Successes and challenges of infill development examined
June 20, 2008
Steamboat Springs — There are only two problems people have with development: density and sprawl, Glenwood Springs Mayor Pro-Tem David Merritt said Thursday.
And until developers and governments can learn to rectify such conflicting opinions and concerns, projects small and large will have a tough time proceeding without controversy, he added.
Elected officials and town employees gathered in Steamboat Springs on Thursday for the second day of the Colorado Municipal League’s annual conference. Many participated in a workshop about successful cases of infill development and redevelopment across the state. Discussions focused on the roles that government support and citizen approval play in large-scale redevelopment, such as the Belmar project in Lakewood.
At Belmar, the “dying” Villa Italia mall has been replaced with a 22-block mixed-use development, with nearly 1 million square feet of retail and office space and more than 750 residential units completed throughout the past decade, said Tom Gougeon, chief development officer with project developer Continuum Partners.
A mixed-use plan was key to limiting negative impacts on the surrounding parts of Lakewood, Gougeon said. The project has tripled density on the Belmar site, without the need to add a single new traffic light to the area, he said.
Infrastructure improvements at the site were paid for up front by the developer, to be paid back over time with property, sales and other taxes generated at Belmar, Lakewood Mayor Bob Murphy said.
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“It is a model that creates no debt for your citizens,” Murphy said. “It’s a very safe solution for taxpayers, but it’s complicated to explain and is subject to the dreaded two-word phrase ‘developer subsidies.’ “
From the beginning, a citizen advisory group has weighed in on the Belmar project, and the original principles people wanted the infill development to stick to have remained central, Murphy said.
“It takes time, it takes ingenuity, and it takes a lot of community buy-in,” he said.
Although the Belmar development is widely considered a success, it still faces many future obstacles, including the high cost of operations and maintenance for its metro district, and the pressures of keeping the retail side of the development successful. The plug also has been pulled temporarily on groundbreaking for future residential development at Belmar since the housing market has “dried up,” Gougeon said.
Pollutants or site contamination also can complicate redevelopment.
So-called brownfields can be anything from former industrial sites and landfills, to ex-gas stations, buildings formerly occupied by dry cleaners and meth labs, Colorado Brownfields Foundation Executive Director Jesse Silverstein said.
In Steamboat Springs, brownfield revitalization has been seen in projects such as The Victoria, where a former gas station site soon will be home to a mixed-use development at 10th Street and Lincoln Avenue.
Even with the extra costs that cleaning up contaminants may require, municipalities often have something to gain philosophically, using infill development to reduce sprawl, and fiscally, by limiting infrastructure and service expansion, Silverstein said.
In Clear Creek County, where the only flat parcels of land that remain undeveloped are former mining sites, a great deal of brownfield mitigation is going on, he said.