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Barriers and opportunities for revitalization and reuse

The following was written by CAEDC CEO, Jonathan Bowser for the Cumberland Valley Business Journal.

Communities across the country continue to look for ways to remain competitive in this ever changing economy. As part of that process, communities are establishing, implementing and executing on strategies for revitalization and reuse of sites, corridors, districts, and communities. While communities have different challenges as it relates to economic growth, housing, blight, and redevelopment, I have noticed some commonalities as it relates to strategies to promote redevelopment and building reuse.

In recent years, the Urban Land Institute has conducted case studies in major cities to identify challenges, barriers, and solutions to redevelopment and reuse and has implemented standard strategies to address these issues. The results of interviews through these case studies identified the following major barriers to redevelopment and reuse; zoning, parking, financing, and codes. Cumberland County and our 33 municipalities are not immune to these same challenges as it relates to redevelopment.

Throughout the county, CAEDC and the Real Estate Collaborative (subsidiary of CAEDC for real estate development) have been working with communities to find ways to achieve their development goals and seek opportunities to encourage this type of development.

Below I have outlined the four major barriers to revitalization and reuse and more importantly, solutions for how to remove those barriers.

With zoning as a major barrier, it can also create an opportunity to align a community’s goals, as a regulatory tool, to promote economic growth and walkable and sustainable communities. Examples of how this can be done include; the creating of new zone districts that allow a greater mix of uses and reduce the need for variances and changes in use. Secondly, consider form-based zoning that recognizes the diverse contexts and building patterns in a community. Thirdly, reduce or eliminate non-conforming provisions to encourage investment in properties constructed prior to zoning codes. As a developer, proper zoning that encourages smart development while meeting the community’s needs is a win-win scenario for both the community and the developer.

In the redevelopment of any site, parking is typically a major challenge. Solutions to parking barriers include: allow shared and off-site parking, develop parking maximums, eliminate minimum parking requirements, and provide exemptions for older buildings. A lot of new zoning requirements provide the need for unnecessary parking requirements, which can be problematic in the redevelopment of a site, especially in an urban environment. Parking needs to be addressed and accounted for, but can be excessive and can derail a project if not properly vetted.

Another significant barrier in the redevelopment process is financing. The financing of older buildings for adaptive reuse or redevelopment is extremely challenging for several reasons. Challenges include environmental, demolition, market valuation, and other negative costs associated with redevelopment efforts. That is why it is important that communities consider the following to assist developers in these efforts such as: tax incentives (Local Economic Revitalization Abatement – LERTA, Tax Incremental Financing, New Market Tax Credits, Historic Tax Credits) and gap or community based grants and/or revolving loan programs. These financing incentives will assist to realign project costs with the market demand to make a project feasible.

The last significant barrier identified in the redevelopment interviews is codes. For a community to truly experience success in building adaptive reuse and/or redevelopment is adopting a flexible approach to codes and providing technical assistance to help developers navigate complex regulatory environments that will allow for the development of older buildings and underutilized sites. The report suggested the following solutions that are applicable to our community to include: new code for rehabilitation and reuse, create flexibility in the existing code, and provide coordinated technical assistance. As it relates to code reform, I think the common themes are flexibility and technical assistance. These two themes reduce development costs and time, which are most important to a developer. This usually costs a community nothing in terms of quality, planning, or finances to implement and serves as a non-monetary incentive to promote redevelopment.

From our experience, the best way for a community to achieve success in redevelopment is to find a way to shorten the development process and look for ways to incentivize development with older and underutilized sites. For developers, time is money, and many will look to work in communities that provide a very clear path to achieve development goals and objectives and the solutions mentioned provide an initial roadmap in how to do so in a way that creates vibrant, walkable, and sustainable communities.

To learn more about these strategies for revitalization and reuse, please visit savingplaces.org/green-lab. Learn more about CAEDC and the Real Estate Collaborative at CumberlandBusiness.com.

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