Design regulations and codes do not redevelop blighted properties; investors do. Urban Designers must do a lot of the heavy lifting to illustrate what is possible to attract or guide investment. Drawing the regulations is the easiest way to show the developer how to incrementally implement a community's vision.
Blighted properties, especially in areas that are transitioning from suburban to urban or from auto-centric to walkable, have an uphill battle for redevelopment. Many times, the use or investment proposed is simply a slightly better use then the previous terrible use. In this example, a failing gas station converted into a failing taco shop. The taco shop then upgraded by adding a convenience store. The only notable investment to this property for 10 years was the exterior green and mustard paint.
This property is the definition of a blighted property that became more of an eyesore as each tenant failed at this location. The site depreciated to the point that that, the property owner was only willing to invest in a new sign, and realtors could only attract purchasers with the desire to open another taco shop.
The Urban Designer has two critical roles in this situation. First, the development potential for this site must be illustrated. For most investors, they cannot see past the current blight. As with the popular tv makeover shows, they need an image the inspires beyond blight. Secondly, the Urban Designer must vocalize the community expectations of the code requirements for redevelopment. This communication can occur in many forms. In this case, I developed a small booklet that the realtor could share with their listing and what was shared in several community meetings. The graphics could also be plastered on a real estate sign at the site or on a municipal webpage.
Design regulations and zoning codes are living documents that change over time. These regulations change to either prevent current uses, or to attract additional new desirable uses. The Urban Designer can illustrate the potential for this type of site, showing possible site program. In this location, the street was up-zoned to allow for mixed-use and compact development. This parcel could yield a mix of uses with a significant lot coverage, meaning that the current building could be expanded up and out. This property could yield over four times the current development.
In blighted or redevelopment areas, the current conditions may not support this allowable development. That is why the urban designer must draw the regulations. The Urban Designer must be prepared to outline the community's regulatory expectations. The rules for this site required a significant amount of investment before the property could be occupied. In this community of Old Palm City, the county adopted community vision and associated regulations to implement a pretty bold vision.
The challenge in this type of project is the collaboraion once an investor shows interest in the property. The investor is the actual market, and they retain certian development rights. This requires a significant amount of collaboration and the very heavy power of the pen.
For this location, the investor was not intersted in a bigger building or a mixed-use development. The property was formally a gas station, and the propsed use was a tire shop utlizing that entitlement. The investor also did not want to move or expand the building, so there was no proposal to change the form.
The role I took in this project as the Urban Designer is to encouraged the property owner to make a greater private investment in the architectural character and overall design for the development to bring the development into the context of an urban, walkable community. This conversation started with the developer sharing thier first pass at the elevation of the building.
An Urban Designer on staff or retainer with the municipality can offset the hard costs of the development of the architecture or the site plan. The community can provide professional services to the development that will result in less work by the consultant architect, expedited permitting, and a new facade that contributes to the community vision.
For this project, a quick, and wiggly sketch, developed during a meeting illistrated an alternative. For this building, the roof structure needed to be replaced. The intial concept porposed a complex and what was discovered to be an expenisive roof structure. Using the community design guildlines and refrences from another comaprable project, a simple, more traditional roof form was developed which cost less to install was proposed. This opened the door to explore other cost savings that resutled in better design. This work cost nothing to the developer but achieved significant value to the community.
The final result in this process is a new building facade consistent with the community vision for Old Palm City, and an active new business that has created new jobs in Martin County. This project is an incremental step in the right direction which adds value and makes the development of the next project easier.