Full Speed Ahead

By Jeffrey Steele, Contributing EditorKen Ryan recalls a recent visit with officials of a Southern California community to discuss transit-oriented development (TOD). Ryan, a TOD proponent and principal with Irvine, Calif.-based KTGY, a multi-discipline design firm of planners and architects, was delighted to learn that the town fathers fully backed the concept and its benefits, such as sustainability, a pedestrian orientation and de-emphasis on the ubiquitous automobile.”The town ‘supports’ the idea of using the old train depot as the core of the TOD area, allowing for higher densities to support the concept,” Ryan says, adding with a chuckle. “However, they have limited the ultimate height to three stories.”The preposterous notion of creating the higher density TODs require while limiting buildings to low-rise design points to one of the challenges of creating transit-oriented developments: a fundamentally different way of thinking.Despite such barriers, TODs are being built—and not just in areas where you’d expect they might be most needed. Some, for example, are being designed in Sunbelt states.Midtown Park in the ‘Big D’Encompassing more than 80 acres, Valencia Capital Management’s Dallas TOD, Midtown Park, is one of the city’s largest infill projects in years. The site had previously been a blighted patch of 2,400 low-rise garden apartments “in various levels of despair,” says Valencia principal Tim Kaiser. Valencia began acquiring the land in 2005, and not long thereafter started abating asbestos and razing the apartments. Seventy-two of the 83 acres have been rezoned in a customized zoning called Planned Development (PD.)”That will allow us to create much greater density,” Kaiser says, noting height limits that had been 36 feet now soar up to 270 feet. “It will be mixed uses, and we can move uses around under the PD as market needs change, giving us great flexibility. If, for instance, I want to [create] more office and less residential, I can swap one residential unit for 420 square feet of office space. The same would be true for other uses, such as condos, senior housing, hotels and retail.” Zoning will allow for 3,800 residential units, including mid- and high-rise condominiums, townhomes, and senior housing; 930,000 square feet of office space; and 90,000 square feet of retail. Vertical development is slated to start in 2010, with the project expected to take no longer than 10 years, Kaiser says.One of the great selling points of the TOD is, of course, proximity to rapid transit. A Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) light rail line bisects the land on which Midtown Park will be built, and the Walnut Hill station sits less than a quarter mile away, Kaiser says. A broad hike-and-bike trail will connect Midtown Park to Walnut Hill.That means cars will not be needed to move from Midtown Park to destinations around the North Dallas region where it is situated, as well as to downtown Dallas.The transit orientation will offer many benefits to those who live and/or work at Midtown Park. Not only will they have easier movement in and out of the development, but there will be less need for non-residential parking. Along with Midtown Park’s higher densities and walkable distances to such nearby hubs as Presbyterian Hospital, it will also contribute to a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere and a more vibrant streetscape.ARTIC’s strong public realmSouthern Californians have long favored wide-open spaces. But in recent years, their sensibilities have been altered by high gas prices and longer, more unpredictable freeway travel times. As a result, many SoCal jurisdictions appear more receptive to public transportation than before.One such municipality is Anaheim, home of Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC), a 15-acre mixed-use TOD being planned by Ryan and his colleagues at KTGY. ARTIC will be a hub for many types of public transit: MetroLink and Amtrak trains; Mag-Lev trains proposed to link Los Angeles, Ontario and Las Vegas; and the California High Speed Rail, to connect San Francisco, Los Angeles and Anaheim. It also will be a destination for a kind of monorail system connecting the Disney Resort District to the Platinum Triangle Stadium Area, featuring Anaheim Stadium and the Honda Center, and designed to be a place where people can live, work and play.Transportation uses will represent just one purpose of ARTIC. Phase I of the development will usher in a 13,000-square-foot transportation center, 30,000 square feet of public space, 23,000 square feet of retail and 1,000 square feet of platforms.The plan will also allow for 300 to 500 residential units, with both for-sale and for-rent components and a mix of condominium, apartment, townhome and single-family represented; 600,000 to 2 million square feet of offices; 250,000 to 350,000 square feet of commercial space; and 1.5 million square feet for institutional uses.ARTIC will also create a “strong public realm with a grand plaza, pedestrian promenades, connections, a riverwalk and future TOD lifestyle development opportunities,” says Ryan. “Our charge as design advisors was to help develop a vision for the site, develop a conceptual master plan, and prepare design guidelines and an urban design framework providing balance between design direction and market flexibility.”TODs aren’t limited to the west and southwest. A case in point is Reston Heights, a 35-acre mixed use TOD in Reston, Va., and the first Virginia development to attain LEED-ND (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development) Silver certification. “The focus of the project is that it is a transit-oriented development, which we regard as a model of Smart Growth,” says JBG Companies Executive Development Officer John Schlichting. “The proximity to the Metro is critical, its pedestrian orientation is critical, and we will be looking at the most advanced energy-efficient mechanical systems.”Slated for completion in six years, Reston Heights will feature 700 residences, 350,000 square feet of retail, 2 million square feet of office space and two hotels. Obama’s Green Policies Spur Interest in TODBoth Kaiser and Ryan foresee a bright future for transit-oriented development, citing a number of positive trends. Among them is the Obama administration’s green orientation. “I do know [Obama] is accelerating the expansion of light rail, which will also accelerate the delivery of potential TOD sites,” Kaiser says. “The trend toward urban living and increased public transportation usage is only going to accelerate. The president’s green policies will make that happen in a shorter timeframe—hopefully.”Ryan concurs, noting allocations from the recent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act destined to fund rail corridors and stations will help spur interest in TODs. “ARTIC is a perfect example of that,” he says.As for regions or locations that would make the most natural settings for future TODs, Kaiser believes focus should be placed on high-growth metropolitan areas like Seattle, Dallas, Washington, D.C. and Denver, where waves of unchecked sprawl have rendered suburban living considerably less attractive than it once was. Transit-oriented development in infill areas within Dallas can be highly successful as long as it’s designed to meet the needs of the area and the end user, he believes. “TOD is not a programmed approach, and every one should not be the same,” he says, adding that TODs must be geared to the needs of their particular populations.Of course, developers intent on creating TODs are likely to confront a number of pitfalls and challenges along the way. One can be the unrealistic mindsets of municipal officials cited by Ryan at this article’s outset. Another, he says, is the need to plan for higher construction and insurance costs, longer entitlement processes, and more difficulty gaining construction loans when dealing with city-owned land. “You should build a development team with demonstrated experience in transit-oriented projects,” Ryan advises. “And you need an effective public outreach program featuring education.”Kaiser also cites financing as
a key concern for developers interested in TOD. He says it’s easier for a developer to gain public financing to develop a green field, due to the zoning and land use concerns that must be addressed in TODs. “In a lot of cases, TIFs and local improvement districts are necessary to make TODs work,” he says.Such disparate considerations as parking garages, security and ventilation force developers to plan more thoughtfully in TODs than they would elsewhere, Kaiser adds. For instance, parking garages must be designed and situated to allow for the greater degree of shared parking TODs require. Due to security concerns, scrutiny must be devoted to the judicious segregation of public and private spaces, which are mixed to a far greater extent in TODs. And, Kaiser says, “if retail and restaurants aren’t vented properly, and you have residences above, that can be a problem. Delivery service entrances to retail and restaurants need to be very well thought out.”A final essential ingredient for well-conceived TODs? Kaiser and Ryan agree: flexibility. In planning TODs, planners and developers have to resist suggestions by some agencies that they should guess what will be needed in 10 years.Says Ryan: “A stronger urban design framework, with pedestrian connections, public space, urban open space, landscape and more that allows for flexibility of future uses…. is a better formula for long-term TOD success.”To comment, e-mail diana.mosher@nielsen.com.