Case Study: Vehicles Verboten at Tempe Project

A closer look at the first car-less rental property.

Tempe skyline. Photo by Dimitar Donovski on Unsplash

A number of places in the United States forbid automobiles, but they are largely vacation towns. Think Bald Head Island, N.C.; Mackinac Island, Mich.; Fire Island, N.Y.; and Vail, Colo.

Now, what is said to be the first car-less residential rental property built from scratch is rising just outside Phoenix. Residents of the 761-unit Culdesac Tempe will be contractually forbidden from parking a vehicle within a quarter-mile radius of the 17-acre site.

Instead of cars and pickup trucks for their transportation, they will rely on a menu of discounted transportation options that are included in their monthly rents. According to the Department of Energy, passenger cars and light trucks are responsible for nearly 60 percent of the transportation sector’s carbon emissions. And the Environmental Protection Agency reports that a typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.

While some question whether people are ready to give up their wheels, leases already have been signed for about a third of the units in the first two sections, even though they won’t be ready for occupancy until late next summer, according to leasing manager Erin Boyd. But in perhaps an even better indication that some folks will ditch their cars if they are given viable alternatives, some 400 people have ponied up a fully refundable “for any reason” $100 deposit to remain on a waiting list.

At the same time, it’s worth noting that while Boyd says there’s “not really” been any resistance to going without automobiles, she concedes that “a lot of people” who have signed leases or handed over deposits don’t even own motor vehicles. Also, for those who do own cars and don’t want to give them up, there are plenty of other apartment choices available in the Tempe area.

But for those who no longer want monthly payments, insurance bills and upkeep on their cars, “they’ll have a comprehensive menu of options at their finger tips,” says Culdesac Co-Founder & CEO Ryan Johnson.

The $170 million walkable development, which will include an on-site grocery store, restaurant and café, among other amenities, is offering free unlimited passes on the Valley Metro transit system. They also have a complimentary access to a Lyft subscription, preferred pricing for a fleet of scooters and membership to a car sharing service.

Mobility Options

The company says its mobility package is worth nearly $3,000 a year to residents:

  • For getting around the property, a number of Bird electric scooters will be strategically placed within a 30-second walk from most front doors. Residents will be entitled to 15 percent discounts on rentals.
  • For longer trips, Lyft—also at 15 percent off—will take residents wherever they want to go, including to the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Pick-up and drop-off points will be integrated throughout the community, but again not more than a 30-second walk away from doorsteps.
  • Using complimentary passes, residents can take unlimited light rail trips to wherever the Valley Metro system goes, from Mesa to the east to Glendale in the North West. A station is across the street from the property.
  • When an excursion requires a vehicle, electric rental cars will be available on-site through Envoy at rates as low as $5 per hour.

Located 2.5 miles from downtown Tempe and 20 miles from downtown Phoenix, the site will have 150 parking spaces for retail visitors or residents’ guests. But with no other on-site vehicles, there’s no need for more parking. The result: more open space. Enough to include a large dog park, a pool and guest suites that residents can book for visitors, Just reserve one using the Culdesac app.

“The communities we are living in were optimized for the peak car era,” said Johnson, “Culdesac is building spaces for the post-car era…Residents will be able to live life from their doorsteps, rather than seeing it through their windshields.”

The property “is unlike anything” built in the U.S. in the last 150 years and unlike anything ever built in the Phoenix area, which is dominated by accommodations to the automobile, says Daniel Parolek of Opticos Design, the Berkeley, Calif., firm which served as the overall design director for Culdesac Tempe. Parolek is credited with popularizing the term “missing middle housing,”  the term used for describing diverse housing options to create sustainable and walkable places.

In Tempe, the project is similar in character to old European villages with irregular, narrow meandering paseos with a major focus on the courtyards.

Eventually home to 1,000 residents at completion in 2025, the apartments will feature private entries, washers and dryers, kitchen islands and granite countertops, Energy Star-rated Whirlpool appliances, plank hardwood floors and walk-in closets. The mostly three-story, walk-up buildings will be grouped around 18 courtyards—leasing director Boyd calls them  “pods”—that are being marketed as outdoor living rooms with BBQ grills, fire pits, hammocks and water features.

Culdesac will feature studio, one, two and three-bedroom units, some as flats and others as two-story units over flats. The units will range in size from 500 square feet for a studio to 1,200 feet for three bedrooms.

With the Arizona property well underway, Culdesac is now looking toward larger projects in other markets, including Dallas, Denver and Raleigh-Durham, said Co-Founder & COO Jeff Berens. “Because the power of transportation innovation is larger at scale, we’re considering 50-100 acre sites for our next project,” he said. “People are ready to leave their cars behind for the walkable and vibrant lifestyle that comes from living in a car-free neighborhood.”

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