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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Salt Lake Parade of Homes

The Salt Lake Parade of Homes officially opens this weekend and four of the thirty homes are in Daybreak. I have always enjoyed attending the parade of homes because you can find so many great ideas for when you remodel or build a home. Of course, if you talk to a friend of mine that attended the parade last year, then you will hear a little depression in the tone he uses to explain how great the homes were. He gets depressed because he compares these fully-upgraded homes to his humble abode. My suggestion: do not go unless you are truly looking to buy or are looking for ideas.

Daybreak has participated in the parade in the past, but the “star” home has never been located in Daybreak. The “star” home is the 10,000 square ft mansion that has luxury amenities and a great room so big that you could play basketball in it and fit 20 to 30 spectators. However, the Daybreak homes do provide a breath of fresh air when compared to the rest of the homes in the parade. First and foremost they do not feature a beige stucco exterior. In contrast they feature classic architecture with reasonable space defined for human scale. Massive two-story entryways that dominate the facade are not found in Daybreak.

Daybreak is a community that will let you do very little to the outside of your home. HOA restrictions are fairly strict. However, the inside of your Daybreak home is where personal style can really be displayed. Whether you want leopard print wallpaper or distinctly traditional decoration in your front room is completely within your discretion. So pop into a few of the homes featured in the Parade of Homes. While most of the exteriors look the same I have found that the interiors are finely decorated by interior designers who do not utilize a mass production style equal to the exterior. These interiors are well worth the time and expense.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Why There is Conflict in Daybreak

Some years ago when I was in college I attended the opening night of a summer blockbuster movie. This movie was a sequel and my expectations for this movie were high. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the previous editions of the series and expected more of the same. I expected the same authenticity, quality acting, special effects, and intensity. My excitement increased as the time drew closer to opening day. I watched the teaser, the trailer, and I even found a segment on the internet about the show. But when the final credits to the movie started to roll down the screen I felt a little cheated. It seemed as though the image created by the previews of the movie did not hold up to what the movie actually delivered. My expectations were created by the previous movies and the previews and teasers that advertised the show.

I realized that the advertising material for the show promised me one thing, but the actual movie delivered something completely different. To my surprise I found that one of my friends absolutely loved the show. I asked him if he had seen the previews before the movie and he claimed that he had not. This made me think a little bit more about conflict and expectations. I found that any time that I was in disagreement with someone or something, I had differing expectations from what was delivered or what others expected me to deliver. I felt this was particularly true with people. I even found that one of my favorite authors had written about it: "Expectation is the root of all heartache." - William Shakespeare.

With this in mind I have come to the conclusion that differing expectations is at the heart of conflict between Kennecott Land and other parties. The large amount of stakeholders who have an interest in Daybreak almost dictates that there will be conflict. These stake holders include Rio Tinto and their shareholders, residents of Daybreak, future residents of Daybreak, the City of South Jordan, New Urbanists, the Daybreak HOA, future commercial and industrial tenants, Salt Lake County government, the State of Utah government, the Jordan School District, Utah Transit Authority, various home builders, various contractors, the immediate surrounding community, Envision Utah, Peter Calthorpe and Associates, and various others. Kennecott Land is trying accommodate or at the least liaise with all of these stakeholders. All of them have somewhat differing expectations. To add to the complexity, all of the expectations held by these stakeholders do not match the expectations of key decision makers within Kennecott Land and Rio Tinto. In my opinion expectations are never quite the same. However, closing the gap between these expectations leads to less conflict and Kennecott Land tries to do this every day. So how well has Kennecott Land been able to do this? Let's look at several examples.

While developing Daybreak, Kennecott Land has had to work with an assortment of municipalities for zoning and planning purposes. The City of South Jordan was approached with the Daybreak plan years ago. From what I have heard this relationship has gone fairly well except for the obvious clash with regards to the Boyer development. Again, I think that this was a major difference in expectations. Salt Lake County has also worked with Kennecott Land for a few years on the plan for the West Bench. In this case, a major difference in expectations has terminated the joint planning team that was working on the West Bench project. In an earlier post, I wrote that this disagreement was the result of a lack of communication and creative bargaining.

Local residents of Daybreak can also attest that they have had many expectations that Kennecott Land has not delivered. In fact a poll conducted on Daybreak indicates that about two-thirds of the homeowners in Daybreak are not satisfied with how Kennecott Land has addressed their concerns. The Beach Club on Oquirrh Lake was another one of those expectations. Residents still seem confused about the applicable laws that have blocked the fruition of the project. Essentially the project was put on the map of Daybreak and served as a teaser for future amenities. Another more recent point of conflict has been the landscaping of Founders Village. More conflict has recently come about the possible pool to be built in Founders Village as well. However, many of the expectations homeowners have been fulfilled and in some cases have been exceeded by Kennecott Land. Amenities that were never promised openly have popped up in Eastlake and expectations have been exceeded in a few other important areas.

One of the main reasons for these differing expectations is Kennecott Land ’s tendency to operate and develop plans with little or no dissemination of these plans to the community or residents. I can see why Kennecott operates this way as their business requires a certain amount of discretion, but this policy is the main reason why they have so many conflicts. If you ask the home builders of Kennecott Land’s plans they will tell you that they are likely the last people to know. Residents usually hear of changes and announcements through the community website (which is down right now) and newsletters, but as you can see with the conflicts above the communication is not thorough enough. In short, if Kennecott Land would like to ease some of the contentions inside and outside of the community they need to communicate their expectations more and solicit the specific expectations of various stakeholders. Residents and other stakeholders have expectations of the future of the Village Center , Oquirrh Lake , housing density, future amenities, and many other aspects of the community. While these expectations will never completely match, getting them as close as possible will lighten the friction between Kennecott Land and the various stakeholders of Daybreak.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Future of New Urbanism in Utah

I received an e-mail from a reader not too long ago about my stance on New Urbanism. He insisted that New Urbanism did not have any place in the Utah suburbs. He further suggested that the movement was just a planning fad that would end with only a couple developments in the Salt Lake Valley carrying the banner of New Urbanism. In response, I have decided to post a picture of New Urban developments in the Salt Lake Valley. They are located throughout the valley in all four quadrants branching out from the city center of Salt Lake. While a couple already exist, the majority of these developments are either in the planning or construction phases. As you can see, New Urbanism is not a trend that will go away any time soon and considering the movement has been gaining momentum since the 80s, I do not think it is short term.

In looking at where development is occurring in Utah, the fringes of the community are still popular, but there is a growing trend that is the result of the energy crises. This trend uses transit as a lifeline to the surrounding communities. Numerous TODs (Transportation Oriented Developments) have started already and many more are planned. Any empty space near a proposed TRAX station has become prime real estate for these communities.

Many more New Urban projects are starting all over the state. Ogden, Layton, Farmington, Woods Cross, Park City, Heber, Lehi, Orem, Mapleton, Richfield, Cedar City, and St. George all have projects on the drawing board or being constructed. Of course, none of these projects match the scale of Daybreak or the West Bench which has many more communities planned, but this is clearly the new direction in development. This is by no means an exhaustive list. In fact, if anyone would like to inform me of other communities planned or being built in Utah, then please share. This list is merely what I could gather via the internet.

As for whether or not it belongs in Utah, I would like to refer to another comment that I received: "..let the free market reign." In Utah our demand is being pushed by our demographics. People want to start a family and own a place instead of rent. With housing and land prices going through the roof people need affordable choices. These choices need to save the owners money and time. With the option to ride mass transit, lower utility bills, and maintenance-free options, you can stretch your budget much further. New Urbanism will continue in Utah by choice. This choice has already been seen in the marketplace for housing and will continue well into the future.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Housing Density and NIMBYs

Housing density has been and will remain the most common disagreement with regards to new development in existing towns. The politics surrounding this issue can be fierce with strong emotions on all sides. The battle over density usually starts when a developer purchases land with plans to build medium to high-density residential. One resident will hear about the pending project and will rally the troops. This person is usually referred to as a NIMBY which stands for Not In My Back Yard. This neighborhood watchdog will then broadcast the message that an evil developer is trying to profit with a new development and does not care about its impact on the surrounding community.

This was the case with Daybreak and many other new urban communities across the nation. The question that I would like to ask most NIMBYs is this: how did you inform yourself about the topic of density and its effects? Some of them call on first-hand experience. The neighbors near many developments complain about the traffic that the development is causing. Of course while the infrastructure that will accompany the development is only starting these neighbors pass judgment by what they see immediately. This short-term, subjectivity should not be taken as fact, but many NIMBY’s present it as fact. Many NIMBYs that I have talked to use the words “its just common sense” all too often when trying to explain their information source. While I feel that common sense is a valid tool that cannot be underestimated, I also feel that it is sometimes confused with myth.

These myths are traditional in my opinion. Passed down through the generations and are added to with each new generation. The history of where these myths started reaches back as far as the 1800s. The US started as an agricultural nation and transitioned into an industrial nation with factories and mass production. This transition was accompanied by waves of immigration from Europe. Each new wave contained different ethnic groups that were overtly discriminated against. This discrimination clustered these immigrants into densely populated areas with the least desirable jobs. This segregation along socio-economic status lines resulted in the materialization of many of the myths that are associated with density.

Fast forward to the age of suburbia that started after World War II. Being enabled to travel long distances via automobile, people could more economically live in the suburbs and further segregate themselves. Zoning use ordinances specified separation of land use and from then on commercial could no longer coexist with residential. In many cases this meant separation of density as well. Fast forward again to the 70s and 80s where the government decided to build “project housing” which not only segregated people of lower socio-economic status, but actually concentrated them. Many of these were an immediate failure with rampant crime and social problems. The images created by these projects reverberated with further intensity in the media particularly in movies and television. The “inner city” was a dangerous crime ridden area only suitable for those “other” people. All of these events perpetuated the myths of density with a simple philosophy: guilty by association.

So what is the real story behind density? The best way to answer this question is to address the myths often cited by NIMBYs one at a time.

Myth: Density will lower the value of my home. Many things can lower the value of a home, but density is not by itself one of them. In fact researchers have conducted many studies on single-family housing that is located in proximity to dense residential developments. The conclusion of these studies is that there is not a significant difference in the appreciation rate of those single family homes located in close proximity to high residential developments and those single-family homes located further away. In fact the percentage of appreciation is 2.9 versus 2.7 percent. This is not a significant difference. However, if you have an apartment building located next to your home that is 5 stories tall, over 30 years old, the grass is browning, windows are broken, loud music is blaring from the windows, and the paint is literally peeling like a sunburn, then this will obviously lower the value of your home. Of course, if a single family residence was in the same state, then it would lower the value of your home as well.

Another myth is that dense housing will create more traffic. Obviously if you add more cars to an area you will have more traffic. However, research has proven that higher density housing decreases traffic per person. Single family detached homes average 10 car trips a day. Compare that to the 6.3 car trips per day made by people living in townhomes and condominiums. Density is also needed for public transportation to be feasible. The Mid-Jordan TRAX line would not extend to South Jordan at all if not for the density that will make up the Daybreak Town Center. This mode of transportation will bring an additional choice for transportation that is likely to be used considering gas prices. Daybreak further mitigates traffic by having most necessities within walking distance which encourages the two-legged commute.

The most prominent myth about density is that it creates crime. This claim is absolutely false. Numerous studies have been conducted and the conclusion is that per population, crime is the same in higher density housing as it is in single family housing. The perception of crime is perpetuated when the observer holds an entire apartment complex to the same standard as one single family home. So when three juveniles from the same complex commit a crime and the police show up at the apartment complex three times in one year, it is considered “crime ridden.” On the other hand if the police show up for a juvenile in a single family residence this is considered an “anomaly.” Crime research indicates that crimes increase in accordance with certain socioeconomic indicators such as education attainment, unemployment (particularly of males), and the poverty rate.

The final main myth is that dense residential housing is unattractive and is only desired by lower-income households. Considering the changing demographics and preferences of consumers, this assumption is not based in reality. This market appeals to empty-nester and first-time home buyers tremendously. As with anything in real estate it is all about location, location, location. You can buy a single-family home in some locations for half of the price of a town home in south Jordan. Considering that the average income earner in Utah currently cannot purchase high-density housing in many areas, I would have to say that it is not just the poor that are moving into condos and townhomes. If the housing has a good design and is well maintained it will attract quality residents who care about and participate in their community.

So who is winning this battle, the NIMBYs or the New Urbanists? The New Urbanists have the clear lead, but this depends greatly on where you live. In North Dakota and Oklahoma , the NIMBYs are holding their ground. If you live in Utah , Colorado , Texas , Florida , or California on the other hand, the New Urbanists are definitely ahead of the game. Since its inception in the early 80s, New Urbanism has grown at a phenomenal rate in most states. Locally, more and more new urban developments are popping up. They are called by different names such as smart growth or transit oriented developments, but they are the same with respect to density.

In fact, South Jordan will shortly be surrounded by these developments. With the Herriman Towne Center , Daybreak, Jordan River , and other future communities coming to light, New Urbanism will also be the future of development locally. A number of strong forces demand this density. Energy costs demand homes that are more efficient, smaller, easier to take care of, and closer to the necessities of life. Businesses now want to locate their operations in communities that are vibrant, walkable, and have transit nearby. Density is the vehicle that has to be used to accomplish these attributes. The government wants density as it allows for less expenditure on infrastructure per tax payer. Finally, people are demanding more density and they are voting with their feet. The success of dense New Urban communities speaks volumes about this demand.

Density will have its place in the future of South Jordan, but if not planned correctly it can cause problems. Density cannot be thrown in a community in a half hazard manner in order for the developer to make a buck. Instead it should be planned and integrated correctly according to transect planning and community needs. These new developments must feature good designs that are sensitive to the context of the surrounding community. These designs and features must be maintained by a community organization such as a HOA. I can see why many NIMBYs are opposed to housing density, but assumptions should not be made based on false associations of the past. To those NIMBYs who will fight till their last breath any development that has more density that 2 units per acre consider if your beliefs about density are actually true. Also consider if your energy might be better spent ensuring that these developments are integrated properly instead of trying to ban them all together. Density is here to stay. Instead of a battle of how many units per acre, we need to ensure that these units are built, maintained, and located in a fashion that will enhance the community for all of us.