Featured Resource: Downtowns, Greenfields and Places In Between: Promoting Development Near Transit

This report published by the Center for Transit-Oriented Development (May 2013) fills a gap in the TOD literature by providing a resource to help communities understand the likely development impacts of new transit investments. It accomplishes this goal by focusing on how development around transit centers is influenced by the “development context” or “neighborhood type.” The authors divide existing development patterns into eight “development contexts” commonly found around transit stations. The report uses these contexts to assess the challenges and strategies each presents for transit-oriented development. With specific strategies for each development context, the report is an excellent tool for communities to implement TOD through locally appropriate, targeted policies.

The report begins by taking a more in depth look at the three light rail lines originally studied by CTOD in its 2010 Rails to Real Estate report and assesses where development did and did not occur within the framework of the eight “development contexts”:

  • The Blue Line (Charlotte Metro Area, NC) is characterized predominantly by low-density residential neighborhoods, industrial/distribution areas, and auto-oriented commercial corridors. Although most of the development opportunities are located in the auto-oriented commercial corridors, the actual development has occurred in the downtown area. The downtown is the only major employment center along the Blue Line and is characterized as an existing downtown/urban business district.
  • In the Twin Cities Metro Area, MN, 40 percent of the land along the Hiawatha Line is unlikely to develop or redevelop. The remainder of the land along the falls into a diverse number of development contexts. Despite significant amounts of underutilized or vacant lands in suburban employment centers, most development occurred in Minneapolis’ downtown.
  • The Southeast Corridor (Denver Metro Area, CO) is primarily a suburban transit line with opportunities for development predominantly in major greenfield/infill sites and suburban employment centers. However, almost no development has occurred in major Greenfield/infill sites. Actual development has occurred around suburban employment areas, auto-oriented commercial corridors and low-density residential neighborhoods.

The second half of the report delves into each development context in more detail, looking at the opportunities and challenges involved in fostering TOD in each setting. This section also provides strategies to encourage TOD in each development context.

1. Existing Downtowns/Urban Business Districts (e.g. Downtown Boston, MA)

  •  Opportunities: Businesses are attracted by regional visibility and close proximity to competition. Residents are attracted by proximity to work and amenities and regional accessibility. Typically, downtowns are already supported by several modes of transit and are pedestrian and transit friendly.
  • Challenges: High property values require high-end, high-density development to be economically feasible. Downtowns are often primarily “daytime” areas, making it difficult to support retail and entertainment uses.
  • Key strategies: Promote residential, retail, and entertainment uses to create a “24 hour” place, reduce parking requirements to reduce project costs, and adjust zoning and building codes to facilitate adaptive reuse of existing/historic buildings.

2. Major Suburban Employment Areas (e.g. Tyson’s Corner, VA)

This development context is characterized as a job center outside of central city downtown that is freeway-oriented. It includes major office buildings, retail centers, and business parks along highways.

  •  Opportunities: Large parcels and large parking lots are available for development. Business and landowners are often accustomed to collaboration.
  • Challenges: These areas are automobile-oriented, lack pedestrian amenities, and have limited retail or services. They are primarily “daytime” places and suffer from high traffic.
  • Strategies: Encouragement of non-automotive transportation through shuttles to improve transit accessibility, infrastructure for non-automotive mobility, and shared parking. Foster connectivity for pedestrians and cyclists through mixed-use development and increased density through zoning changes.

3. Legacy Industrial Areas (e.g. Arts District, Los Angeles, CA)

These areas range from districts with high vacancies to places where redevelopment has already occurred and vary in parcel and structure sizes.

  • Opportunities: Proximity to city employment centers and the unique building stock. Often, large parcels are under single ownership presenting a great opportunity for redevelopment.
  • Challenges: Poor pedestrian infrastructure, often with highways and railroads that prevent connectivity within the district. May also contain land contaminated by industry.
  • Strategies: Promote retail and service amenities through reuse of existing buildings by adopting flexible building codes, improve streetscapes, support environmental cleanup, implement district parking and allow for off-site parking.

4. Mixed-Use Neighborhoods/Main Streets (e.g. Lincoln Park, Chicago, IL)

These neighborhoods encompass many smart growth ideals and are either historic in nature or recently built in “greenfield” locations.

  • Opportunities: Mixed-use neighborhoods are ideal for TOD.
  • Challenges: Lack of sites for infill development. May suffer from traffic, circulation, and parking issues that present obstacles to future development. Local residents are resistant to development or change.
  • Strategies: Selecting appropriate parcels for development or redevelopment, assembling smaller parcels to make a more profitable development project, and promotion of higher density development in commercial corridors to bolster business and increase ridership for transit. Higher density may be achieved through adjustments in zoning that allow accessory dwelling units, preserving the character of the neighborhood.

5. Auto-Oriented Commercial Corridors (e.g. University Avenue, Twin Cities, MN)

Auto-oriented commercial corridors occur along wide streets or highways. Many are outdated consisting of low-value or vacant properties.

  • Opportunities: Located near residential areas that need retail services.
  • Challenges: Irregular parcel sizes and configurations, no incentive for current owners to redevelop when their property values are not increasing and their businesses are profiting, automobile-oriented with no pedestrian connectivity or amenities.
  • Strategies: Assembling opportunity sites, fostering mixed-use nodes around transit, and improving the non-automotive modes of transportation.

6. Industrial/Distribution Areas (e.g. South Boulevard, Charlotte, NC)

These areas contain low-density industrial uses and warehouses and are located near major highway exchanges, far from the urban core.

  • Opportunities: Economic shifts create large vacancies and low property values providing an opportunity for large-scale TOD.
  • Challenges: Lack of pedestrian infrastructure and low-density employment. Existing businesses require connectivity to high capacity roadways to ship their goods and produce pollution in many forms, making residential use undesired.
  • Strategies: Environmental remediation, large-scale investments in infrastructure for the public realm, and promotion of density and wider mix of land uses, including residential and commercial development.

7. Low-Density Residential Neighborhoods (e.g. Bethel Park, PA)

These areas range from single-residence urban to suburban neighborhoods served by commuter rails. Some are similar to urban mixed-use, while others are completely dependent on automobiles.

  • Opportunities: Limited to development of small commercial parcels near transit stations or increasing density on residential parcels.
  • Challenges: Small parcels, not equipped with pedestrian or bicycle-friendly infrastructure. Current residents want to maintain the character of their neighborhoods and are resistant to new development or increases in density.
  • Strategies: Small-scale, incremental increases in appropriate areas. Improving the pedestrian realm to facilitate pedestrian and bicycle access to transit.

8. Major Greenfield/Infill Sites (e.g. NUMMI Plant, Fremont, CA)

Greenfield sites occur when “transit lines extend into previously undeveloped territory.” Major infill sites are “located along new or existing transit corridors and become available through a change in tenancy or ownership.”

  • Opportunities: Large, underutilized or undeveloped parcels under single ownership offer huge areas to develop and attract master-planned projects. Master-planned projects may create mixed-use development and infrastructure in a comprehensive way and have a greater opportunity to receive public financing.
  • Challenges: Require huge infrastructure improvements and often require costly environmental cleanup prior to development.
  • Strategies: Consideration of broad, regional goals, working with and engaging developers to implement TOD goals, and assistance with environmental clean up to promote redevelopment of the parcel.

By identifying the development context or their corridor, communities can use the strategies outlined in the report to effectively foster development in targeted areas. Download the full report here.

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