ate about fostering redevelopment — social, eco- been treading water. However, as many people nomic and physical — in the small cities west of the now search for lifestyle options, those communities Washington/Baltimore metro area. “These are great are in a position to play a leading role in managing old towns that have sort of been preserved in amber growth. for decades,” says Feinberg. “They are places that So says longtime planner and designer Alan were once real places that have fallen on hard Feinberg. Feinberg is convinced that helping “over- times and they need to reinvent themselves.” the-hill” towns and cities become more desirable One such place is Hagerstown, MD. A blue-collar places to live can spell the difference between con- city of 37,000, Hagerstown sits smack dab in front of tinued — and wasteful — consumption of open the sprawl that is spreading westward from the space and a more thoughtful and sustainable coast. Not long ago, Hagerstown took a giant step approach to growth. toward reinventing its future when the University of Together with veteran contractor Nick Tittas, Maryland chose downtown Hagerstown as the site Feinberg founded Central Maryland Development for a new branch campus. “That’s the best economic Inc. (CMD) to practice what he preaches. As Smart engine you could have,” says Feinberg. 28 ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2005
  28. 28. They are places that have fallen on hard times…they need to reinvent themselves. Optimistic about Hagerstown’s potential, CMD purchased a 4,000-square-foot building at a key downtown location and is converting it into a com- bination office/condominium. It is the first of many such projects CMD hopes to tackle and/or encourage others to tackle in downtown Hagerstown. Not long ago, CMD convened the “Hagerstown Initiative,” a gathering of more than 20 planning and development types who sympathize with CMD’s vision — not just for Hagerstown but for the country in general. “There are enough exam- ples all around to see the problem with just doing it the way it’s always been done — it’s not dense enough and it doesn’t pay for itself,” says Feinberg. “Water lines, sewer lines, schools…it just doesn’t cover the costs.” The same dynamic driving Feinberg’s efforts in Maryland — the outgoing tide of metro popula- tions — is at work at many other places around the country. In many cases, it’s occurring in similar counties — those on the edge of major metropoli- tan areas. Walworth County, Wis., is one of those Growth. In the meantime, the county has passed a places. Conservation Subdivision Ordinance that pro- Squeezed between Milwaukee and Chicago — vides incentives to developers who build clustered both less than an hour away — the county’s many housing such as the Sugar Creek Preserve, a 52- lakes and rural charms have long made it a popu- home subdivision that leaves 175 acres as open lar vacation escape for metro residents. Now, more space. and more of them are starting to make Walworth Compared to Walworth County, Chaffee County their permanent home. The county’s pop- County, Colo., would seem to have little to fear ulation of 97,000 is expected to grow by 25 percent from sprawl. The nearest large city, Pueblo, is 100 over the next 15 years, which will put pressure on miles away and Denver is 140 miles away. the agricultural open space surrounding the coun- Nevertheless, growth is a pressing issue. ty’s cities and villages, says Michael Cotter, direc- Nestled between the 14,000-foot peaks of the tor of the county’s land-use and resource manage- Rocky Mountains, Chaffee County sits in the high ment department. -and-dry Arkansas River Valley and has been “As a rule, the county wants to retain its agricul- growing at a rapid pace as more and more people tural character,” says Cotter. “I think that most discover its natural beauty and recreational attrac- people have that interest at heart. The (municipal- tions. While the county’s actual population gain ities) are very interested in attracting growth and may seem small — an increase from 12,684 in doing infill.” 1990 to more than 17,000 today — the percentage To help make that happen, Walworth County’s gain is not — 34 percent. various jurisdictions — cities, villages, unincorpo- Certainly, Chaffee County has plenty of room rated townships and the county itself — have within its 1,015 square miles to accommodate formed a committee to work on their state-man- many more residents, but that’s not the point, says dated comprehensive plans together to ensure Kathy Leinz, co-county administrator. “We don’t they are not at cross-purposes when it comes to want to lose the quality of life that people have discouraging sprawl and encouraging Smart SUMMER 2005 ON COMMON GROUND 29
  29. 29. come and stayed here for,” she says. that describes the rise, fall and rise again of rural Chaffee County is working closely with the populations in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. county’s three towns to pursue a new land-use Between 1990 and 1998, 71 percent of the nation’s strategy intended to ensure most of the county’s rural counties gained population, reported wide open spaces remain wide and open. “We want Johnson. The total gain was 3.6 million people, to focus growth around the towns, says Don Reimer, who Johnson described as a mixed lot of “retirees, planning director. blue-collar workers, lone-eagle professionals and The problem — not just for Chaffee County but disenchanted city dwellers.” Since that time, the for outlying counties everywhere — is that people rate of growth has slowed, but the trend continues, don’t necessarily want to live in or around a town he says. when they move from a metro area. “They want While Johnson’s research targeted county popu- acreage,” says Ken Johnson, a demographer and lation trends, he also gained considerable insight professor of sociology at Loyola University of into the realities governing the ability of small Chicago. towns to capture growth and curb sprawl. “It Johnson is the author of “The Rural Rebound,” a depends on how powerful the planning boards and special report for the Population Reference Bureau community leaders are about addressing what’s happening to their land, says Johnson. Not only that, but small towns must provide people with rea- sons to live there — especially jobs if the towns are located beyond commuting range from a metro area. “Would they like growth? Yes,” says Johnson. “Are they going to get it? Probably not without amenities.” One way some small towns are making them- selves more attractive is to use the Main Street approach to bring back the traditional. In Hercules, Calif., a Bay Area suburb of 20,000 that never had a traditional downtown, public-private partner- ships are creating a Town Center as well as a 167- acre Waterfront Quarter featuring four neighbor- The county wants to retain its agricultural character… most people have that interest at heart. Hagerstown, Md. 30 ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2005
  30. 30. Oktoberfest in Lake Geneva, Wis. We don’t want to lose the quality of life that people have come and stayed here for. hoods with narrow tree-lined streets and distinct and the parcel must be connected to municipal architecture. water and sewer services. Now, that decision has “If you’re looking for a placeless California come back to haunt the county in the form of bedroom suburb implementing Smart Growth… sprawl. “The precedent was set a while back and this is it,” said Steve Lawton, Hercules planning it’s hard to get the pendulum to swing back.” says director, in a case study published on the Local L’Estrange. “For some of these ranchers (the Government Commission Web site. opportunity to subdivide) is their retirement And then there’s the Chaffee County town of fund.” Buena Vista, population 2,500. There, the brother- Together with the county, Buena Vista and sister development team of Jed and Kate Selby other cities have been working on intergovern- have purchased 40 acres along the Arkansas River mental agreements that would encourage a more and are building a New Urbanism community in concentrated approach to ranch-land develop- an Old West town, mingling various types of hous- ment and ensure that less of the landscape is ing, businesses and — since the Selbys are avid freckled with homes. kayakers — a whitewater kayak park. “What we’re trying to do is guide develop- Called South Main, the community has room ment,” said L’Estrange.“We want it to stay out of for 800 new residents. “We’re pretty excited this the hillsides and open ranch spaces. Tourism is has come along,” said Jerry L’Estrange, the com- probably the county’s number one industry. If we munity’s town administrator. “It puts a significant begin to look like everybody else in the country, amount of housing in a confined space and helps who will want to come and visit us?” negate some of the sprawl.” About 20 years ago, Chaffee County began Brad Broberg is a Seattle-based freelance writer special- allowing ranchers to subdivide their land as long izing in business and development issues. His work appears regularly in the Puget Sound Business Journal as each parcel is at least two acres — any smaller and the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce. SUMMER 2005 ON COMMON GROUND 31
  31. 31. V acant properties belong high on the list of things most likely to damage a neighborhood — some- times irreparably. An empty house or building decreases surrounding property values, reduces tax revenues, raises municipal costs, attracts crime and poses a fire hazard. Add to these quantifiable challenges the very real psychological damage done to residents living in dis- tressed neighborhoods and you have a formula for blight in every sense of the word. The problem is pervasive. While the northeast and Midwest U.S. have higher levels of vacancies, there are isolated and scattered pockets of abandonment in virtually all cities or metro areas — even in fast-growing cities like Las Vegas, San Diego and Tucson. Strategies and solutions The problem of vacant properties is dire, but several key organizations and progressive cities and states have joined forces to find solutions. One of the fore- most players is the National Vacant Properties Campaign (NVPC), which is run by Smart Growth America (SGA), the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). Formally launched in July 2003, the NVPC advocates a synergistic approach to vacant properties, says Joe Schilling, professor in practice at the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech in Alexandria, Va. and one of the original founders of NVPC who now directs the research and policy programs for the campaign. “Once each year, we try to gather together roughly 100 people — practi- tioners, local government or community development organizations, private sec- NoVac tor folks, academics, researchers and public officials. At first we just wanted to share with them the purposes of the campaign and also brainstorm ways they can get involved, and get guidance from them about what they think the cam- paign should be doing and how best they could use its resources to help them revi- talize vacant properties.” Cities struggle to reclaim 32 ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2005
  32. 32. “Based on their input, we’ve solidified a fourfold mission: 1. Build a connected network of practitioners, policy makers and researchers. We want peo- ple to know there are other people working on the same problem. 2. Collect the latest information, research and best practices, and act as a clearinghouse for that information. 3. Develop a communication infrastructure — a Web site (www.vacantproperties.org), listserv, e-newsletter and more. 4. Provide technical assistance; i.e., guidance on what strategies and tools a particular commu- nity should use to revitalize vacant properties. “A lot of the practitioners tend to focus on the technical aspects of vacant property revitalization. Others look at the problem through the lens of broader policies related to Smart Growth, commu- nity development and regional equity. Intellectually, they recognize that these elements are all connected, but they tend to look at vacant properties through one lens or the other. Part of our mission is to give them that big picture, saying, you ancies really have to look at both of those dimensions of vacant properties to be successful.” Various approaches can be taken to deal with vacant properties, such as demolition and rehabilita- tion, brownfields initiatives, historic preservation and Smart Growth tax incentives, infill development and adaptive reuse. Generally speaking, code enforce- ment programs are one of the more successful tactics abandoned properties By Jason Miller SUMMER 2005 ON COMMON GROUND 33
  33. 33. currently being used. “The thinking here is that if Not surprisingly, a lack of public funding some- you bring a building up to code, it will remain occu- times complicates the situation, says Schilling. pied,” says Schilling. “Outside of the EPA’s brownfields money, there’s But Schilling cautions against adopting code very little dedicated federal funding.” enforcement in a vacuum. “That’s kind of the rub Some form of public funding is arguably imper- right now in a lot of cities,” he says. “Don’t just do ative, however, since development in urban set- enforcement alone; it needs to be done in conjunc- tings is typically more expensive than development tion with housing rehabilitation programs and on a greenfield site. Title problems, possible envi- resources” in order to achieve lasting success. ronmental clean-up costs, reluctant lenders — all affect the ability of a private developer to turn a Stubborn challenges profit or even break even. “Public funds are neces- But even with solid resources at one’s fingertips, sary in order to help support the infrastructure for it can be a challenge to begin the process of reclaiming the property,” says Schilling. “Then, reclaiming an abandoned property. Determining when you get to the stage of reuse, you need some property ownership is often the most difficult ele- public funds in order to support the urban pioneers ment, says Jennifer Leonard, director of the NVPC. — the community development corporations, the “Even if you find the person who you think owns small developers — the sorts of people who are the the property, they may have passed away and not first people back into a distressed neighborhood. had a will. If you find people who simply walked Public funds will help these pioneers to redevelop away from the property, they might think they don’t those first few properties and get a foothold so the own it anymore. The picture isn’t always this bleak, market can take over.” but that’s usually one of the big hurdles.” Successful REALTOR® involvement in Baltimore In Baltimore, Md., a coordinated public-private partnership is playing out. Over the past 50 years, the population there dropped from 950,000 to 675,000, leaving nearly 16,000 vacant structures concentrated in a handful of areas. In the wake of this, the city tried a variety of redevelopment efforts, each one attended by frustration on behalf of the private sector in its inability to wrest control from the city’s hands, says Bob Pipik, director of asset management in Baltimore’s Department of Housing and Community Development. “The transition began when Mayor O’Malley was elected in 1999,” says Pipik. A local group, Baltimore Economics and Efficiency Foundation (BEEF), took a hard look at city government func- tioning and identified property disposition as something that was harder than it needed to be. They recommended to the Mayor that we should work with local REALTORS®. At the same time, members of the Greater Baltimore Board of REALTORS® (GBBR) were com- plaining about the abandoned properties, says Jody Public funds are necessary in order to help support the infrastructure for reclaiming property. 34 ON COMMON GROUND SUMMER 2005