There are several things that I have learned while planing, coding, and developing, mixed-use projects. These are not all the answers, simply a list of lessons and observations from my own experiences. I want to share this list with you, and i hope that you contribute your own experiences in the comment section.
1. There is a difference between a mixed use district and a mixed use development. All American cities prior to 1960ish were mixed use districts. These places were Walkable, and allowed for a variety of uses to be placed throughout the community. Once traditional patterns were outlawed through zoning, developers built mixed use developments in the form of planned unit development or single building projects under special exemption.
2. Allow for the vertical mix of uses, but do not require it. Is is very unlikely that you will be able to attract a vertical mix of uses. Obstacles outside of planning discourage this. Banking, finance, management, and tenants, all add challenges. We have found that if you can allow for horizontal or live work flex units, which will be able to attract the lenders and start construction.
3. Remember we are reviving a lost craft. In my community, the planners were greedy and demanding. They wanted an instant building that met the ideal of mixed use. Unfortunately, this sacred away development teams that needed more experience and understanding. Do not let the first mixed use building became the last, because of poor execution. Cities have developed over time. It will take time and baby steps for your community to rediscover mixed use development.
4. Match the use to the form. Gas stations can be part of a mixed use district, but will never be successful in a mixed use building. There are certain uses that you need to be very upfront about and restrict. You also need to attract uses by outlining the uses as desirable. Day care, professional offices, service industries, and retail, make great compatible residential partners.
5. Remember that the residents can be your biggest post construction obstacle. Americans are very protective of where they sleep. Like the developer, residents need to be reminded that they have chosen to live in an active place.
6. Do not over code what you want. I find that planners become designers when adding new regulations to a code. This translates into extra requirements to achieve your goal. Make mixed-use the easiest and simplest land use. Right size the parking, reduce the setbacks, reduce open space requirements, ect. In some communities they classify mixed use as a zoning and a future land-use that you can have by right. This moves you directly to go.
7. Use architectural regulations like training wheels. I have found that most architectural requirements found in zoning codes are in conflict with the building code and right of way use requirements. Focus on building frontages, signage, massing, and extension into a right of way.
8. Get the streets right. Walkable building types will fail if your area is not Walkable. Wide sidewalks and on street parking, should be encouraged, if not required. You municipal engineer may cringed at this idea, but they will warm up if you provide an avenue for the development to sign a maintenance agreement or pay for the installation. In this economy, money talks, and on street parking generates tens of thousands of dollars in revenue.
9. Legalize the private use of the sidewalk. Be sure that you can easily allow for sidewalk cafés.
10. Size does not matter, form does. Lowes, Target, and numerous grocery chains, have integrated large foot prints into mixed use developments. Floor plate restrictions complicate an already complicated issue and limit the opportunity for development.
11. Allow for review flexibility. Always include an ability for review staff to allow alternative options. This will allow for shuttle flexibility in the design, and provide leverage in negotiating good design.
12. Be prepared to adjust the code as you go. I have seen many cases where the development met the code and had a vertical mix of uses. Unfortunately, the building looked terrible, the community hated it, and the development bankrupted the developer. Include the ability for the reviewing staff to have some discretion in the approval process. Be prepared to make some code changes after the first few projects. This is not failure, this is calibration.
13. Be sure that your code includes accommodation for what I call Transitionals. Tranistionals are suburbanites returning to an urban context. They need help transitioning back into compact development. Offer some training wheels while they learn to down size, or until they discover bike share. This may include the construction of dedicated residential parking that can be phased out. Focus on the details that really matter that can never be altered, like where the front entrance of the residential is located.
14. On-Street Parking and Mixed-Use go together like Peanut Butter and Jelly. Yes, you can have a sandwich with only peanut butter, but lacks something. The benefits of on-street parking are exponentially multiplied when there is a mix of uses.
Please share your own observations in the comment section of this post. I would love to hear your stories of what has or has not worked for the successful integration of uses in your community.