Luke Mari of Purdey Group addresses the feedback we hear again and again when undertaking residential infill development projects.
Hello! Welcome to the Dialogue. You'll notice design experts, politicians and those wanting to participate in an open dialogue on urban densification posting here.
I'd like to kick things off by addressing some of the feedback we receive consistently when undertaking urban infill development projects. We are not intending to dismiss these concerns. Rather, it is our attempt to provide clarity around why we do what we do and our underlying belief structure. In the end though, we may still disagree, but hopefully we’re able to introduce a more fulsome understanding of the divergent views.
With that...here are our Top Five:
1. ALL developers are greedy and looking to maximize profit at the neighbourhood's expense
People don’t pull any punches on this one, and in all fairness, it’s understandable. Some of us haven’t had the best first hand experiences with land developers, but just like some people enjoy going to the dentist, others dread it. Not all developers are the same. Not all accountants, police officers, dentists or baristas are the same.
Now, let’s address the elephant in the room: Yes! We are a for-profit company (just like any other business). For-profit doesn’t mean we don’t have good intentions or well thought-out guiding principles. We believe that thoughtful infill housing can add value to a neighbourhood by offering a variety of housing types that welcome a diverse mix of people.
2. The proposed developments near me will lower my property value
Residential property can be one of the most complicated, stressful, and expensive matters in our lives. We are rightfully protective of our personal investments. Fortunately, there is quite a bit of research done in this area. Overall, the vast majority of these studies have shown that higher density development has either a negligible or positive impact on property values.
In fact, we found a study that showed us that living next to a landfill only had only a 5-7% decrease on property values! We undertook our own little experiment here in Victoria to see how things fared. We selected a handful of recent infill development projects. We checked their assessed values: two years before development, during construction and then two years after completion. We were curious to see what sort of effect they had on land values in the surrounding area. The results we found were consistent with the findings in other reports we’ve read. New development had either no impact on land values or it increased the value of the surrounding properties.
Studies we've read pertaining to this:
The Impact of Multifamily Development on Single Family Home Prices in the Greater Boston Area - By Arah Schuur (2005)
Effects of mixed-income, multi-family rental housing developments on single-family housing values - By Henry O. Pollakowski, David Ritchayzoe Weinrobe (2005)
Examining the Impact of Mixed Use/Mixed Income Housing Developments in the Richmond Region - By Lisa A. Sturtevant PhD, John McClain AICP
George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis (2010)
3. These new homes will shadow my property
Who doesn’t love a living room full of spring sunshine? The scale of densification we are talking about here tends to be 2-3 storey townhomes or 4-5 storey apartments. Both of these building sizes need to be approached differently in how they relate to the existing homes of the area. We ought to look at shading within the context of incremental change over what could potentially be built under existing zoning.
Keep in mind a 2.5 storey house is also a party to change. At one point in time, that house did not exist and its construction had an impact on the landscape. That said, with advances in 3D modelling, architectural design and construction, we can work to mitigate or even eliminate shading of adjacent properties by considering a building’s orientation to the sun. Whether that be introducing a courtyard design, terracing the structure away from existing buildings, or changing the building’s orientation to suit the site’s conditions. In addition, building types such as ground-oriented townhomes are often the same height/massing as single family homes which offer comparable shadowing impacts, if any. However, there are instances when shadows are unavoidable and we have to compromise while taking into consideration the benefit that structure may be bring to the neighbourhood as a whole.
4. My neighbourhood is perfect as is and you’ll overrun it with cars
The things that make inner city neighbourhoods so great also tend to be the reasons why they need densification. They are walkable, rich in amenities, favourable for healthy living and full of parks and beaches to share with family and friends. These denser development patterns can not only offer car-light lifestyles but also increase the feasibility of alternative forms of transportation like car-shares, bicycling and transit.
5. This project will destroy the neighbourhood character
Ahhh, the kiss of death for any new development project: neighbourhood character. Speaking for ourselves and the like-minded developers we know, the goal isn’t to destroy neighbourhoods, but rather support them and prevent them from becoming exclusive.
At the root of how we accomplish this, is change. Change is scary for all of us, but what we’re hearing some communities vocalize is even scarier. Realistically, what does protecting the character of a neighbourhood mean to you? Is it keeping renters from moving to your street? Is it keeping multi-unit housing solutions out of your neighbourhood? Is it leaving residential policy and zoning requirements just as they are, for all of Victoria?
We can’t help but worry that these statements also seem to imply: we don’t want young people living on our street. Or worse: those who can’t afford to live in our neighborhood, shouldn’t.
In response to this exclusive-type mentality, we propose opening up neighbourhoods to be more inclusive. This means introducing housing types that are compatible with the surrounding properties and neighbourhood, but also offering attainable options to those who may not otherwise be able to afford a home in that area.
Many of the neighbourhoods with vocal communities looking to protect their neighbourhood’s character were formed during an era when there were little to no zoning regulations. This meant people could build homes, duplexes, commercial shops and three or four storey walk-ups with no parking, and build homes right up to the sidewalk. There are examples of this all over Victoria.
Victoria prides itself on inclusiveness and openness, yet when it comes to facilitating change that could welcome new people into neighbourhoods, our inclusiveness seems to have limits. Observing project proposals, we have noticed that nearly every speaker supports -- so long as they’re located elsewhere. We all seem to agree that something must be done to improve housing supply, until it impacts our ability to find a parking spot. Let’s get beyond this and share our great neighbourhoods!
Thank you for reading our first Dialogue piece!
As developers, it is important for us to acknowledge that we cannot just build ourselves out of this problem. It is going to take supply AND demand measures from developers, non-profits, citizens and all levels of government working in tandem to solve these challenges.
Stay tuned for a series of other posts from well known authors on topics such as neighbourhood housing types, character, transportation and sustainable urbanism.