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Thread: Vertical mixed use buildings in small towns...

  1. #1
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    Vertical mixed use buildings in small towns...

    Hello,

    (First of all, please pardon my english as it isn't my native language)

    I am currently working on building a repertory of good practices on the following matter :

    In a revitalization process in a small town, how can we adress the lack of "downtown" residential area ? More specifically, what incentives, policies, or sensibilisation initiatives can be developped to allow a residential use of the 2nd floors of commercial buildings.

    I'm not sure how clear my question can be... Let's say that I'd like to discover some great examples of small towns that promote (in any maner) resiential use on top of commercial floor. By small town I mean here a town that has somewhat of a center, a mainstreet, where a decent number of necessary shops and services are to be found. I'm interested in any type of publication (web, research paper, or even newspaper articles) as long as it can lead me to some "real" examples.

    Thanks a lot for your help, and please ask for more details if it seems unclear to you !

    Best regards,

    PY.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Plenty of rural towns already have existing buildings in their central business districts that are mixed use (commercial/office space below with residential above). They're not always the most attractive buildings but they are mixed use. In smaller buildings (less than 5,000 SF) there might be one or two dwelling units on the second floor that are usually rented out (or condos). Landlords don't spend too much on advertising these units, which sometimes gives the impression that there are no dwelling units or vacancies when it might just be vancacies that are hardly advertised.

    An easy way to allow mixed use is to amend the zoning ordinance to allow additional permitted uses, such as residential, within a downtown district, commercial district, etc. Establish provisions that also allow for more than one priniciple use within a building/parcel. This will provide more opporunities to bring residential into a downtown area.
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  3. #3
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    bringing life to a community

    Indeed, many (especially older) commercial buildings have a residential space over them. You pointed something I didn't mention... the attractivity.

    Actually having downtown residential space means bringing (back) a communitiy life to the main street. And sometimes it's just a matter of zonong policy, sometimes simple communication and incentives are needed.

    What I see here (Québec, Canada) is that lots of owners don't bother to rent those space, because of the hassle it may be (renovation, having to deal with tenant...), therefore preventing the community to gain some activity downtown.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Many second floors above older commercial spaces are so out of compliance with modern codes that they cannot be economically rennovated without a huge change in market demand.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    It is a common belief that most of the older downtown commercial buildings were built with residential units above. In fact, most were used for offices or storage instead. It is only later that we started to put apartments in them to produce additional revenue. That is still the most compelling reason to convert the space to residential uses. To do so requires: codes that encourage or at least do not hamper these conversions, conditions such as available parking and open space amenities for residents, and incentives to defray the costs of conversion.

    I have seen many codes that hamper residential conversion through issues related to egress, off-street parking, unit size, etc. Lack of parking is another issue that can make it undesirable to live downtown. Provide designated long-term parking or establish a permit system for downtown residents. I have used a variety of incentive programs including affordable housing tax credits, or local loan programs for housing or building repair/facades. SOmetimes more than one may be used.

    The bottom line, though, is the bottom line. Simply renting out the commercial space seldom produces much income. It isn't uncommon to see rents less than $3-4 per square foot in many small towns. Adding income from one or two rental units can make a big difference.
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    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mike gurnee View post
    Many second floors above older commercial spaces are so out of compliance with modern codes that they cannot be economically rennovated without a huge change in market demand.
    In my experiences in New Mexico (Albuquerque, though that is changing and Farmington) this is the key issue for downtown redevelopment. In both cities, there are a number of owners of downtown buildings who inherited their properties. They own them outright and pay only taxes on the properties and so many have simply sat for a long time unusued. In many cases, owners lack the capital to renovate (and may not easily qualify for loans) and so the buildings may be under utilized. Or maybe they renovate the first floor and rent that out at commercial rates but leave the upstairs alone (with additional costs like modern fire escapes, second story renovation can be more costly for less return)

    In any case, convincing that first property owner to take the leap and develop their property is the key. Without that first move, most owners remain reticent about investing in improvements because it will take a long time to recoup that cost and they may not be able to keep up with the loan payments.
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  7. #7
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    P.Y., Gurnee is spot on. Also it seems to me sometimes you're just looking for a wedge, an opener. Some cities have had success moving or revitalizing important civic structures into the "downtown" they're revitalizing. Of course, there are cases of absolute disaster too.
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  8. #8
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    Sorry for the double post. I meant to tell you there is a group for downtown revitalization on Linked-In that has posted some excellent articles. I would look at it.
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  9. #9
    Cyburbian Cloverhill's avatar
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    Live / Work units

    perhaps a little off topic but we are trying to encourage new construction that is mixed use (we call them live work units). They can be any combination of residential and commercial uses. Several problems arise though:

    Building code for a commercial structure dictates a much more substantial building (handicap accessible bathrooms, wider staircases, etc) so the structure ends up being too expensive if it goes all residential.

    Users don't know what to make of them. Commercial developers don't usually build townhouses and residential developers don't usually build offices or stores. So no one wants them.

    Hard to assess and tax so that office is boggled.

    What happens when there is a residential tenant upstairs and the office downstairs wants to expand?

    Commercial uses that need a loading area are just not going to work.

    Parking is a mess, mixing customers and residents.

    There are other problems, but I think the end results is that this type of mixed use has to develop organically.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Good points Cloverhill. I am all for live work units as a viable option in our mix of options, but I share your concerns. A true live work unit does not have a tenant upstairs; the home and business are combined. So, what do we do after the original owner sells, and the next generation is not interested in live work? The best live work examples I have seen are adaptive reuse of older houses rather than new construction.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mike gurnee View post
    ...A true live work unit does not have a tenant upstairs; the home and business are combined...
    You hit on something that has been on my mind lately. A growing number of people work from home. This might be a niche for the right builder, in the right location. IMagine a home designed with mixing business and living space. An office might be up front near the door, with space for storage. It might be next to a dining room to provide overflow or meeting space. The house itself would not be tucked deep within the subdivision, but on one of the entry streets, perhaps closer to commercial areas. Comparable to the converted residences you see adjacent to small downtowns.
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  12. #12
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    I think that a concern in trying to develop residential units within small town downtowns is the demand. In most small towns that I'm familiar with, most residents live in single family dwellings even if they are renters, and most renters are either elderly or poor, and frequently both. I think that the rents for residential units in rehabbed or new buildings would be significantly out of the price range of these people unless there were government subsidies. Younger people with decent incomes who want to rent rather than buy make up a very small percentage of small town residents since so many of these gravitate to bigger towns and cities.

    If there's only a demand for maybe 20-50 one-bedroom apartments in a downtown area of a 3000 person village/town -- and half of that demand is from seniors -- it's not going to add a lot of life to downtown.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mike gurnee View post
    Good points Cloverhill. I am all for live work units as a viable option in our mix of options, but I share your concerns. A true live work unit does not have a tenant upstairs; the home and business are combined. So, what do we do after the original owner sells, and the next generation is not interested in live work? The best live work examples I have seen are adaptive reuse of older houses rather than new construction.
    We've seen a few projects in Albuquerque crater that were "true" live/work spaces in this sense. My opinion is that these projects were in part not very successful precisely because they mixed these uses in a contiguous space. When I think back on the types of urban spaces that inspired what NU and others call "live/work," very often the two spaces were separate. Yes, the same person may be both living upstairs and running the bakery below, but I suspect just as often, or over time, building owners might live upstairs and rent out the commercial space below or vice versa. Many owners even live elsewhere and rent each space to a different client. Finding one renter that wants both could be more challenging, result in lost revenue and just generally not be worth it.

    My point is that linking the two spaces as contiguous (some of the ones here make separating the spaces virtually impossible by virtue of their design) reduces the range of prospective buyers/users. Dynamic spaces that can be used and adaptive for a range of purposes is, I think, a critical aspect of successful urban design, especially in downtown areas. Economies shift and change and so should the nature and use of spaces as they respond to these changing circumstances. This is the kind of dynamism many enjoy about larger, older urban places and is, I think, at least part of the inspiration for a lot of New Urbanist principles (as misguided as I think that movement has become).
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  14. #14
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    You asked about incentives, and Oregon has what are called vertical housing zones that essentially are the equivalent of economic development zones. They allow tax abatement for residential development above the ground floor. http://www.ohcs.oregon.gov/OHCS/HFS_..._Program.shtml

    I tried to interest my city council in one a few years ago, but I think the idea of "vertical" scared them off because in this town the view is everything. I am going to be bringing it back later this year.

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    Thanks for your help

    Hello everyone, and thanks for you replies !

    On my quest, I forgot to come back here !

    I found some info in various part of the USA. Here are some links about different upper floor housing programs and incentives (not all are from small towns though...) :
    - Upper floor task force (Vermont) http://findarticles.com/p/articles/m...g=content;col1
    - Upstairs downtown (Illinois) http://www.illinoishistory.gov/ps/upperstory.htm and
    http://www.traditional-building.com/...Feature09.html
    - Rock Island, source of inspiration for the upstairs downtown project : http://www2.rigov.org/pdf/pressrelea...owntownTIF.pdf
    - Albany, (Oregon) http://www.cityofalbany.net/citymana...upperfloor.php
    - Vacant property registration fee in Wilmington, Delaware http://www.innovations.harvard.edu/a...html?id=101461 http://www.wilmingtonde.gov/VacantProperties/

    Hope that helps someone else in return !!


    PY

  16. #16
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    We've seen a few projects in Albuquerque crater that were "true" live/work spaces in this sense. My opinion is that these projects were in part not very successful precisely because they mixed these uses in a contiguous space.
    They're sitting vacant? Or are they starting out as single-use?

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