The Triumph of Mixed Use

Bloggers can argue until they’re blue in the face about what kind of development Virginians prefer — low-density subdivisions and shopping centers, compact small towns, or dense urban environments, but the marketplace is speaking very plainly. Virtually every major development project proposed today entails mixed use on a small-town scale and density.

Projects highlighted in today’s headlines offer two cases in point:

Suffolk. Suffolk City Council has approved plans for a community of homes and businesses, “where people can walk to work and to stores,” reports Kathryn Walson with the Daily News. Similar to City Center at Oyster Point in Newport News, it would be the “first of its kind” in Suffolk. The project on a 132-acre plot of land south of the city will include 600 condominiums, two hotels and office and retail space. Two thousand, four hundred people will work there.

Chesterfield County. A local developer has filed a rezoning application to develop 1,394 acres in northwestern Chesterfield County. At full build-out the Roselawn project would have 5,140 residential units and more than 1.5 million square feet of retail, office and commercial uses. Writes Julian Walker with the Times-Dispatch:

Current plans describe the Roseland property as being a self-contained townlike entity, rather than a subdivision, that would be developed as five distinct districts with its own charter.

“Everything about this project is different from what Chesterfield is used to,” said Casey Sowers, one of the Roseland developers.

The development plans call for a town center, which would be the heart of the development, with a main street featuring shops, lofts, apartments and condominiums; a regional office park with retail establishments; a village with single and multifamily uses; and two other residential neighborhoods with tree-lined streets and green space.

“At Roseland, someone can leave his or her home in the morning, have coffee at the corner cafe, go to work, go for a run or bike ride, go out to dinner, all without ever getting into a car,” Sowers said. “This should be the model for any large development in our county, to reduce dependency on the automobile.”

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7 responses to “The Triumph of Mixed Use”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I think it is helpful to understand what these critters are .. and what they are not.

    I would ask if they are likely not – places where most people will live AND work ..unless

    1. – it is also a significant (salaries) employment center beyond the retail jobs
    2. – contains housing that is affordable proportionally to the jobs that are offered in that same development

    If these things are not present.. and mixed-use is built – then … what are they – if they are not what they appear to be?

    What would be the appeal of mixed-use to someone who wants to live there but has no intention of working there?

    Where would folks who do work there but can’t afford to live there … live?

    I want to say.. that these critters are noveau gentrification … or “ready-built” gentrification…but I’m not sure if I have it right… but I think I might be in the right church but not quite at the right pew.

    At any rate – I don’t think they are going to make a dent in the “work in NoVA and live in the exurbs” lifestyle.

  2. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Larry, I think that you are right on this one. Just as we track wildlife to understand their migration and habits, we need to track residents and workers at these mixed use communities. What percentage of the residents also work in the same mixed use community and what percentage of the workers at companies located in these communities also live there?

    Otherwise, don’t we just have more people coming and going?

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m think they are … marketing… that depends on access to transportation.

    We see them down in Fredericksburg .. usually either close to I-95 and/or close to VRE and/or close to commuter parking lots where they can pick up a van pool or bus to NoVa.

    They’re building one about 3 miles from me at Spotsylvania Courthouse – which is about 10 miles from I-95/VRE.

    They’ have first floor retail and second floor apartments…as well as some stand-alone multi-family housing as well as a Civil War Museum.. since it is very close to some Battlefields.. Bloody Angle will be about one mile away.

    Significantly.. the project has been held up until a new 4-lane bypass road is built – that connects to a 4-lane that goes to I-95/VRE.

    I’m not opposed to them. If the market wants them then good. But I’m skeptical that they’ll do anything to change the congestion on roads simply because I think most of the folks who live in these mixed-use developments .. won’t actually work there – but that’s the concept premise..

    I note they’ve done one at Fort Belvoir – and this is not untypical of many military bases.. where they build a residential Pod somewhere on the base – and it often is walkable/bikeable to the soldier’s duty station.

    and yes.. it does cut down on auto traffic.. because there’s also a base dispensary, commissary and exhange (groc store and mini-market)… also a barber shop.. auto repair shop.. etc… many of them staffed by spouses of the soldiers.

    I’m a Marine Corp brat and we usually got transferred every two-three years..but we never worried too much about these services because we knew there would be some version of it on base … also schools, pools, ball fields etc.

    On remote bases – these things are pretty much self-contained.

    They do “cost” big bucks.. and I believe on many bases..they’re cutting back on the schools and sending the kids to the local public school along with a stipend to offset costs….

    So you need a major.. monolithic? employer for this kind of mixed-use to work.

    It also used to “work” in sort of a fashion with company towns of old….

    but in this day and time… I think it is … a way.. for a developer to obtain higher density but would point out that they do have to sell the units.. so they have to be building something the market wants…

    I’m going to go out on a limb… I think people .. young people ARE changing and DO want a place that has “more” than a 1/4 acre backyard .. with a swing set and cheek by jowl houses just like theirs stringing out along the subdivision road.

    So.. it’s about lifestyle… and not so much about connecting the dots between land-use and transportation.

    It’s coming at it from a different direction.. lifestyle plus access to transportation… increased density…but commuting still a major component.

  4. E M Risse Avatar

    Unless the “mixed use” project is part of a Alpha (Balanced) Nighborhood, Alpha (Balanced) Village and Alpha (Balanced) Community — all three, not one or another — then the project is only slightly better than Business-As-Usual.

    It may look nicer but if citizens have to drive to a big parking lot so they can walk on “old timey” streets it is a failure. If there is not a relative balance of Jobs / Housing / Services / Recreation / Amenity at the Community scale then the potential for reducing vehicle travel and other indicators of dysfunction are not changed.

    One way to see through the PR is to ask: “Of what town is this palce the center.” If the answer is not clear, the project is not worth writing about.


  5. I think Larry is right, too. We just don’t now that these things will actually reduce travel. But they have been so over-hyped by those that favor them, it now turns out that is practically the only way you can get something built. No wonder there are so many.

    But, it is also possible that such a place will eventually become the center of a new town. Unfortunately, even old towns now seem to be giving up their centers in favor of more strip malls.

    My approach would be a little different from EMR’s. I would ask, instead of what is this the center, whether the people who work there are CREATING anything of value.

    If they are, you can bet it will soon be the center of something.

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Here’s a concept for consideration.

    Fairfax passes an ordinance that states that all new business construction has to be mixed use – AND the housing component must contain housing that cannot be priced higher than the median salary for Fairfax.

    See .. right now.. it’s the other way.. mixed-use that has business as a component….

    No business construction = no residential construction.

    Is that moving towards EMR’s “balance” advocacy?

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    What I’ve heard of the Chesterfield 288/60 developments are that they will be similar to Innsbrook in Short Pump – sort of an Innsbrook South of the James.

    If the mix of jobs is also similar to Innsbrook, that would mean lots of computer jobs, consultant jobs, white collar office jobs, stockbroker jobs, banking jobs, insurance jobs, utility company jobs. Those people should definitely be able to afford housing at the going Chesterfield rate.

    If the mix of office to retail is similar to Innsbrook, it should be pretty light on retail. However, I don’t know how the plan has “evolved” since the last writeup I saw – in particular, I’m not clear on how the communities fit into the office development. It would certainly be a pretty short commute – walkable, if you had sidewalks.

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