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Friday, May 30, 2008

Do You Have a Daybreak Blog?

Are you a Daybreak resident with a blog or website? I want to list your blog on Daybreak Today. It can be a business blog, tech blog, political, it doesn't matter. Just comment on this post with the location of your blog.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New Daybreak Dog Park

Kennecott recently announced that a dog park will become the newest amenity in Eastlake Village. When I saw the announcement I thought that it was a good idea. Since most people have smaller yards many of their dogs do not have a whole lot of room to run about and play. This park should provide ample room for the dogs to play to their hearts content. Now that there is a designated park for dogs to be off-leash, there should be less dogs running off-leash in the open parks next to residences. The physical and social benefits for dogs are readily apparent. One of the main benefits of dog parks listed by research is that dogs will be less likely to harm other dogs if they are socialized at a young age. Also, in my opinion a tired dog is a good dog. Tired dogs do not bark incessantly, jump on neighbors or destroy property. Besides, dogs need exercise too. My aunt has had a few dogs in the last 15 years. They all seem to get really fat and when I asked her why she would always tell me that they had a “thyroid problem.” More than likely they were getting fed way too much and were never walked at all.

One of the best benefits of a dog park is not for the dogs, but for the owners. In fact, dogs are now being recognized for their physical and mental health benefits, for their role as companions and catalysts for human social interaction, and in helping children learn responsibility. People socialize more naturally when they are sure that they have something in common. New Urbanism is all about getting people out of their homes and grouping them in a community so that they will form neighborly bonds. This dog park is an excellent way to do just that.

Right now I do not have a friendship with man’s best friend, but I plan to start that friendship soon. In looking at the sheer number of breeds available I felt an appreciation for the diversity of dogs. You can find them as large as a Great Dane, but they can be as small as a Chihuahua . They have even created weird new breeds of dogs that are becoming more and more common. Maybe someone will bring their Puggle (Beagle and Pug mix) or their Labradoodle (Labrador and Poodle mix) to the dog park. Considering this, I thought it was a good idea that the dog park is designed so that smaller and shyer dogs can go into one separate section and larger more aggressive dogs can go into another.

A dog park is actually a fairly rare amenity that is usually only implemented with the commitment of numerous volunteers and public funding. I am glad that Kennecott has incorporated into Daybreak as it adds more diversity to the already impressive list of amenities.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Cottonwood Mall - A New Dawn

Maybe you have heard that the Cottonwood Mall located in Holladay is going to be redeveloped by General Growth Properties, Inc. (GGP). 57 acres of what used to be acres and acres of parking lots will now be transformed into a new urban walkable community. They have torn down most of the old mall except the Macy's store which will be incorporated into the new plan. The plan calls for office space, retail, entertainment, and residential space to be mixed together using traditional architecture. In fact, GGP is planning for 534 residential units which will mostly be in the form of condos and townhomes, but there will be a few single-family detached homes as well. 700,00 square feet of retail along with 100,000 square feet of office space will be integrated among these residential units. GGP even managed to fit 17 acres of open space into the plan along with a stream that will skirt the western and southern sides of the development.

In my opinion, this plan is the best possible use for that piece of real estate. The land is being recycled into a walkable mixed-use community that will be a sign of things to come. This kind of development is called gray field development a form of infill new urbanism. Many do not know this, but malls across the country are being redeveloped in much the same way. As with the Cottonwood Mall, sales for these retail establishments have been on the steady decline and many have become a blight in the community. Governments seeking to revitalize the area to increase tax base and rid themselves of blight have aided developers to turn these old malls into walkable mixed-use communities. Belmar, Colorado is a prime example of this and the local government is just starting to reap the benefits of such a community.

Many of the citizens of the Cottonwood area are skeptical of the plan and especially the tax-increment financing that the Granite School District will use to pay for an estimated $52 million in infrastructure improvements for the project. I really would not worry if I were living in that tax base. The tax base for that municipality will increase substantially when the development is finished and there will be more than enough money to pay the debt. The increase in property values will have an impact too. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that there was an immediate rise in the value of surrounding real estate corresponding to the announcement of the redevelopment plans.

GGP is the second largest owner of malls in the U.S. and is usually the purveyor of drivable suburban malls. This development is their first venture into new urbanism a move that may signal a change in policy for the company. They still have malls like fashionplace that are thriving, but a change is on the horizon. More and more conventional malls will be redeveloped into mixed-use communities along with the increased demand for walkable communities. The project currently has an elongated time-line that will last the next ten years. Will it compete with Daybreak for customers of walkable new urbanism? A little. According to estimates of demand for new urbanism, there will be no shortage of customers in this area of the market and there will be plenty for both developments.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Chips in the Concrete - Richmond American

KSL did a news story a few days ago about the vast amount of homes that have defective driveways. This is not the first time that they have done a story on this subject. At about this time last year KSL did a news story about homes in Stansbury Park in Tooele County. Richmond American Homes constructed a large amount of homes in the area and many of the driveways were falling apart. This story struck a chord with many of the viewers and soon KSL was inundated with similar complaints about their driveways. Homes all over the Wasatch Front were exhibiting the same crumbling driveways. One seemingly common thread was that many of the homes were built by Richmond American Homes. The problem with this accusation is that other home owners who bought houses from different builders had the same problem. Indeed many other builders were accused in the comments section of the article online. Almost every home builder in the Wasatch Front that does “tract” housing has been blamed for poor quality concrete driveways.

Accusations are flying about every part of the process and it seems everyone has a different opinion. Many are blaming the actual content of the cement mix. This argument holds that demand for cement was overwhelming due to the housing boom, the demand from China, and the rebuilding efforts after hurricane Katrina. The theory stipulates that this high demand led to manufacturers putting in too much fly ash or other substances which weaken the structural integrity of the concrete. Using these additives extended the amount they could produce to meet this high demand.

While testing is the norm in commercial construction there is no such requirement for residential construction. Concrete contractors apparently do not have to have any special equipment or licenses either. One person commented, “Anyone with $500.00 in tools, can start a residential concrete construction company.” This is probably the most cited reason for the concrete damage. The skill of the contractor in installing the concrete is crucial to its longevity. Putting too much water in the mix, installing at the wrong time of year, finishing too early, etc. are all aspects of installation that can be handled improperly. Even if the mix and the installation of the concrete are of good quality, Utah has an extreme climate that damages roads and concrete with large fluctuations in temperature and moisture. The seasonal snowfall also brings another degrading factor to concrete: salt. In fact, the use of salt and deicers on cement voids many warranties issued by home builders. Even if you don't salt your driveway yourself your car will bring in the salt that is poured all over state roads. However, many reports suggest that these chemicals affect concrete minimally if at all. In my opinion it is a mix of these mitigating factors that has resulted in thousands of Utah driveways to disintegrate.

While everyone has a different theory of what is causing this, all of these factors point to one common theme: tract housing. When home builders are building homes as fast as the people on extreme home makeover, there will be problems. The builders that do this cut costs at every stage of construction. While builders try to maintain quality, the defects of their creations do not usually come out until the house is nearly a year old. Assembly line quality controls cannot possibly produce a quality house.

The bad part of all of this is the response from Richmond American. Many of their customers are extremely dissatisfied. While the news story on KSL features a few of these homeowners, I have found that the loathing of some homeowners has gone above and beyond my expectations. This hatred is exhibited in the existence of such websites as and I have not seen websites such as this for any other homebuilder. Richmond American is actually the largest homebuilder in the U.S. and is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The company is owned by MDC Holdings Inc which has seen their stock plummet from a high of over 80 dollars in July of 05’ to less than 40 dollars as of today. A result of the housing crises.

The nature of this company is the main reason why I did not and would not let them build a home for me. Many of my neighbors have expressed their dissatisfaction with Richmond American and their voices seem to have been heard. Apparently Richmond American will no longer be building in Daybreak. They will finish up their commitment in Eastlake Village, but after that they are out. Hopefully Kennecott will only let local builders not corporate conglomerates build Daybreak homes in the future.

Monday, May 19, 2008

West Bench Plan Setback

The Salt Lake Tribune printed a story about a break down in the planning process for the West Bench today. An interesting story to say the least. The two parties do not seem to be planning as much as negotiating who will have control. In this they seem to be having a zero sum negotiation with no creativity whatsoever. This control is referred to by Kennecott as "vesting."

I can definitely see Kennecott's point of view on this one. If you are developing a few acres, then the time frame for the project will be short-term. You can be assured that politics will not change drastically and the atmosphere will be the same. On the other hand, Kennecott's endeavor has a time line that stretches to the end of this century. They want to make sure that the tides of political change do not treat their plans like an etch-a-sketch.

The representatives of Salt Lake County also have a valid point. They do not want to bind future administrations to the decisions that are made today. Apparently they cannot legally do this although that is probably debatable as well. By allowing Kennecott to set their plans in stone they feel as if they will have given a dictator control over planning of the West Bench. A dictator who will not relinquish control until the next century. Quite the dilemma.

These two views are not total polar opposites. If the two parties proposed more creative solutions, then I feel that they would not have encountered this impasse. However, from what I read in the paper, neither party seemed astute in communicating with one another. Months of unproductive meetings seemed to be the result. One quote really stands out from the others:

Joe Hatch, who recalled a similar politely worded threat in a private meeting earlier this year. "If you think that kind of threat is going to change our beliefs about planning and zoning," he remembers telling company officials, "it ain't going to work."
"Beliefs." To me that is a strong word. Would he be talking of new urbanism? Density? That is not clear, but obviously he did not like his negotiating position. Does Kennecott have to absolutely win his heart and mind? No.

The county even listed "lessons learned." These seem to concentrate on improving their negotiating position. An interesting lesson learned is that they apparently want to control all planning documents:
"Avoid giving the applicant - in this case, Kennecott - the right to write and produce planning documents. Control of those records must remain with the county, "no matter who is paying the bill."
The county doesn't even seem to keep track of what they disagree about. Another "lesson learned" is to
"Keep minutes to meetings to track ideas and define points of agreement and disagreement."
Wow, thats a novel idea. Who would think of keeping minutes so that they could reference them later. In my opinion the fault lies with both parties. I think that Kennecott could preserve their plans for the west bench and satisfy the demands of the county. Besides, there are no perfect plans. In the end, Kennecott definitely has the upper hand. Kennecott has other venues that it can pursue to accomplish their ends. With this action the county may have excluded itself from having a greater degree of influence on the West Bench. Instead of a comprehensive plan with one government entity, Kennecott will piece together their plan with the municipalities of the West side. Over which Kennecott will be able to exert and even greater influence than the county. From what I can see the break down will not halt Kennecott's plans, nor will they "crumble."

Friday, May 16, 2008

Kennecott and New Urbanism

The West Bench plan is an impressive road map to a sustainable future on the West side of the Salt Lake Valley . I like the plan along with many citizens and groups throughout the valley. This plan is especially interesting considering that a mining company is responsible for building these green new urban communities. However, the way Kennecott has chosen to communicate this plan intrigues me. I have found that many of my neighbors in Daybreak are puzzled when I mention that Daybreak is a New Urban community. They have never heard of the term. That is completely understandable since I have not seen Kennecott use the word in any of their advertisements or brochures.

They use the terms smart growth and sustainability all the time, but not “new urbanism.” Of course, I have not searched through every single piece of literature that Kennecott Land has ever produced. Is Kennecott shy about the fact that Daybreak follows new urban principles? More likely Kennecott decided that the public was not ready for an advertising campaign that proclaims the merits of new urbanism. This makes some sense considering that the Daybreak community was the first major new urban community in Utah . Introduce the concept slowly so people get used to the idea. So you see the advertising featuring the kids playing, the traditional architecture, community gatherings, and the silhouette of the tree on the yellow background with the tag line “this is getting good.” These advertisements appeal to our nostalgic side of how neighborhoods used to be. It also appeals to parents who feel that it takes a community to raise a child. Not that these advertisements are bad. They’re not. In fact the old saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" applies here. But while they show the pictures of and people who live in a new urban community, they do not convey the philosophy behind the development.

Maybe that is why some people are surprised when the City of South Jordan distributed the flyer informing citizens about the future Daybreak apartments. Conflicts usually come about because people or groups have differing expectations. Kennecott Land should probably stick with their current campaign, but they need to inform the residents and prospective residents about the philosophy behind Daybreak. Maybe then people will know what to expect.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Renting In Daybreak

In an earlier post I talked about how apartments are an integral part of new urban communities. In my opinion if they are integrated properly into a community they can bring diversity and allow people that could not otherwise afford to buy a home a chance to live in Daybreak. How do Daybreak residents feel about apartments being built? According to a Daybreak Daily website poll most Daybreak residents do not like the idea. In fact, 62.5% of the 115 respondents indicated that they were not happy with the decision to build apartments in Daybreak. (May 13) They are not alone. Most owners of single-family homes or condos in the United States do not want to live near rental housing. They see them as high-crime areas that put extraordinary burdens on local schools and civil services. However this has been proven completely false. Numerous studies conducted by Harvard, NYU, and numerous government entities prove that these claims are false. Per unit crime in apartments is almost equal to that of single family homes. As for property values, "Between 1987 and 1995, single-family houses located within 300 feet of apartment communities appreciated at roughly the same rate as those not near an apartment property, 3.12 percent compared to 3.19 percent."

On the other hand I feel that there is something to be said about the habits that tend to be exhibited by renters. People frequently moving in and out result in noise and create an environment of impermanence and of a transitory lifestyle. Property managers report a higher incidence of rule violations by tenants. Examples include noise disturbances, illegal parking and overburdening of the Association recreational facilities. These rules are broken because many tenants are ignorant of these community restrictions. Rental occupancies tend to be shorter than owner occupancies and do not facilitate long-term relationships among neighbors. Resident owners are more likely to carefully maintain exclusive use common areas than are tenants. However, most of these negative attributes apply to homes and condos that are rented out. These are properties that are integrated into the community with the purpose of being owner occupied. The condos and homes in Daybreak that are being leased are more likely to exhibit these problems. With the proper planning the negative impacts can be minimized.

From what I understand Kennecott intends to build many apartments in or within close proximity to the village center. This is good planning, but the devil is in the details. How exactly will they integrate it with the predominant architecture in Daybreak? Exactly how close will these apartments be to single family homes? I would not want to walk out of my front door and stare at a massive facade of a 5 story concrete apartment building. Kennecott Land seems to have a penchant for surprising stake holders by withholding details until the last minute. I would urge them to be a little more forthcoming with residents. Especially those on Topcrest.

Many aspects of the community hinge on the successful integration of higher density housing. Take TRAX for example. You cannot justify having a line run into daybreak without a certain amount of residents in the immediate area of the stations. This calls for density. To truly be a walkable community a development must have a higher density for all essentials to be in close proximity to all homes in a community. From a business standpoint, it makes sense to build these apartments now. It is good timing that they are ready to build the village center and apartments right when the market for rental properties has become much more attractive and commercial entities are still expanding. In all practicality I feel that these apartments can be a great addition to the community if they are done properly. I just hope the planners use the successful attributes of other new urban communities.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Premium for New Urbanism

One of the most popular criticisms of Daybreak that I have heard people use is that the community is overpriced. In my opinion the whole market is overpriced at this point, but holding this factor aside is Daybreak more expensive than comparable homes? Maybe an appraiser or real estate agent might claim that it is about even if not slightly overpriced. However, the general opinion that I have collected from friends and coworkers that live in nearby neighborhoods is that Daybreak is overpriced. I might argue that the amenities justify the price, but my friends eagerly point out that I pay a home owner's association fee for the amenities each month. With these facts in consideration, should a house in Daybreak cost more than the surrounding area? The answer is yes. Why? Because the market has proven that consumers are willing to pay a premium to live in communities that exhibit new urbanism traits.
New urban communities are relatively new. The first community to be dubbed new urban was constructed in Florida in the early 80s. Back then no one really knew to what extent the design features of new urban communities would add value. They could only surmise that people liked the features and thus demand would dictate a premium be paid.

Recent studies now go into detail about the value adding amenities and the amount of value they contribute. One of the first of these was a study called Valuing New Urbanism: The Case of Kentlands. This analysis used a hedonic pricing model in which size, construction quality and other variables were held constant. The conclusion? When compared to homes in conventional suburbs outside of the community, homes in Kentlands exhibited a $24,000 to $30,000 price premium. The study was conducted in 1998 and the gap has widened since then.

Not only will consumers pay a premium to live in new urban communities this premium has grown larger through the years. Another new urban community has exhibited a 14.4 percent higher appreciation rate than comparable homes with all significant factors held constant. This widening gap was attributed to features in the community reaching maturity.

Additional studies conducted by Market Perspectives and the Urban Land Institute compared New Urbanist communities with standard subdivisions. Their study showed a minimum 15 percent premium for houses in New Urbanist communities. These studies were conducted by comparing regionally diverse new urbanist communities with homes in nearby conventional neighborhoods. The authors accounted for site traits, housing characteristics, unit quality, neighborhood, and other market factors. They even considered HOA fees. Even with those factors not being accounted for, new urbanist communities still command a solid 7% price premium.

I'm not sure as to the exact percentage, but from what I can estimate from real estate listings I can see a small, but visible price premium for homes in Daybreak. The turmoil in the market prevents any serious investigation at this point. I have to admit that I generalize the fairly rigorous studies conducted on values because the variables appear to be the same. However, if I am even close in my assumptions, in the years to come Daybreak will appreciate significantly faster than surrounding real estate.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Daybreak Architecture - Georgian Revival

One of the homes that I like best in Daybreak takes the neo-traditional form of the Georgian Revival style. This style became popular in the U.S. during the period of 1880 to 1930. Commonly known as colonial revival, this style was an imitation of English, Dutch, and French homes. The English Georgian homes were named for the three English Kings George, who ruled form 1714 to 1820. Georgian revival homes are characterized by the following features:

  • Two to two and a half stories
  • Usually made of red brick, but often in clapboard
  • Symmetrical windows across the front usually in odd numbers of 5 with 3 and 7 being less common
  • Gabled roof (Hipped in larger models)
  • Dormers set on the roof directly above windows below
  • Inside rooms were two deep, a double-pile plan
  • Ornamentation above windows and doorways as well as cornices and quoins.
  • Formal and symmetrical facade.
Of course the examples of this style in Daybreak are not exact copies. In fact, the Georgian homes built during the revival lacked the exact detail of their older counterparts. Many sources suggest that this was due to the quality of the renderings and drawings of what the homes were supposed to look like. These home gained better detail in concert with improvements in photography. I think that I like this style of home because of its use of masonry. Brick is a beautiful medium from which to construct a house. Of course the porch that was added on the front is not a regular feature of Georgian revival homes. However, I don't think that it dismantles the style at all. A few of these homes are located in Founder's Village, but a couple can also be found in Eastlake. Unlike the American foursquare these homes served the upper class more than the middle class during the early part of the 1900s. From a design standpoint this style of home truly adds grace and variety to Daybreak architecture.