BLOGS: Multifamily Focus

2006-12-31, 22:28

A New Year's message

By: Jonathan Groner
As the old year ends and 2007 begins (here in the Eastern time zone), I will provide a brief New Year's message.

The current issue of the Washington Business Journal (Dec. 29, 2006 - Jan. 4, 2007), on Page 5, lists the number of times that various words were used in the newspaper in the year 2006. (Ah, the wonders of electronic databases!)

"Mixed use" came up 276 times, a big jump from 179 mentions in 2005.

"Town center" came up 379 times.

"Green building" came up 89 times.

"Transit-oriented development" came up 31 times.

"Redskins" came up 135 times. Of course, the team only won five games.

But it does seem as if "mixed use" and related concepts are only going to be more important in 2007.

Happy new year to all.

2006-12-29, 09:43

Mixed use in the Richmond area

By: Jonathan Groner
Cloverleaf Mall is an old 83-acre shopping center west of downtown Richmond. Like a lot of malls built in the 1970s in close-in areas, it was not kept up to date and has partly fallen into disuse. A Sears store now sits unused, and only 20 tenants remain in the mall, on Midlothian Turnpike and Chippenham Parkway. Chesterfield County purchased much of the mall property in 2004 and has been looking for a developer partner. It now appears to have found one.

On Dec. 19, 2006, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that Crosland Inc., one of the largest developers based in North Carolina, will enter into a sales agreement with the county in January 2007 and that the mall will probably be rebuilt as a mixed-use development. One tentative Crosland proposal calls for 382 residential units, 120,000 square feet of office space, and 195,000 square feet of retail space.

In a May 2006 press release about the site, Crosland said it considers Virginia, and the Richmond area in particular, to be "an important market for the company's southeastern expansion." It also said that county officials were impressed with Crosland's "ability to handle all aspects of mixed- and multi-use development in-house."

Crosland has also developed Birkdale Village in Huntersville, N.C., which was named the nation's best mixed-use development by the National Association of Home Builders in 2003 and won the International Council of Shopping Centers Design and Development award for best mixed-use development. See my Dec. 25, 2006, post that discusses Crosland.

Mixed use is not a panacea, but it should definitely be considered as a redevelopment possibility for old, tired malls that have seen better days.

2006-12-28, 11:58

A condominium building above a homeless service center

By: Jonathan Groner
Million-dollar condominium apartments above a church that feeds several hundred homeless people each day? At least one D.C. developer thinks a hot downtown address -- 10th and G Streets, a block from a Metro transit station and walking distance to hundreds of professional work places -- makes this a good sell for urbanites. It's an unusual mixed-use situation, to say the least. The developer has agreed to spend $17 million, no small sum, to build a new sanctuary for the church. It could be a solution for everyone: the church gets a new facility to replace its antiquated one, the homeless continue to receive meals, "urban hipsters" have another fancy downtown location, and the developer makes money. But is the area already overbuilt? Can anyone sell condos these days in downtown D.C.? Here is how the Washington Post story from Dec. 27, 2006, begins:

Urban hipsters have shown a knack for dropping up to $1 million for condos in the heart of the District.

But will they spend that much to live over a church that feeds the homeless?

PN Hoffman, purveyor of high-style living, is betting they will.

The development company envisions 140 condominiums at 10th and G streets NW, where one of Washington's oldest churches has existed since abolitionists founded it at the end of the Civil War.

Only First Congregational Church of Christ isn't going anywhere.

As part of the deal, the developer will build a new sanctuary for the church, with eight floors of apartments above, along with balconies, a swimming pool and a fitness center.

When the new building opens, the church will occupy the first two floors and continue serving breakfast and dinner daily to several hundred homeless people. They will come and go through an entrance around the corner from the one used by the condo owners.

One-bedroom apartments would sell for between $400,000 and $500,000, while two bedrooms with a den would go for about $1 million, said David DeSantis, PN Hoffman's vice president of sales and marketing.

The full story is at

2006-12-27, 14:03

The mixed-use development that stole Christmas?

By: Jonathan Groner
These are the first few paragraphs of a Washington Post feature story, Dec. 23, 2006:

The Evanses' Christmas tree stretches to the ceiling, tinseled in silver and dotted with a few lists for Santa. "IPod, birds, bedroom, guitar, no brothers, long hair," reads the 8-year-old girl's.

On the floor just beyond, the 5-year-old is killing insurgents, the explosions from his video game machine gun punctuating the Evans family's grim holiday spirit:

This is the last Christmas they'll be together in this Howard County trailer park. It's their last Christmas in neighboring mobile homes, here where Christine Evans spent part of her childhood, where she bore two children and nursed her dying father and father-in-law. Her parents lived here for 13 years, across the street from where Christine and her husband and five kids have lived for the past six years.

By Sept. 5, everyone at Aladdin Village must move. The community's 40 acres along Route 1, just south of the U.S. 1 Flea Market and across the street from the Maryland State Police barracks, are about to become, as the sign at the edge of the property announces, Elkridge Towne Center, a "mixed-use development featuring townhomes, condominiums, retail & commercial." At the other end of the trailer park stands a blue sign as tall as a building, announcing the arrival of Ryan Homes' Village Towns, featuring "luxury garage and non-garage townhomes from under $310s."

Forty-three families already have left Aladdin Village, pulling out their trailers or leaving their homes behind to be destroyed. The remaining 165 families, including the Evanses and Christine's mother, Susan Hardy, are still making plans.

For Hardy, this time of family traditions and togetherness is being blown apart: "You're all trying to go separate ways, trying to find a place to live."

"It's like the whole spirit's gone this year," Christine Evans adds.

Interesting article, if somewhat predictable. In the long run, a mixed-use project may be a better use of 40 acres of suburban land than a trailer park. But new development often brings disruption of people's lives, and the "last Christmas" angle does tug at the heart strings. While mixed use is still fashionable among many journalists, politicians, charitable executives, and other opinion leaders, stories like this will emerge from time to time, focusing on the people who are displaced rather than on those who will eventually move in to the new development. Mixed-use developers, real estate lawyers, and publicists will need to be prepared with responses to this type of message.

The full story can be found at

2006-12-26, 11:40

A parking dilemma

By: Jonathan Groner
Last week, CPN (Commercial Property News) co-sponsored the Mixed-Use Summit conference in Dallas, which was attended by real estate developers, planners, architects, attorneys, and others. Here is a brief report from CPN about the major concerns expressed at the conference. Parking issues and the need for green space topped the list.

Traditional shopping malls, especially those built when land was cheap, provide seemingly limitless parking lots, at the cost of sprawl and ugliness. Traditional old downtowns rely on mass transit and even on shoppers who walk. Mixed-use projects can't simply adopt either alternative. That's why mixed use is often coupled with transit-oriented development.

Parking, Open Spaces Top Mixed-Use Concerns

December 19, 2006
By Russ Colchamiro, Executive Editor

Mixed-use projects of various locations, sizes and configurations are springing up all over the country, with many more to come. But with the increased demand for these multi-purpose developments comes their own set of issues, noted industry experts who spoke yesterday on the opening leaders panel at CPN's 2006 Mixed-Use Summit in Dallas. Most notable, they said, is figuring out how to accommodate a mixed-use project's complicated parking needs, as well as proving ample community green space that helps draw visitors.

"The problem is always parking," said Steve Janeway, senior vice president & director of design with Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum Inc. "You have to solve that problem first." Moderator Randy Morton, partner with Cooper, Robertson & Partners, agreed. "Every project we build revolves around parking."

Dary Stone, vice chairman of Cousins Properties, cited the Glory Park project in Arlington, Texas, as an example. The under-construction mixed-use community is being developed on the eastern section between Dallas and Fort Worth, with the area's existing Six Flags and Texas Rangers baseball stadium, and the new, forthcoming Dallas Cowboys stadium, among other attractions, drawing massive crowds with their own parking demands. "We've got to make sure that our shared parking ... works. It's nice and warm and fuzzy to say that you want to bring people together," Stone said, but he was quick to note that the transportation and parking system has to accommodate each location individually as well as that of the combined area, especially as multiple events will often be ongoing simultaneously.

Another key issue with mixed-use projects, the panelists said, is green space. They noted that among the various property types, the community spaces where people can congregate comfortably is what brings the entire project together. "America is rediscovering urbanism," Janeway said. "The green space is often the connective tissue . . . that really makes it work." He contended that without attention to issues such as landscaping, shaded areas and water sources, urban mixed-use projects would be unsuccessful.

2006-12-25, 16:53

Mixed use booms in the Carolinas for 2007

By: Jonathan Groner

In an article by Daniel Beaird in its December 2006 issue, Southeast Real Estate Business reports that mixed-use development is booming in the Carolinas. Governments, developers, home buyers, and retailers all seem to find something to their liking in mixed use. Interestingly, the high cost of land is driving a move towards mixed use.

Here is the Carolina portion of the trade magazine's cover story on Southeast real estate trends:

Much like many other cities nationwide, cities in North Carolina and South Carolina have witnessed a strong demand for mixed-use developments. The mixed-use concept is viewed very favorably by the development community in the Carolinas as one way to skirt rising land prices by building all uses in one. Because of the increased cost of land, developers are forced to build up and not out, which makes ground-floor retail with office space or residences above very attractive.

"Mixed-use developments seem to be springing up everywhere in response to market forces," says Steve Mauldin, vice president of mixed/multi-use development for Crosland. Pressure is also coming from many municipalities to emphasize clustering commercial development and infrastructure together. "Based on the continuance of these issues, the near future for mixed-use development appears bright," says Erin England, an associate with Colliers Keenan retail services group, based in Charleston, South Carolina.

"Activity is widespread, but mainly in major metropolitan and suburban locations, driven by population, demographics and governmental support," Mauldin says. "However, it is important to understand the complexities of mixed-use developments in terms of time, resources, creativity and expertise, which are all required for success."

Some of the prominent mixed-use developments in the Carolinas that have recently been built include Birkdale Village in Huntersville, North Carolina; Phillips Place in Charlotte, North Carolina; Biltmore Park Town Square in Asheville, North Carolina; The Village at Sandhill in Columbia, South Carolina; and Belle Hall in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

Mixed-use developments have gained a lot of support in the Carolinas as the developments are targeted at a well-educated consumer. For example, The Noisette Company is redeveloping the Charleston Naval Base into a 340-acre mixed-use project called the Navy Yard. High-end tenants like Whole Foods, Newton Farms and Earth Fare are entering the Carolinas through these mixed-use projects. In the Charleston suburb of North Mount Pleasant, the Market at Oakland is a 79-acre mixed-use development that will be anchored by a Wal-Mart Supercenter. Big box retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target are getting in on the action of mixed-use projects in the Carolinas as well.

One of the largest mixed-use developments in the Carolinas resides in Charlotte. Crosland's 270-acre Blakeney has opened at Rea and Ardrey Kell roads in south Charlotte. It is anchored by Target and Harris Teeter. The population within a 3-mile radius of Blakeney is predicted to grow by more than 27 percent by 2010.

"Some of the suburban areas like mixed-use projects because if the projects are done well, they can become a gathering point for the suburban communities," England says. "Some people are just tired of the commuter lifestyle and some want a more urban experience like one might find living on the peninsula in Charleston where work, shopping, dining and recreation are all in the same area."

"The projects are so new to the Carolinas that it is not yet clear what the long term tenant interest will be," England says. "The initial projects seem to be enjoying success and as the mixed-use product type becomes better known, tenants will likely gravitate toward mixed-use developments if the developments meet the specific needs of the communities in which they are located."

2006-12-22, 14:50

In Richmond area, some say mixed use conflicts with the environment

By: Jonathan Groner
Regarding environmental issues in mixed-use development, please note this from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Dec. 15, 2006:

A developer will be allowed to destroy some wetlands and streams in Chesterfield County to make way for a road extension to a planned mixed-use development.

The decision came yesterday from the State Water Control Board, which reversed a previous decision.

Area residents and environmental advocates oppose the permit for the project, a roughly 165-acre tract known as The Galleria, because of its potential impact on their homes and area natural resources.

"We're going to fight as hard as we can to make sure this project doesn't get built," said D. Curtis "Fred" Sanderson, vice president of the nearby Crestwood Farms Residents Association.

This is a fairly large mixed-use project in the Richmond, Va., area. In order to allow for the extension of a parkway to reach the mixed-use project, up to 3.5 acres of wetlands and about 2,000 feet of streams will need to be destroyed.

Often, mixed-use developers are aligned on the same side as environmentalists in favor of "green" development. But that's not always the case, as we see here.

2006-12-21, 09:39

Mixed-use fever is spreading

By: Jonathan Groner
This month, Retail Traffic magazine reports that "mixed-use fever" is sweeping through the shopping center industry. Here are the first three paragraphs of the story. Davidson, N.C., is just north of Charlotte.

Mixed-Use Accelerates

From the Carolinas to California, the mixed-use fever that is sweeping through the shopping center industry shows no signs of breaking anytime soon. Now even stalwart neighborhood shopping center owners such as Columbia, S.C.-based Edens & Avant are turning their attention to mixed-use development.

The privately held Edens & Avant, whose portfolio includes 170 centers in 18 states, is currently working on several mixed-use projects. The firm's first project, Davidson Commons, will be completed next fall. Located in Davidson, N.C., the Harris Teeter-anchored development will feature 90,000 square feet of retail and office space, as well as five residential units.

"We're being driven more by market demand. Residential and retail in particular are becoming more aligned with the consumer," says Jodie McLean, president and chief investment officer at Edens & Avant. The company's decision to include mixed-use projects in its portfolio complements Edens & Avant's continued expansion into urban areas such as Boston and Washington, D.C. More people want to live in urban settings, and retailers in turn are chasing those consumers, McLean adds.

The story pointed to a survey of 329 real estate developers conducted in September 2006 that indicated that mixed use is the "dominant retail property type when it comes to both new development and redevelopment projects."

Real estate developers and real estate attorneys should take note: mixed use is no longer just an interesting or arcane specialty. Consumer demand has pushed it towards dominance in both development and redevelopment.

The full story can be found at

2006-12-20, 09:39

USA Today story on controversial mixed-use project

By: Jonathan Groner
The $4 billion proposed Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, N.Y., which I have discussed a couple of times before, was the subject of a major article in USA Today this past Monday, Dec. 18, 2006. The article focuses on significant community opposition to the development and on a significant amount of community support -- based partly on the developer's commitment to reserve half the building's 4,500 apartment units for low- and middle-income families.

New York City is a tough place to build in and a tough place to be a successful developer. A well-organized lobbying and litigation campaign against a mixed-use project, like what's occurring here, can be a major challenge. Here are the first few paragraphs of the article:

NEW YORK -- What people see from Daniel Goldstein's roof near downtown Brooklyn depends on their point of view about a huge proposed development.
Some residents see a blighted vista being transformed for the community's good by a sports arena and apartment towers that they say would infuse the neighborhood with affordable housing, jobs and economic activity.
Goldstein, however, sees only loss -- of his home and a corner of brownstone Brooklyn.
The development will be "the densest residential community in the country by far," says Goldstein, whose condominium will be claimed by eminent domain if the project is approved. "The different environmental impacts, particularly traffic, are severe. The impact on public transportation is substantial. ... You lose what makes Brooklyn special to everyone."
If approved by the state, a nearly $4 billion project called Atlantic Yards would reshape several Brooklyn neighborhoods by bringing an arena and the New Jersey Nets NBA team to New York's most populous borough. But since its announcement in 2003, the project has become one of the city's most disputed, sparking lawsuits and setting neighbor against neighbor.

The full article can be found at

It's worth reading for anyone in the business -- real estate developers, community activists, planners, lawyers, and others.

2006-12-19, 09:55

Mixed use in Falls Church, Virginia

By: Jonathan Groner
Falls Church, Va., is an older, close-in suburb of Washington, D.C. Just five miles from Tysons Corner (see my Dec. 15, 2006 post), it's almost the mirror image of the Tysons area -- a bit dowdy where Tysons is glitzy. But Falls Church has a homey feeling and is a great place to live.

Mixed use might have a significant impact on the "feel" of Falls Church. I think that if done well, it would be a very positive impact. Here's a current newspaper clipping.

Atlantic Realty submits plan for Falls Church development

Katie Wilmeth, The Examiner
Dec 15, 2006

Falls Church - A proposal from Vienna-based Atlantic Realty Companies to build a mixed-use development along Route 7 in Falls Church could be the first step in transforming the city's disjointed downtown into a thriving commercial district, city officials said Thursday.

Atlantic Realty submitted its plans for the 5-acre development to the city on Wednesday and will go through an approval process that could take up to 18 months.

The plans -- which include a Harris Teeter grocery store, 500 apartments, 67 condos, a 180-room hotel and underground parking -- are part of a larger 22-acre development plan for Falls Church that is intended to create a "City Center" for the small city.

"We're hoping that this will be the centerpiece [of the overall development]," said Falls Church Mayor Robin Gardner.

The city's plan calls for development on the north and south sides of Route 7. Gardner said in addition to Atlantic's development, she'd like to see a proposal that includes some type of family entertainment, such as a venue for outdoor concerts or a movie theater.

A spokesman for Atlantic Realty said the firm hopes to break ground on the project by September 2007, complete Phase One by mid-2009, and complete the development by mid-2011.

Atlantic's development would be located on the south side of Route 7 in the 200 block of South Maple Avenue, which is the current site of Bowl America. The plans include space to build a new Bowl America.

In the last few years, Falls Church has seen multiple development projects beyond the 22 acres the city has allotted for a City Center, including several new condo and office projects along Route 7.

2006-12-18, 16:04

A new subsidiary to build green mixed-use communities

By: Jonathan Groner
Please note this new article from Multi-Housing News, reprinted here in its entirety. This reinforces ideas that I have noted before -- that mixed-use development often goes hand in hand with "green" development and that the Southeast United States is a terrific market for mixed-use communities.

The majority of this new subsidiary's target areas are in the Southeast -- Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Charleston, and Northern Virginia. The article says these are "areas with up-and-coming demographics with recent population and job growth, strong economics and expected increases in demand for residential and office space." My law firm, Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, has offices in three of these four areas -- all except Charleston, S.C.

New Lane Industries Subsidiary to Develop "Green" Mixed-Use Communities

By Kelly Sheehan, Online News Editor

DECEMBER 15, 2006 -- Northbrook, Ill. -- Lane Industries Inc., a holding company based in Northbrook, Ill., has formed LaneTerra LLC, a subsidiary that will develop environmentally friendly, mixed-use projects in the Southeast, Southwest and Western U.S. markets.

The LaneTerra team is being led by Bill Keating, as president. Sharon Walton, a former senior accountant with Lane Industries, is the subsidiary's vice president of finance. "We believe that we have the duty to develop projects to not only meet the needs of current users, but to ensure future generations will be able to enjoy the land and its resources," Keating said.

The subsidiary's mission is to "create great places for people to live, work and visit that benefit the communities in which they are located." Its economically diverse projects will utilize recycled materials and renewable energy construction and development processes. They will also include open space and provide walking access to local business that will be incorporated into the communities.

Projects will be located in areas with up-and-coming demographics with recent population and job growth, strong economics and expected increases in demand for residential and office space. These include the geographic markets of Austin, Texas; the Western Slope in Colorado; Charleston, S.C.; Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; and Northern Virginia. LaneTerra also plans to expand its presence in Phoenix.

Two LaneTerra projects are currently in progress. Tavachi, in Basalt, Colo., about 20 minutes from Aspen, a popular winter sports destination, is a 68-acre, mixed-use development with residential and retail components. The Park at San Tan in Chandler, Ariz. is a 16-acre, mixed-use community with office and retail space.

Mixed use and its detractors in older town centers

By: Jonathan Groner
Some mixed-use developments are called "town centers" because they attempt to replicate the traditional retail downtown and to avoid the features of the sprawling shopping mall. But in some areas, mixed use is facing opposition from store owners in ... actual, historic town centers.

An interesting Dec. 9, 2006 article in the Boston Globe discusses what it calls "lifestyle centers," which readers of this blog will identify as quite congruent with the mixed-use concept. The article discusses new centers in old towns like Dedham and Reading, Mass. It begins:

They've been celebrated for shifting somewhat the design of shopping destinations away from automobile-oriented malls to pedestrian-friendly streetscapes that encourage window shopping and strolling.

But in Greater Boston these re-imagined downtowns are competition for some real downtowns. The Derby Street Shoppes in Hingham and planned lifestyle centers in Dedham and Reading are just a few miles from the traditional downtowns of those communities.

"We're hoping people will still want to go to the original," said Peter H. Reynolds, the owner of the Blue Bunny children's book and toy store in Dedham Square, and head of the local merchants' association.

Scheduled to open in 2008, the Legacy Place lifestyle center in Dedham would be a short drive down Route 1 from downtown. In addition to about 70 national retailers and more than a half-dozen restaurants, the center will have a 16-screen movie theater, the flagship for media giant and Legacy Place developer National Amusements, which will have its corporate headquarters on the site.

The article goes on to ask whether the 16-screen multiplex will crowd out a traditional two-screen theater in Dedham. The full article is at

So it seems that in some cases, small business owners and supporters of small-town nostalgia can be active opponents of mixed-use development. Quite interesting.

2006-12-15, 10:21

Tysons Corner and mixed use?

By: Jonathan Groner
The Tysons Corner area of Northern Virginia is one of the most spectacularly successful retail and office districts in the nation. It features upscale shopping malls and restaurants, high-tech companies, law firms, accounting firms, consulting firms, defense contractors, and on and on. It's a center of wealth and productivity. What it is not is a planned "downtown" of any sort or a rail or bus destination. Virtually everyone who goes there drives a car. The traffic jams at all hours of the day are daunting. Mixed use and the new urbanism are not exactly present in Tysons. But now they're at least on the radar screen, as a new redevelopment plan strongly urges mixed-use, mass transit-oriented planning that would create a "new Tysons."

In a Dec. 7, 2006, op-ed in The Washington Post, Dale Peck, a supporter of the redevelopment plan and a former chairman of the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, writes:

The people of Fairfax County want Tysons to become a true downtown. In fact, 82 percent of our residents feel that an urban center would add to the county's quality of life. Asked to rate the appeal of specific traits of urbanized areas, county residents called the following highly appealing: (1) "easy to get around on foot"; (2) "good access to mass transit"; (3) "interesting cultural attractions and nightlife"; and (4) "a good mix of office, retail, entertainment, and restaurants." The plan for the redeveloped Tysons Corner Center meets these expectations.

The plan is for a vibrant mix of residential, commercial and retail uses. It would be a pedestrian-friendly place that encourages connectivity to the Metro station and other transportation alternatives to the automobile. The plans include accessible streetscapes, public spaces, performing-arts areas, recreational uses -- even a dog park -- to create the "sense of place" that defines great urban neighborhoods and is lacking in today's Tysons.

We will see what happens. Just the thought of construction tearing up Tysons for another five years or so is a bit troubling. But it's hard to imagine things just going on as they are now. We will start seeing gridlock at 3 p.m. every afternoon.

2006-12-14, 09:54

Grass-roots opposition to Atlantic Yards

By: Jonathan Groner
Opponents of the Atlantic Yards mixed-use development (see my posting on Dec. 12, 2006) have been deploying a combination of grass-roots blogging efforts, letter-writing, and lobbying to try to stop the project. Here is an interesting summary of their arguments, from the "Develop, Don't Destroy Brooklyn" site at

Shell Game or House of Cards, It's Atlantic Yards!

Massively reduced tax revenue projections, massively reduced job projections, and massively reduced "affordable" housing units: the only thing about "Atlantic Yards" that has not shrunk is its extreme density and massive scale. The Empire State Development Corporation, like its Chairman Charles Gargano, has misspoken to the tune of half a billion dollars falling off the table, into the trash heap of agency-speak history. Add in public costs that are ignored and the project's return comes close to zero or worse (as predicted in June 2004 in the Kim Peebles Economic Analysis).

Opponents have also enlisted a string of literary and entertainment celebrities, including writers like Jim Bouton, Jonathan Safran Foer, Nicole Krauss (Foer's wife), Jonathan Lethem, Myla Goldberg, and Rick Moody, and actors Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams, Heath Ledger, and Steve Buscemi.

2006-12-13, 11:14

Another mixed-use controversy, this one in Florida

By: Jonathan Groner
A proposal to build a mixed-use development on the site of the old Hialeah Race Track in South Florida is drawing community opposition. A local blogger is reporting: "The plan calls for high, middle, and low rise residential, mixed use, the usual." The race track is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, opponents say, and the site should be developed as a park or cultural center, not what they see as another humdrum mixed-use project.

A community activist has written:

"We want the park to be restored and preserved for its architectural and historical significance, if not a race track, then as a place that will welcome visitors to our city and hold cultural events and evening galas. We will argue any plans to develop on the historic park area and its gardens, modify it in any way, or move any of the buildings, fountains and statues from their original place. Hialeah is not only the City of Progress, it is also the Home of the Thoroughbreds. Even if they never race here again, they will forever be part of our history. Any intent to destroy or modity this historic site will receive major opposition. We invite anyone interested in the preservation of Hialeah Park to contact us."

More information on this controversy can be found in the "Eye on Miami" blog at

Just another indication that mixed-use development, however fashionable it may be in many circles, is by no means a sure thing for a developer and is not the only way in which an appealing site can be developed.

2006-12-12, 09:16

Mixed use grows in Brooklyn

By: Jonathan Groner
Multi-Housing News is reporting a fascinating controversy over a huge proposed mixed-use development in Brooklyn. This facility would serve as the new home of the New Jersey Nets basketball team, bringing the NBA team back to New York City. Here is the "breaking news" report from Multi-Housing News.

Note that the residents of existing rent-stabilized apartments have filed a lawsuit against construction of the projects. Mixed use has its opponents, and its supporters must be aware that community opposition can be a serious obstacle to this type of development.

By Kelly Sheehan, Online News Editor

DECEMBER 11, 2006 -- Brooklyn, N.Y. -- Atlantic Yards, a $4.2-billion mixed-use project that recently jumped a hurdle on its development track, still has to receive the final go-ahead from the Public Authorities Board before shovels hit the dirt. The master-planned community, which was approved by the Empire State Development Corp. on Friday, is scheduled to go before the board before the end of the year.

Frank Gehry, a world-famous architect, is designing the project. The developer is Forest City Ratner, an affiliate of the Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises. Bruce Ratner, the owner of the New Jersey Nets, is president and CEO of this subsidiary, based in Brooklyn. The 22-acre site is centrally located in that borough at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues. The plans were announced in 2003.

The state hopes the project will help revitalize a blighted and under-utilized area, creating thousands of jobs and preserving about eight acres of parks and open space, designed by the Olin Partnership, the renowned landscape architecture firm that took on famous projects such as Bryant and Battery parks in Manhattan and Canary Wharf in London, England.

If approved, Atlantic Yards will include 1,930 market-rate condominiums and 4,500 rental units. About 50 percent of the rental units will be set aside for middle- and low-income families. Families will likely pay rents totaling about 30 percent of their household incomes. The plan also calls for an additional 600 to 1,000 affordable residential units on- or off-site for low- and middle-income first-time buyers. Atlantic Yards will also feature retail, offices, a hotel, and an 18,000-seat arena.

Governor George Pataki has endorsed the project, but advocates are concerned that Sheldon Silver, the Democratic Assembly speaker and the only Democrat on the Public Authorities Board, will postpone the vote until 2007, when Eliot Spitzer becomes governor.

In opposition, tenants currently living in rent-stabilized units on the project's site have filed suit against the Empire State Development Corp. If approved, the project would call for the demolition of their properties, as well as other affected properties, potentially by the use of eminent domain. A State Supreme Court will determine the outcome of the suits.

The proposed community's arena will serve as home to the New Jersey Nets, bringing professional sports back to the borough for the first time since 1957, when the Dodgers left for Los Angeles. The project will also include the construction of a health center, along with an intergenerational facility with childcare services, youth programs and senior citizen services. In addition, the Vanderbilt train yard will be improved and reconfigured for use by the Long Island Railroad. The site will be used for the storing, cleaning and inspection of trains, and a new station entrance will be built.

2006-12-11, 10:48

Environmentally friendly drainage systems

By: Jonathan Groner
Developers who follow "new urbanism" principles are relying more and more on "low-impact" drainage systems that use fewer pipes and rely on natural mechanisms to drain water from the land, according to an article in the December issue of New Urban News, now online.

The article, by Philip Langdon, says that recently, "environmental activists have argued that rain should be handled in a more natural fashion — through 'rain gardens,' bioswales, and other ecological features -- instead of relying heavily on underground pipes and other conventional engineering mechanisms. A growing number of new urbanists are moving toward this ecological approach.''

Developments in the Southeastern United States are using this principle. The article points specifically to Woodsong, a 22-acre Traditional Neighborhood Development in Shallotte, N.C., (near the coast, not far from Myrtle Beach, S.C.), in which developer Buddy Milliken is using natural methods of handling rainwater.

According to the article, rain from roofs ''may be captured in cisterns or directed into rain gardens -- mild depressions filled with natural material that absorbs the water and gives it time to percolate into the soil. 'These are very, very simple things,' says Milliken.''

Again, it appears as if environmentally sensitive growth and the "new urbanism" sometimes go hand in hand. It would be interesting to understand the full array of reasons for this being the case.

The full article can be found at

2006-12-08, 10:19

An ongoing study: why isn't mixed use more popular?

By: Jonathan Groner
Shawn Conrad, a doctoral candidate at Arizona State University in environmental design and planning, has set up an interesting Web site in pursuit of a project she is working on. She is conducting a study of two cities -- Los Angeles and Tempe, Ariz. -- to see how mixed-use development has worked, or failed to work, in both of them. She is also doing a nationwide survey of planners, developers, architects, and others in the field to understand what obstacles mixed-use development often faces. She is a supporter of mixed use, and the key question she asks is:

Studies suggest that the market for alternative development types that include mixed use is healthy and growing; however, mixed-use development remains by the far the exception to the rule. The underlying question addressed by this study is: why isn't there more mixed-use development? The study will use a combination of a national online survey and case studies of mixed-use developments to investigate the regulatory, community, and financial constraints on mixed-use development.

Conrad's Web site is I would be interested in learning about her results once they are completed, and I urge my readers to take a look and to consider participating in her online survey.

2006-12-07, 11:55

Bob Kettler on mixed use: avoid the "fake experience"

By: Jonathan Groner
On Site, the quarterly real estate magazine of the Washington Business Journal, features an interview with Bob Kettler in its winter 2006-07 issue, just published. Bob Kettler is the chairman and principal owner of Kettler, a major D.C.-area multifamily developer. Kettler is now working on high-rises at Reston Town Center in Reston, Va.

Kettler said some interesting things about mixed use in the interview, as follows:

Q. Will compact town-center developments continue to surge?

A. Yes, for two reasons. The way people live their lives now -- 70 percent of households are what you would call nontraditional households now. They're more desirous of having a higher-density environment that's close to transit, close to work, and serves as an area where they can really have intellectual communication with their peers. This is the No. 1 region in the country, according to [George Mason University professor and author] Richard Florida for the creative class. The higher proportion of creative-class types in your general population, the more attuned they are to urban living. We're addressing that.

The other reason is just a land shortage. There isn't any significant amount of master-planned low-density ground left within 50, 60 miles of Washington, D.C. So the only other alternative is development or redevelopment of high-density communities that are on transit lines -- either on approved or fully developed interestate infrastructure or state highway infrastructure near employment or on rail.

* * *

Q. Is there less anxiety from lenders financing mixed-use now?

A. Mixed-use as a single-product finance is still a head-scratcher for a lot of financial institutions. Generally you have to break it down into pieces and finance it that way.

Q. Are the design and retailing of town centers becoming too repetitive?

A. If a developer is focused on how a project looks -- and what's driving it is just to have this faux environment -- then it's going to fail. If it works -- if it's got the mix of uses, the connections and relationships of places, spaces, uses that function in a real way -- it's not going to have that sort of monotonous fake experience because people are really going to walk to work, they're really going to walk to their car, they're really going to go to the movies or go shopping. It will develop character as it's used and as ownership gets divided out.

At Reston Town Center, the first phase by a single developer gave it a new and a bit sterile look. But over time, now that there are five or six developers here and stores have come and gone, you have different people on and off the boards at Reston, you have different types of governance taking care of the place and multiple owners. It's developing a patina of a real town. Places take time.


Kettler's distinction between "real" and "fake" urban experiences is intriguing. I wonder what specific features of a development contribute to a "real" experience.

2006-12-06, 09:29

Environmentally friendly dwellings - a trend

By: Jonathan Groner
Mixed-use developers are going to encounter "green building" issues more and more frequently as the trend toward environmentally friendly construction continues to grow. My colleagues on Womble Carlyle's Construction Law Blog,, have provided me with the following interesting summary of a new development in this area. It follows here:

Many readers may think that LEED is the only sustainable rating system available in the U.S. market.

In fact, there are at least four other programs available: Green Globes, BREEAM (a British system), CASBEE (a Japanese system), and GBTool (an international system). Of these four, Green Globes appears to a promising up and comer in the U.S. market. Green Globes is an online building and management sustainability audit launched last year in the U.S. by the Green Building Initiative. The rating system is being vetted by the building community for its potential as either an alternative to LEED or as an adjunct to the LEED certification program.

New York describes the system:

The Web-based Green Globes system is designed as an interactive tool with eight questionnaires covering project stages from initiation to commissioning. Within each stage, the system groups questions into seven environmental performance categories, while also supplying reports that offer suggestions to users for enhancing the sustainability of a project.

The two systems have similarities. "Green Globes allows projects to earn points, with ratings determined by the percentage of points earned. Green Globes is based on a 1,000-point scale, and users can gain one to four 'globes' for levels of certification that would be roughly equivalent to the four rating categories of LEED."

But Green Globes differentiates itself in several respects. "Green Globes . . . doesn't require project teams to produce specialized documentation, but instead relies primarily on standard construction documents and onsite verification." It also "incorporates credits for 'life cycle analysis,' a methodology of assessing long-range environmental 'costs' of a particular product by accounting for resource and energy consumption and waste accumulation, among other factors." Perhaps most intriguing, Green Globes is available as a non-certification tool that can be used to quickly assess a project.

Green Globes has already been approved as a sustainable rating system by six states.

2006-12-05, 10:27

Mixed use above a mass transit station

By: Jonathan Groner
In early 2007, retailers will be able to lease space in Park Place, a mixed-use development in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Park Place is located directly on top of the Georgia Avenue Petworth station of the city's Metro transit system, part of the Green Line.

The area is rapidly gentrifying, and the new development is following young urban professionals north, as closer-in areas like Dupont Circle and Columbia Heights are becoming quite expensive. The corner of Georgia and New Hampshire avenues, where the building is located, is the commercial center of the Petworth area. Park Place is the first new residential building on Georgia Avenue in the District in decades. Residents will be able to live, shop, and begin their commutes to work, right there in the building.

The development will have 148 condominium apartments and 18,000 square feet of retail space.

2006-12-04, 11:00

Mixed use and the arts in D.C.

By: Jonathan Groner
The Corcoran Gallery of Art has just purchased the old Randall School in Southwest D.C. from the District government in order to develop an arts and residential mixed-use project in an interesting but somewhat marginal part of town.

The place is quite dilapidated and hasn't been used as a school since 1978. The building is nearly 100 years old. Part has been used as a homeless shelter lately, and part for artists' studios. But now, the Corcoran will find 80,000 new square feet of studio, exhibition, and classroom space, and there will be at least 200 residential units, at least 40 of which will be affordable housing.

Earlier this decade, the Corcoran launched an unsuccessful expansion project at its main site, near the White House. This $6.2 million purchase will provide it with new space, and the District government will use the new money to improve its schools. And the District's share of profits from the residential development will be used to improve homeless shelters.

The residences in this building at Half and I Streets, S.W., ought to be attractive to artists and people who enjoy the arts. Mixed use here means not residential plus retail, but residential plus studio plus exhibition space. A good result for a neighborhood that will no doubt see dramatic improvement soon.

2006-12-01, 08:35

Mixed use in Jersey City

By: Jonathan Groner
On Nov. 29, 2006, Multi-Housing News reported that Montgomery Greene, a mixed-use project in Jersey City, N.J., will be completed by January 2007. Jersey City is an old city that is coming back into favor because of its proximity to midtown Manhattan. According to the article, the new mixed-use project is less than 22 minutes from midtown by the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) train.

The project will be a 19-story building with 113 one- and two-bedroom luxury condominium units and 4,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space. Regardless of what Multi-Housing News calls it, this doesn't sound very much like real mixed-use development or the "new urbanism" to me, and it's not being marketed by its developers -- at least not on its Web site -- as an example of mixed use. It sounds more like a close-in high-rise condominium with a fine view of a New York City that most people can't afford to live in.
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