Urban Infill & Brownfields Redevelopment

Urban Infill & Brownfields Redevelopment

Urban Infill

Urban infill is defined as new development that is sited on vacant or undeveloped land within an existing community, and that is enclosed by other types of development. The term "urban infill" itself  implies that existing land is mostly built-out and what is being built is in effect "filling in" the gaps. The term most commonly refers to building single-family homes in existing neighborhoods but may also be used to describe new development in commercial, office or mixed-use areas.

Prescriptive steps towards implementation:

  1. Identify area(s) within the community that seem to be subject to inappropriate infill development or those areas that perhaps aren't dealing with infill development just yet but are in need of measures to prevent inappropriate infill in the future
  2. Work with municipal staff and officials and the community to craft new regulations designed to control development within those areas
  3. Keep the controls limited, focusing primarily on building height, building setbacks and lot layout
  4. Test proposed regulations by mock- designing a development from start to finish as if it were to be built according to the regulations, then analyzing whether the design meets the community's goals
  5. Use existing staff and officials to provide additional commentary and reports on the proposed changes
  6. Prepare staff and officials for the administration of the proposed changes
  7. Adopt proposed policy changes utilizing the standard process for the municipality

Rationale

Urban Infill is gaining in popularity as intown or close-in locations become more attractive to prospective home buyers, and office and retail tenants. Municipalities are also encouraging the practice of infill as it is more efficient to use existing infrastructure and services than it is to extend infrastructure and services farther afield, Infill development can also help a community achieve or sustain thresholds of population density necessary for amenities such as park space, community services, retail establishments, and affordable housing.  Moreover, in communities where undeveloped, run-down, or vacant properties are eyesores or safety hazards, infill development can remove the blight of these properties.  Finally, many urban infill lots have remained undeveloped because they are the least desirable lots to build on due to size, undesirable locations, topographical restraints, or environmental contamination (brownfields).

Effort Required

The implementation of infill development is the responsibility of both the municipality and the development community.

Municipality

Local governments must ensure that their codes and ordinances facilitate practical and desirable urban infill development where it is appropriate. Left uncontrolled, urban infill development can negatively affect adjacent property or even the community as a whole. Municipalities can control the size, scale, setbacks and use of urban infill to eliminate potentially negative impacts.

Development Community

The local development community must embrace urban infill development as an alternative to greenfield development as a feasible way to build new residential and non-residential buildings. This requires coordination with local government staff to identify sites with the most potential and related funding opportunities. New development in built-out communities also often requires more intentional communication and facilitation among neighbors and adjacent property owners.

Benefits

  • Removes the eyesore and safety concerns associated with undeveloped or vacant property
  • Allows communities to achieve or sustain population density thresholds that are needed to attract certain amenities (parks, community services, retail)
  • Can be an effective tool for increasing supply of more affordable homes efficiently

Risks

  • If not properly managed by local governments, can adversely affect adjacent properties or the community as a whole
  • Can contribute to the tearing down of historic  building tin order to make way for new development
  • May contribute to displacement of residents of homes that are being bought for tear-down and redevelopment
  • Can lead to investor speculation and corresponding dramatic increases in property values 

Action Agent(s)

Planning Department, Economic Development Department, Building Department, Mayor and Council/Commission, community organizations

Cost

Urban infill can be addressed successfully by a municipality at a relatively low cost through targeted code changes that address issues like building height, building setbacks, and lot coverage.

 

Brownfields Redevelopment

Brownfield redevelopment is a broad term used to describe the reuse and revitalization of abandoned, underutilized or stigmatized properties through the use of one or more local, state or federal programs. 

Rationale

From a sustainability rationale, Brownfield redevelopment is at its core the recycling of property. Industrial and commercial property tends to have a finite life span, with the end result often being an environmentally impaired property. Brownfield Redevelopment provides a means to convert (recycle) these properties back into productive use, while simultaneously reducing sprawl and destruction of valuable greenspace. Brownfield redevelopments return environmentally-impacted and underused properties to productive use, mitigate environmental impacts, provide jobs and tax revenue and revitalize the social foundation of communities. Brownfield redevelopment projects encompass many sustainable principles including energy efficiency, waste minimization, ecosystem preservation, natural resource conservation and local environmental quality protection. 

Effort Required

Depending upon property size, location and extent of environmental impacts, brownfield redevelopment is rarely simple and typically involves a lengthy, legal and technical level of effort. 

Benefits

General benefits of Brownfield Redevelopment center around the avoidance of non-tax generating blighted properties and the stewardship of new productive tax generating properties with the preservation of greenspace. 

Risks

Normally, where a brownfield redevelopment program is involved, there is also a real estate transaction. Sometimes this transaction is a necessary element of the program, other times it is not. A stakeholder must keep in mind that, in addition to the brownfield redevelopment program requirements, the real estate transaction has the same pitfalls as any other, such as financing, etc. However, where a real estate transaction incorporating a brownfield redevelopment program falls through, it is almost always due to the real estate considerations common to any real estate transaction, not due to the special requirements of the brownfield redevelopment program. 

Action Agents

The successful application and implementation of a brownfield redevelopment program takes the knowledge, skill and teamwork of several stakeholders. All parties involved, however, have a vested interest in seeing that these sites once again become valuable and useful properties. The following stakeholders (or action agents) are typically involved: property owners, government, regulatory agencies, environmental consultants, the general public, attorneys, financiers and real estate developers. 

Costs

Due to the substantial number of cost variables, it is impossible to provide generic cost estimates for brownfield redevelopments.

Resources