The Gunst Guide to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Sidney Gunst, the developer of the Innsbrook office park, is probably the best-known developer in the Richmond region. Innsbrook encompasses 850 acres, 100 buildings and seven million square feet of commercial office space; 25,000 people work there. Financially, it was a tremendous success. But Gunst says that if he knew then what he knows now, he would have done things very differently. (See my latest column, “The Gunst Guide to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” in Bacon’s Rebellion.)

The problem is that Henrico County’s zoning code, like that of most other counties, mandates low densities and the separation of land uses. The resultant scattered, disconnected, low-density development is very expensive to serve with roads and other infrastructure, Gunst says. If he had to do Innsbrook over, he says, it would have a more balanced mix of housing, stores and offices. He would have built a definable town center. And, in places, he would have built at greater density.

Gunst’s critique is nearly identical to that of the “smart growth” advocates. But his proposed remedies are very different. Rather than giving more authority to local government — such as adequate public facilities ordinances — he says we need to create more flexibility for developers. Builders should be allowed to create a wider range of real estate product, including higher-density projects that make more efficient use of infrastructure.

One thing that Gunst and the Smart Growth advocates agree on: Most county zoning codes need to be re-written from scratch. If Tim Kaine wants to address the fundamental, underlying causes of traffic congestion and strained infrastructure in Virginia, that’s where he needs to start.


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