“How Can We Urbanize Where We Are?”

Innsbrook in 20 to 40 years?
Innsbrook in 20 to 40 years?

Around the country, local governments are proposing plans to re-develop aging office parks as urban-style, mixed-use complexes, reports the Wall Street Journal, which cited the Innsbrook office park in Henrico as a case in point.

“Suburban office buildings are passe,” said Burrell Saunders, a principal with Lyall Design and a prime mover behind the re-development of the Pembroke area of Virginia Beach. “We need to have office space integrated into daily life.”

Suburban office parks flourished in the 1980s as corporations moved their facilities closer to where Baby Boomers were living. But many decried them as boring places to work; workers relied upon their automobiles for running errands,going to lunch or attending business meetings. Urban geographer Richard Florida called the office parks “nerdistans.” Now the suburbs are experiencing a reconfiguration as walkable urbanism, even in the absence of mass transit. Innsbrook is a case study of the new thinking. Writes the Journal:

In the Innsbrook area, about 15 miles northwest of Richmond, Va., a plan allowing denser development on office parks met an initial resistance, said R.J. Emmerson, Jr.,, Henrico County planning director. Then the area lost major tenants including Lawyers Title Insurance Company and Circuit City. The need for change became clear, Mr. Emerson said.

Highwood Properties … has received approval to redevelop the first 40 acres of a site that will include 400,000 square feet of retail, 1,000 hotel rooms, some 6,000 apartment and condo units and 3.5 million square feet of office space.

“We’re not going to move our buildings in Innsbrook to the [Richmond central business district]. How can we urbanize where we are?” said Ed Fritsch, president and chief executive officer of Highwoods.

How can we urbanize where we are?

We’ll be hearing that question more and more in Richmond, Northern Virginia and, indeed, every metro region across the country. That’s why I maintain that the center of gravity of growth and development is shifting from the periphery back toward the urban core — not necessarily to downtown areas but to existing employment centers. Mixed-use re-development of Innsbrook alone could absorb years and years of population and commercial growth in the Richmond region. And that’s just one candidate for re-development.

(For more info, see my previous post, “Innsbrook: The Future Urban Face of Henrico County.“)


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17 responses to ““How Can We Urbanize Where We Are?””

  1. larryg Avatar

    friendly amendment:

    how come the free market won’t urbanize us?

    sooner or later Jim Bacon and his smart growth sidekick Reed are going to have to fess up about the free market and smart growth!

    Smart Growth is a govt critter…. and self-avowed libertarian folks – OF ALL PEOPLE – should come clean on this OR they should give some convincing examples of non-govt Smart Growth!

    by the way – we have an interesting little issue ongoing near our soon-to-be-built VRE station.

    The developer has opted to choose the county’s newly-created mixed-use category to create some (largely unspecified mixture of residential/commercial ) and the county is unhappy. They want the developer to commit to some minimum amount of commercial and he’d rather not so they’re at a stand-off.

    The applicant was pretty honest. His goal is to build what the market wants and to make a profit doing it. The county has other fish to fry involving things like schools, roads, the costs of county services,etc.

    the developer says he is sympathetic but that’s not his problem unless the county starts messing with his market/profit calculations.

    1. ocschwar Avatar

      Why do I have a feeling that LarryG would be the ultimate Big Government type the moment his next door neighbor asks for a permit to build a granny flat behind his house?

      1. larryg Avatar

        you’d be wrong I totally support them, I support any/all tenet additions – provided there is adequate off street parking provided.

        I think it helps twice. First, it provides an additional source of income for people that are on a fixed income and taxes and other costs are going up faster than their income and second, it provides true affordable housing for people.

        why would you think such a thing in the first place ,guy?

        you must have me confused with TMT who would likely be opposed to such things because of added traffic.

        I also support density of 8du or higher because that’s the break-even threshold for transit.

        but here’s the deal. You can’t just add people without adding the things that more people need – water, sewer, electricity (can’t just string wire.. may well need to add a second 200amp box), infrastructure… and the question is – who plans for and provides this?

        1. ocschwar Avatar

          “you’d be wrong I totally support them, I support any/all tenet additions – provided there is adequate off street parking provided.”

          Why this government intrusion into your neighbor’s right to use his property as he sees fit? Parking requirements are actually a pretty onerous burden on developers. Multilevel garages are enourmously expensive, and surface parking can take up a huge footprint.

          Ironically, it’s the terrible busybodies the smart growth types who want to relax parking requirements.

          1. One can use his/her property as provided for in the Comp Plan and zoning ordinance. Off-street parking is an important part of such land use regulation. In TOD areas (i.e., within 1/4 mile of rail transit), parking requirements can be lowered. I sit on a community land use committee in Fairfax County and voted to support a CDP for a project within the TOD area of the McLean Silver Line station with a 1.2 parking spaces per unit. That would not fit if the buildings were to be constructed in other locations. The Fairfax County supervisors will likely vote the same.

          2. ocschwar Avatar

            “One can use his/her property as provided for in the Comp Plan and zoning ordinance. Off-street parking is an important part of such land use regulation. ”

            You can talk like that, so long as you don;t claim to be an advocate of the free market. If you try both, you fail the giggle test.

        2. I don’t oppose development when there is a concomitant addition to public facilities and a substantial payment towards their cost from the new development. I do oppose corporate welfare and pretending smart growth does not put a huge strain on infrastructure.

          I don’t support inconsistent uses of land in areas zoned for single family housing. Single family housing is just that. It’s not townhouses. It’s not multi-family housing. It’s not duplexes or other multiple units on a single lot. I could support the inclusion of efficiency apartments in in areas zoned for multi-family housing, again with a concomitant increase in public facilities.

          1. ocschwar Avatar

            “. I do oppose corporate welfare and pretending smart growth does not put a huge strain on infrastructure. ”

            Far less of a strain than sprawl. Less road to pave per resident. Less wear and tear on same, since residents walk more and drive less. Less expense for water filtration. Less expense for water and sewer mains.

          2. ocschwar
            And you could claim the sun will rise in the west too.

            If an area has existing and adequate infrastructure, adding density can often be cost-effective. The R-B Corridor is a good example, But where public facilities are inadequate, such as with Tysons, it is incredibly expensive to add density. Ask Fairfax County staff or the Tysons landowners. There may be less pavement per capita, but it’s incredibly expensive to build a grid of streets in Tysons than to create new ones in green fields. Dealing with storm water in Tysons is much, much more expensive than in suburban areas. They will need to build huge water-storing cylinders to handle the first inch of a storm. And this requirement was scaled back significantly.

            I don’t think that, as a matter of fact, one can conclude that sprawl or smart growth is per se cheaper or more expensive. It all depends on the project. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors specifically rejected the arguments of the Tysons Task Force that smart growth was less expensive. Any growth in Fairfax County is expensive.

  2. Larry asks, “How come the free market won’t urbanize us?”

    For the umpteenth time, Larry, there is no “free market” in real estate. The free market can’t urbanize us because the free market does not exist. The real estate market is the creature of zoning codes, transportation subsidies, federal loan guarantees and many other factors that I have assiduously detailed on this blog.

    Market conditions do play a role in real estate. But developers are fighting up-hill when it comes to building smart growth.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Don’t listen to him LarryG. The only places on Earth where “smart growth” exists it is the result of endless, heavy handed government legislation and regulation.

      If you take away all the American zoning codes, transportation subsidies and loan guarantees you’d have more sprawl, not less.

  3. Darrell Avatar

    So is everyone who lives in Innsbruck going to work in Innsbruck? Is everyone who works in Innsbruck going to live there too? Are there going to be schools for the kids who will live there, or will kids be banned by the developers? And if Innsbruck is going to be it’s own little urban zone, what do the residents need the rest of the city for?

  4. larryg Avatar

    as far as I know, nothing prevents developers from proposing Smart Growth and I see little proposed, much less a trail of denied proposals.

    but I do see many, many proposals for auto-dependent subdivisions and the developers say that this is the market….

  5. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Its quite sad that most tired failing suburban track housing stock can’t be redeveloped into something that’s more useful to society than what’s is there.

    Here, with Innsbruck, there is far more opportunity for bringing tired used up commercial stock into new shapes that better serve modern needs. That is because the owner of the whole problem is a developer.

    Conversely, the scattered ownership of track residential typically thwarts redevelopment of any sort, nature, or extent whatsoever. Of course, those living there in their homes have the right to go on living there, and no one should mess with those sacred rights. Still, it can be a difficult problem.

  6. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Hold Bacon’s sizzle to the fire! He’s a closet liberal! He wants government-led smart growth, but, no, he doesn’t. It’s time to come clean.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Ed Risse’s ideas were borderline communist. Jim Bacon’s are borderline socialist.

  7. larryg Avatar

    some good points made.

    I’m not convinced that even if the govt were totally passive and uninvolved with zoning that true market-based Smart Growth would ensue.

    Houston has far less zoning restrictions than other places and not only does Smart Growth not occur but sprawl seems to accelerate.

    and it cannot be totally blamed on roads because many of the new ones down that way are now toll roads and now even HOT lanes are appearing.

    in terms of the mortgage deduction – are we saying that it should go away for everything and that in doing so, it will make single family detached less appealing than Smart Growth residential? I’m not convinced of that myself although it may well put a damper on greenfield development.

    Canada does not have a mortgage deduction and existing housing stock is often what is purchased and renovated, improved rather than building new subdivisions.

    In fact, one of the big differences I’ve seen in my travels in Canada is the diversity of house stock and the distinct lack of cookie-cutter type housing developments and while it has auto-dependent development, at $5.00 a gallon for fuel, people make commuting decisions differently than here.
    Canada also has a hefty GST that ends up paying for basic health care for everyone – but anyone is allowed to buy more if they can afford so and want to and I’m personally convinced that when people make employment decisions that do not include employer-provided health care – they make those decisions differently and are more job mobile – more willing to work more than one job, or extra jobs – locally – rather than trying to find a job with employer-provided health insurance but have to then choose to commute or move.

    In other words, the availability or non-availability of employer-provided health care may drive decisions about where to live and work and commute. Note that all other industrialized countries seem to more easily have Smart Growth than we do.

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