The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission hosted a panel discussion Tuesday to discuss the benefits of mixed-use developments for the community. The development model involves integrating residential housing with commercial space.
Bob Adams is the president and founder of Housing and Development Advisors, an organization that promotes affordable housing in Virginia.
According to Adams, mixed-use building was common until the 1920s, when automobile usage increased and people were able to travel farther in the course of a day. However, that created new transportation challenges throughout the country.
“By the 1980s, people who wanted to work in Washington, D.C., in a service industry job were having to live in West Virginia and commute two and a half hours into work,” Adams said. “That had a lot of negative externalities that were not necessarily anticipated when we began to think about segregating uses.”
Since the 1980s, developers have begun re-examining mixed-use development as a way to maximize the density of an area and provide pedestrian-friendly communities.
According to Costa Canavos, a lending officer with Virginia Community Capital, the convenience of a mixed-use development is becoming more attractive to modern consumers.
“[Mixed-use development] is bringing people closer to the things they need on a day-to-day basis,” Canavos said. “You’re not necessarily dependent on your vehicle … that’s what these types of developments are doing now.”
Canavos added that mixed-use is also a method of revitalizing areas in need.
“The next thing you know, that dilapidated property that sat vacant for 10 years has now rebirthed itself into a vibrant, mixed-use development,” Canavos said.
According to Charlottesville City Councilor Kathy Galvin, mixed-use is the best generator of important tax revenue, which can be allocated toward infrastructure improvements.
“A seven- to nine-story midrise, mixed-use building in the downtown brings in, per month, about the mid-$[500,000 to] $800,000 per acre. A two- to three-story low-rise construction with housing or offices over retail can bring in $[70,000 to] $90,000 per acre,” she said, referring to a study of mixed-use development in Sarasota County, Fla. “Walmart, Costco, Sam’s Club … bring in about $8,350 per acre.”
Galvin added that the financial benefits are especially attractive to local governments, given the recession.
“We’re really losing the ability to create the kind of revenue streams we need to support the amenities we want,” Galvin said. “Aesthetics or walkability don’t always compel decision-makers to make these kinds of decisions to move towards mixed-use, but a fiscal crisis would.”
Although mixed-use development is beneficial, its use is often hindered by zoning regulations and financial backing.
Frank Stoner works with Milestone Partners, a local development services company.
“Implementation becomes a significant challenge because the process by which you get a mixed-use development approved is considerably more complex than the process by which I build by-right,” Stoner said. “If it’s going to take me a year and a half to get through the rezoning process … my willingness to go through that process is going to be mitigated by the financial realities of, ‘gee, I gotta get this thing going in order to pay my debts.’”
“In my experiences, we’ve run smack-dab into resistance from communities who say, we don’t want density, we want this infill project to have the same exact density as our neighborhood that was developed in the 1950s or 1960s,” Long said.
The panel members conceded that mixed-use development is not a universal solution to growth issues, and location is an important consideration to maintain.
“Mixed-use, high-intensity isn’t feasible everywhere,” Galvin conceded. “First you gotta know where not to build.”
However, she added that opportunities for mixed-use revitalization are readily apparent in many communities.
“By maintaining over 40 acres of cracked asphalt along a growth corridor such as Preston Avenue, we essentially … had five times less revenue produced from that corridor,” Galvin noted. “There is a price to pay for not redeveloping aggressively.”