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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Traffic In Daybreak

With the increase in the planned density at Daybreak concerns have surfaced about the increase in traffic. The current plans for Daybreak call for over 20,000 homes to be located within the community. All of these residents will have cars. Most of them will have more than one along with more than one member of the family to drive them. If you do the math on these numbers you can easily see the thousands of car trips that will be necessary for each family daily. However, these calculations are based off of the traditional suburban model of traffic. Daybreak follows the principles of New Urbanism and studies have shown that there is a significant difference in the amount of traffic generated by these diametrically opposed planning schemes.

New Urbanism improves transportation choice and reduces traffic speeds. These New Urban design features tend to reduce per capita automobile ownership and use. While most individual features have modest impacts on total travel, their effects are synergistic resulting in significant total reductions in vehicle use. Research has proved that residents that live in well-designed New Urbanist neighborhoods with good walkability, mixed land use, connected streets, and local services tend to drive 20-35% less than residents in automobile dependent areas. Another study has concluded that these residents take 305.5% more walking trips than residents of conventionally designed suburbs. While these benefits have not materialized immediately in Daybreak, most of the research suggests that these benefits will not be realized until developments are "made whole" with the majority of basic needs within a short distance of homes.

In addition to the traffic reducing affects of mixed-use communities, Daybreak offers a variety of traffic calming structural features in its design. The most noticable of these are the two roundabouts that deflect traffic from two fairly high-speed parkways that lead to Daybreak from Bangerter Highway. These arterial roundabouts distribute traffic in a more efficient manner than 4-way intersections and slow traffic down upon their entrance to Daybreak. Recent studies have also proven that roundabouts significantly reduce vehicle crashes compared to intersections.

Another traffic calming feature is the neckdowns that are placed at most intersections in Daybreak. Neckdowns are curb extensions at intersections that reduce the roadway width and tighten the curb radii at the corner. Again this feature slows traffic, but it also decreases the distance that a pedestrian must travel to cross the street and makes the pedestrian more visible. There are other traffic calming measures, but these two are the most effective.

Even with all of these measures, there are still drivers that choose to speed down the street, racing to their destination. This practice has irked quite a few residents in the community including the Daybreak Daily website author Scoop. He decided to do somethign about it and worked with the City of South Jordan to monitor the traffic on a particularly problematic street in Daybreak where drivers tend to speed. The street in question is Kestrel Rise. One of the main problems with this street is that when driving South you drive down hill. This obviously increases speed and many do not slow down until they are only feet away from a stop sign. While these studies gave an average speed of 25 mph, this is simply an average. The traffic monitoring devices registered speeds of up to 50 mph on this street. Of course speeds like this did not happen every day, but speeds of 35 to 40 mph are fairly common depending on the day of the week.

What additional options are there to preven cars from accelerating to 50 mph in an area where kids play? A few design features come to mind. Traffic slowing features such as humps or speed bumps as some people call them. These features actually come in a large variety and are one of the most effective design features in slowing traffic speed. There is a downside to this though. Cost. You would think that making a bump in the road would not be very expensive, but in this case a properly designed bump can cost thousands of dollars. The question that keeps popping up in my mind is this: Isn't a few thousand dollars worth it when a simple design feature can (and probably will someday) save the life of a child? Especially considering this street is adjacent to an elementary school.

I would deem most streets in Daybreak to be safe. This safety is due to the design features that were likely planned from the very beginning. However, no plan is perfect and some adjustments need to be made here and there. While speed humps may not be the answer, planners and the community need to do something about people driving 35 to 50 miles per hour past homes full of children and an elementary school.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Daybreak Village Center

The plans for Daybreak seem to have been in a constant state of flux. Village centers that once appeared on old maps cannot be seen on the new maps. The timing for the village center has also changed. "We would like to have a retail village center built and occupied by the summer of 2005." indicated one executive in an interview when Daybreak was just getting started. If he only knew what the Boyer company had in mind for South Jordan. The change in timing was most likely in response to The District development. New businesses in Daybreak would not be able to compete in the shadow of this retail giant. The timetable was pushed even further back as of late. The good news is that the first phase of the Village Center will arrive this summer. This phase includes the Kennecott Corporate Center. The first part of the 45-acre village center that will include 100,000 square feet of retail and restaurants, an additional 60,000 square feet of office space and between 475 and 525 high-density multi-family residential housing units. The second phase, which will arrive anywhere between the fall of this year to the summer of 2009, will consist of the anchor grocery store and assortment of shops that address everyday necessities. You can see the general layout in the picture below: Finally, the third phase will be the afore mentioned high-density residential buildings and more commercial. This residential area will probably be the most controversial part of Daybreak because of its density. However, it is this density that will enable Daybreak to become the new urban town that Kennecott has envisioned. As I said before the execution of the details in this new addition to Daybreak will be critical. Kennecott has to solve a major dilemma. They need to make the transition from a relatively low density neighborhood to a high density village center utterly seamless. Kennecott had better put all the necessary talent and thought needed into this venture or they might endanger the vision that they have worked so hard to create. This area is being closely watched by many citizens especially those who live on Topcrest. Citizens will always refer back to this part of Daybreak if this is handled improperly. Possibly saying, "Oh no, not another Topcrest."

Kennecott Land indicated, "On the commercial side, there will be seven individual buildings as a start, there will be more than that ultimately" The character of the buildings is different than what I had imagined. It doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the architecture in daybreak with the exception of the visitor's center. After looking at the Emmigration Market in the Harvard/Yale area (the area that Daybreak is modeled after) I found some similarities in the design. However, if you look at the traditional main streets in the towns of Utah you will find two to three story buildings made of brick. While I'm sure that costs and efficiency are factors in the design decisions I do not think that the illustrations distributed so far resemble anything traditional in Utah.

One building that is definitely not traditional is the Kennecott Corporate Building. It is impressive as a class A office building with LEED Certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), but I feel that it is out of scale with its surroundings. The building would be better suited in the town center. (Of course I may feel differently once the village center is built out) I do have to give credit to the contractors who designed the building. The systems in the building, solar panels, parking, all seem to be designed well. As Kennecott brags, "they are truly state of the art."

"The village center has a very high emphasis on architecture, interesting buildings, interesting locations. It's not about creating the most efficient, cost effective box. We set out to create a place and the architecture was driven by that goal. The office was intended to complement the surrounding area as opposed to changing it."

I agree and disagree with this statement. As I said before I do not think that some of the designs indicated in the renderings fit into the current community. However, there have been many new urbanist communities that through traditionalism have become what they fear the most: homogeneous. Several communities in Canada come to mind. Sure all of the homes as individual units are impressive, but if you put them all together you are inundated with the homogeneous architecture. Variety is needed, but this could be the equivalent of a jazzy saxophone soloist in the middle of the Utah Symphony.

Another aspect of the town center that concerns me are the town/row homes that will be built next to the roundabout as you enter Daybreak. These will be the first up-close buildings that many people will see when they enter Daybreak. From what I can see right now, these buildings look to be urban contemporary similar to the new Garbett row homes in North Shore Village. Is this the first thing you want people to see upon entering our neighborhood? No, not really. Even though it seems to be part of the Village Center it is technically on the edge of Daybreak where everything else is classical architecture from early last century. Modern will simply not present a cohesive design, even if it is "Daybreak-ish." In my opinion variety is good, but this part needs to have the flavor of Founders and Eastlake combined.

One part of the plan that I am truly looking forward to is the urban park that is mentioned here:

“Within the Main Street plan, we are designing an urban park that provides elements such as seating, pop jet fountains, an outdoor fire pit, sun shades and music,” says Kaufman. “Above all, the Village Center is positioned between great neighborhood parks, Oquirrh Lake and a variety of area trails.
Additionally, all of the greenery on top of the buildings is welcome in my book. It is rare that you see that level of detail for buildings in Utah. From what I understand, this greenery will not only make the buildings look better, but will also reduce the heat island effect caused by large buildings and concrete. It might even help conserve energy and thus reduce utility bills.

Daybreak's village center will make or break the community in my opinion. The sheer expense, the entire village center will cost $150 million, along with the fact that it will be in immediate competition with The District from the start make this Village Center a "must win" endeavor for Kennecott. The plans and time tables for Daybreak are always changing. Plans are never perfect and a little adaptability is crucial, but these changes will create the heart of Daybreak and therefore must be free of major defects.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Oquirrh Lake

Oquirrh Lake is the central organizing feature and amenity in Daybreak. It was named after the Oquirrh Mountains (pronounced O-Ker) that are just to the East of Daybreak. The name Oquirrh came from local Native American tribes. In the Goshute language, Oquirrh means "wooded mountain" while in the Ute language the word means "The Shining Mountains" or "Glowing." Many people believe they named the mountains this because sunlight strikes the Oquirrhs first in the morning before anything else in the valley.

Oquirrh lake was designed and created by a variety of firms and has been a massive undertaking. 35 million cubic feet of earth was moved and used in other areas of the development. Once they had dug a massive hole they constructed a dam and lined the lake with three layers: High Density Polyethelene to keep the water from going into the ground, gravel, and silt to make a natural lake bottom. Twenty-five thousand tons of rock were also put in place to create a shore line and habitat for the ecosystem.

The lake is home to minnows, bluegill, channel cats, large-mouth bass and eventually trout. While there has been some rumors about who will stock and maintain the lake in the future, I have not heard any definitive announcements on the subject. The water that these fish live in comes from Utah Lake and natural runoff. As these two sources are not the cleanest, a computerized filtration system cleans the water to acceptable levels. The most noticeable residents of the lake are the ducks and geese. These birds love the lake even though the lake is designed to detract them from staying for long periods of time. I think the main reason that the ducks and geese come is because kids feed them despite the signs posted around the lake. The lake isn't bad when compared to the pond at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. If you go there at this time of year you will see hundreds if not thousands of these birds wandering the banks.

One question that I get asked a lot is why residents are not allowed to swim in the lake. I have heard people make up a lot of reasons why, but the real reason is that the liability for Kennecott Land would be enormous. Considering the current legal climate I don't blame them. The reason that they seem to state publicly is that it would inhibit the ecosystem. Which is also true, but I believe this to be a secondary reason. All residents are allowed to operate non-motorized watercraft on the lake. Canoes and row boats are common on the lake. I also like the idea of being able to walk a few blocks from my doorstep to go fishing. Overall it is a great amenity for Daybreak.

One of the controversies surrounding the lake is the rumor that Kennecott Land will not build the lake to be as big as the originally planned 85 acres. It seems that future plans have relegated the lake to a smaller 65 acres with the planned third phase being eliminated. This third phase of the lake is an extremely complicated design. It would stretch an arm of water toward the Town Center. This arm would slither through the urban environment much like the canals of Venice, Italy or Amsterdam in the Netherlands. This is truly a grand idea, but would definitely be difficult to implement. The possible reduction in size is an issue that many residents feel strongly about. However, Kennecott Land will ultimately decide on the size of the final product.

The island in the middle however will become a reality in a couple of years. Apparently the homes constructed on this piece of real estate will range from semi-custom to completely custom homes. Waterfront property is hard to come by in Utah so I imagine these homes will fetch a price premium beyond what we have seen so far in Daybreak. I have talked to a few people who claim that several home builders have already been contacted by Kennecott Land to build these custom homes. Needless to say these homes will be the showcase homes of Daybreak.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Daybreak Village 3: North Shore

The Daybreak community is about to grow yet again. North Shore is the newest edition to the Daybreak master plan making three villages total. With two new builders, Ivory Homes and Garbett Homes, a large push is being made to finish the 22 homes that will serve as models for the "grand opening" slated for June 28th. I usually do not need to drive on the South Jordan Parkway so when I did take that route a few weeks ago I was surprised with the sheer amount of building going on. Buildings seemed to have popped out of nowhere in only a couple of weeks. Of course, with the slowdown in the housing market I'm sure that contractors were not hard to find.

The new homes of North Shore seem to be an eclectic mix of traditional and urban contemporary designs. I was fairly shocked when I saw pictures of the new row homes that Garbett Homes intends to build. These modern boxy buildings seem to belong more in the marmalade district of Salt Lake City than in Daybreak. While I respect the modern style, I do not have a strong taste for it to say the least. However, these town homes will be integrated into the denser sections of North Shore. It seems Kennecott Land has decided that as density increases traditional style will decrease. I do see some advantages in the cost of building such homes. Perhaps this advantage is the reason why some homes will be offered at a price that will be difficult for other communities to match. Many of these condos or town homes will be offered from the "low 100s" to "mid 100s."

With these prices the old adage of "you get what you pay for" keeps ringing in my mind. This ringing stops abruptly however when I see the actual square footage of these units. With sizes ranging from 650 square feet to 1180 square feet I think Kennecott Land has decided to make housing more affordable by making it smaller. This is the right way to go in my opinion. Skimp on the space, but do not skimp on the quality. The prices in North Shore are fairly reasonable compared to Eastlake and even Founders Village. The effects of this new village are many and will need to be discussed in a later post.

In the grand scheme that is Daybreak, North Shore will bring a large amount of units at a density that has not yet been seen in this new urbanist community. In fact, Kennecott recently changed their projections for the total number of homes to be located within Daybreak. The number initially started at 13,600. This number has since increased to 20,000, almost a 50 percent increase. The recent planning maps for Daybreak show an increase in density in those properties East of Oquirrh Lake. Why did this change come about? I can only speculate, but I will be researching this issue in the future. One thing is for certain, North Shore has signaled a change in direction for future development at Daybreak.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Early Light Academy at Daybreak

I do not currently have children in my home and therefore have not been aware of the many education related issues that have surfaced recently. I know about the Jordan School District and its problems and I voted last November on the issue of vouchers, but I did not know of the local concerns of parents in Daybreak. However, my interest in the subject has increased since I saw a post in the discussion forums of the Daybreak Daily about the Early Light Academy. I decided I would try and find out as much as I could about the proposed charter school. I found the school’s website at and found the decisions made about the school in the meeting minutes of the state board of education. I found that charter schools all have an initial charter document that explains almost every detail of the school and its purpose. A friend of mine was able to get an electronic copy of the charter and I scanned through the 140 pages of detailed information.

The Early Light Academy (ELA) is a proposed K through 9 school that will most likely be built here in Daybreak. The founding board of the school is working with Kennecott Land to select a suitable location. Right now there are two proposed locations: one just West of the Row Homes on the Western edge of village 1, the other is in the Northwest corner of what will be village 3. As Kennecott has donated generous portions of land to the two other public schools in Daybreak, I do not see why they would not do the same for this academy. The school will be fairly small compared to Daybreak Elementary as it is being built for a capacity of 750 students. The physical size is also smaller as Daybreak Elementary is 116,700 square feet (including the DCC) and ELA is a mere 57,400 square feet.

Besides physical characteristics and student population, how will this school be different from regular public schools in the Jordan School District? The main difference will be the governance of the school. ELA will be run by a parent board instead of a school district. As the board has more discretion of what is emphasized in their curriculum, the school will be different academically as well. ELA has decided that the emphasis should be in history, “The Early Light Academy offers a high-quality education by combining a linear, content-rich curriculum emphasizing history utilizing effective instructional techniques, taking our students from the Stone Age to the Space Age, the Information Age and beyond. With an emphasis in history, students are better able to tie in the lessons from the past with the present reality of the world around them, and are empowered to see how their actions today will impact the future.” Although ELA may have a different emphasis in their curriculum they are subject to the same standardized tests that our public schools are and thus the same accountability. This guarantees that faculty will still teach those concepts and facts directly related to the standardized tests. ELA will actually be buying their curriculum from a company called K12. This may be good or bad. I am not a curriculum expert so I really cannot criticize this aspect of ELA’s program.

As for logistics, ELA has proposed that they have a maximum of 25 students per class. This fact alone is why I like the idea of this charter school. Having a better student teacher ratio in classes will improve education outcomes. However, this is only 2 students under the currently reported student teacher ratio at Daybreak Elementary. A large amount of research concurs that more parental involvement in their child’s education will deliver better education outcomes. This was the main reason the school is being founded. A group of parents called Daybreak Parents for Academics originally conceived of the idea of ELA. In fact, the school will require the parents of students to volunteer for 35 hours per year. This requirement, in my opinion, will actually weed out some of those parents who are complacent about their child’s education. This will in turn deliver students to the school whose parents are committed to their education making a better environment in which to learn. Another aspect of the school that I personally like is the fact that they will have a strict dress code. Some people feel that this limits expression, but I think it just eliminates distraction and competition. This also makes distinguishing rich kids from poor kids more difficult. As mentioned previously I am not an education expert. These are my thoughts and opinions only. Feedback is welcome.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Are Houses in Utah Getting Smaller?

Are Utah Homes Shrinking? Since the beginning of suburbia after WWII homes across the country have been getting larger. The average home back then was about 1100 square feet. In the 1970s this size grew to 1600 square feet. Presently the average American home is 2300 square feet. This may still sound fairly small, but the calculations for this figure do not include basements, bonus rooms, or garages. Now this trend is reversing itself. According to recent reports the average size of the American home is beginning to shrink. This downsizing is attributed to rising fuel costs, the “green” movement, and an aging population.

The leading edge of the baby boomer population just turned 62. This demographic is getting ready for retirement and the majority are becoming empty nesters. Since they do not have kids and want to stretch their retirement dollar, buying a smaller home in a nice community is becoming a priority. One of the new features in the new North Shore Village will be residential construction targeted specifically at the aging baby boomer population. While Kennecott had this in mind earlier it did not make it off of the drawing board into Eastlake Village. Now that lending standards have been tightened and less people can qualify for a loan, homes are not selling very well and there is a large inventory on the market. However, these baby boomers usually do not have trouble qualifying for financing and half of them buy their retirement homes with cash. This is a great market to target given the circumstances.

Another target market is the green movement. The whole philosophy behind Daybreak promotes sustainable communities. This “green” philosophy is not necessarily embodied in a 5000 square foot house. (Although some homes in Daybreak exceed this size) Even with the energy saving appliances and energy star certified home, a house that big is an energy waster if you have a small family. More than likely you don’t use half of the rooms of that house daily. Rising utility and maintenance costs of a home that large is becoming more of a disincentive to potential buyers as well. Another disincentive is the rising cost of transportation. If you live in South Jordan , chances are that you work somewhere else in the valley and commute. This will be a problem for Daybreak residents in the near future, but in 2010 TRAX will alleviate that burden for some residents and the Mountain View Corridor (Later) will be the choice of others.

Preferences are changing along with demographics as a survey from the National Association of Home Builders has found that 60% of home buyers now prefer an amenity-rich smaller home. Studies also suggest that buyer preferences toward huge suburban lots are also waning. Caring for a full acre of property can be time-consuming and expensive. With both of these resources becoming more scarce, it is no wonder buyers are looking for small lots or maintenance free communities. If the trend toward smaller homes continues, then it could make a big difference in home values. A recent study by the online appraisal service found that less expensive homes appreciate more than expensive and presumably larger homes. If this trend continues, we will probably find that Mcmansions will represent the weakest portion of the market.

Many will say that with a low-interest mortgage you will get more house for your money. However, you will also get higher insurance premiums, utility bills, maintenance costs, and higher property taxes. With these costs and trends, homes in Utah will definitely get smaller. Those homes that are smaller, energy efficient, and convenient will also see the most appreciation in the future.