By Cati O'Keefe.
Many builders and developers bristle at the myriad rules and regulations involved in building TNDs. They see a successful but rigidly managed project like Celebration sell well and decide that they can do the same thing and make a lot of money--but without the pattern books, narrow alleys, and retail.
Andres Duany, principal of DPZ, roundly denounces this practice: "It is conceivable that the compromises will lead to a collection of the worst aspects of the conventional suburban model. Then when the miserable result doesn't sell, it is blamed on the TND concept."
Although other experts concur with Duany, many also understand that as the TND process evolves that compromises--or hybrid communities--will have to be built. "Many builders feel they have to cave on one or two things," admits Speck, "but though they might achieve a certain bonus in the marketplace by providing the TND look, the true large-scale gains that one accrues in TND come with the formation of community, which is only possible with mixed use and walkability. ... You can find the TND look has provided a 5 percent bonus in value, but it could have been 35 percent."
Today, main street retail is trendy, which has helped builders get mixed use past the zoning board. But builders still have to make sure they don't let mixed use get zoned out, or worse, left in the plan only to wither because density levels aren't high enough to support retail.
"Density is necessary to create a viable, walkable environment to support the corner store and life-cycle housing. Unfortunately, it gets nibbled away," says Myers.
Mixed use was an issue starting with the first TND. When developer Robert Davis realized that a fledgling corner store wouldn't thrive in Seaside because the community was being built street by street, he went the retail-incubator route: He subsidized the store, which cost him the equivalent of about one lot per year.
On Daniel Island, a TND in Charleston, S.C., developer The Daniel Island Co. pre-loaded the retail to show prospective buyers the mixed-use concept. To provide grocery shopping while the 1,200 home sites were still being developed, the developer guaranteed grocery chain Publix that it would be the only grocery store on the island if it opened for business before the houses were built.
Putting up a TND in an infill or urban location helps with the retail component because you're not dependent on your community to support retail. In Denver's mega-TND, Stapleton (12,000 units at build-out in 15 years), the community boasts a 74,000-square-foot retail center even though at this writing only 100 single-family homes were occupied. "The surrounding neighborhoods were starved for retail," explains Tom Gleason, vice president for public relations for developer Forest City. "The retail would have probably come in if there were no houses up."
Stuck in the sand?
Though it sounds like an easy thing to do, providing walkability in communities is a complex issue. "The single worst aspect of municipal involvement is requiring roads that are designed for cars," complains Speck.
Speck points to estimates that say people make about 11 to 13 car trips a day; only two to four of them are work related. The rest can be handled in the neighborhood on foot if the community is designed properly. "But if the streets are too wide, the street trees are not solid, there are no alleys, the blocks are too long, the sidewalks are inadequate ... all of these things undermine walkability without which community can't effectively form," he says.
How do you make sure walkability is left in? "Builders need to learn the right way to argue for low-speed roads," says Speck. And they need to hold the line. "The answer can almost always be found nearby, in communities built before 1940 that have streets with the sizes and geometries that New Urbanists advocate," notes Speck. "These surprisingly narrow streets function perfectly well, are safer than their modern counterparts, and create communities of the highest real estate value."
Bad hybrids often result when affordability gets stripped out. "The idea is to have a complete cross section of life cycles--including affordable," says Myers. "In the political process, the highest density gets cut out. It's not the planner, not the builder, not the market--it's citizen opposition."
Christopher B. Leinberger, a partner in Santa Fe, N.M.-based Arcadia Land Co., thinks the problem lies elsewhere: "Part of it is pure greed [by builders/developers]. Part of is when you build special places, prices go through the roof. But the biggest factor is that there is pent-up demand."
Builders who try to include affordable housing claim that even when they get the affordable zoned, they can't control price hikes. Stapleton addressed the problem of bid-ups in the community's initial planning. "Of the 8,000 single-family units planned, 800 will be priced for people making 80 percent of the area median income," explains Gleason. "The company permanently caps the prices of the 800 below-market-rate, single-family homes through deed restrictions. This means that buyers of these homes--though they can get some credit for home improvements--will be limited on how much they can resell their homes for."
Watkins' beef is that the lack of lot size options hamstrings builders. "We need permission for smaller lots. Who's to say people wouldn't be happy with an 11-foot-wide townhome, particularly singles and young couples," he notes, pointing to old city districts like Old Town in Alexandria, Va., where narrow townhomes are coveted and pricey. "People looking for a more affordable lifestyle would buy a small house in a neighborhood in a heartbeat. In fact, in Kentlands, the smallest homes are the ones that have appreciated the most because demand is so high," Watkins adds.
Some areas have moved ahead with the density needed to keep homes affordable, like Langley, Wash., with its Cottage Housing Code that allows four to 12 small detached cottages on sites that would otherwise be developed with half as many homes. Or, on a larger scale, DPZ has unveiled a new initiative to implement a national Smart Code, a generic land planning code that will put TND--with all its components, including affordability and density--on an even playing field with CSDs.