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Tips for transit developments

With developers, community planners, nonprofits, transit organizations, affordable housing entities and city or county districts all having unique ways of quantifying success and determining appropriate areas for new communities and transit districts, it can be difficult to settle on projects that meet the needs of all groups involved.

Will Fleissig, president of Communitas Development Inc. and the keynote speaker at the San Diego/Tijuana Urban Land Institute’s Complete Communities Marketplace on Friday, presented seven tips to counteract this division.

“Every one of us has our own way of making a decision that’s completely separated out,” Fleissig said. “This is a big problem, so I’m going to give you seven things to think about to break through this.”

The following are Fleissig’s tips, which have been lightly edited.

Expand the geography: The quarter-mile or half-mile circle concept is wrong. It’s not enough to create a quarter-mile circle and jam everything into that. You’ve got to expand the corridor, expand the width and length, and change what happens around this transit center. Increase the affordable housing zone, expand private partnerships, and get fewer subsidies per unit. Each station has its own weird, crazy derived boundary because the people who feel they’re part of it and want to be part of it will then help fund what’s going to happen.

Dig up the data: We’ve done really interesting algorithmic data studies looking at a lot of different screens, figuring out where the next emerging district is, where’s the next place where we should be looking, where investment should be made. For San Diego we started to map where we wanted to talk to brokers and say, “This is where I want you to go and this is why.”

Find the nuggets: Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties neighborhood was bombed out, the worst place you could possibly want to be as a developer north of downtown. Then a guy who’s a developer who grew up around there and wanted to restore the area started investing and buying properties because he could see something was going on. It’s now one of the 10 hippest neighborhoods in the United States. You’ve got to go and talk to the business owners, talk to the shop owners and see who’ s doing something and start those new ideas.

Forge new districts: A Ph.D. student and I did an analysis and looked at a map of all the activities that were happening in certain case study areas. You’ll notice something -- every one of those curves demarking the geographies has this dense crook, meaning something is accelerating. There’s more productivity happening, more infrastructure and development -- why? One of the things that we found was that what started to accelerate things was the formation of a district by the property owners and the businesses. And it almost didn’t matter how much money or how many people were involved; it was the psychological impact of saying “I’m in this, I want to be part of this.” So you have to kind of start where you are and work from there.

Link private investment with community benefits: How do we do this? New idea: transit oriented investments, TOIs. These would be linked to the developments so you can say to the community and to your residents, “We are going to link to phase in these upgrades as development starts to happen.” Because usually you do all the infrastructure, you make it all nice and then development will happen, which is a chicken-and-egg situation. We’ve been working on how to assess what to do depending on the market and looking at each submarket based on a four-quadrant chart with “parcel-level development” and “TOD factors” axes. You have to look at the intervention and where the investment is and get realistic about the whole idea.

Market readiness: How do you identify the financial optimal outcome? If you add in the market metric, public policies and the development feasibility, that equals the potential for development. Now with computer generation we can run a million pro formas to decide where there is feasibility. We just did this in Minneapolis on seven transit stations, and were able to tell the transit agency, before preliminary engineering and before the EIR, that they should move several of the station locations. We looked at the building type, construction type, kind of parking, and we looked at these stations to see where we saw the feasibility for development without subsidies, and could therefore think about the best place for the station.

Create the momentum: You need a coordinating entity, a third party, especially without a redevelopment agency, that’s going to maximize livability benefits and galvanize people. You may actually have a little bit of a competition among nonprofits or groups like Civic San Diego and other foundations to determine who will take this coordinating entity role.

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