Infill development gives a big bang for the buck
Developing where infrastructure is already in place, where roads exist, where sewer, water and utility lines, pipes and systems are waiting to be used, can be a less expensive proposition than trying to develop a piece of raw land without those urban services.
City planners tend to like infill development because it is more fiscally and environmentally responsible.
“If we continue to grow in suburban fashion, we’ll run out of land,” said Dave Thornton, principal planner with the city of Grand Junction.
In larger metropolitan areas, infill development can reduce commute times, which can contribute to better outdoor air quality. Since an extra long commute in Grand Junction might be 25 minutes rather than 10, that benefit may not be as visible as others, but infill development reduces the amount of time spent in a car.
Infill development promotes the walkability of an area, since it creates a more intense use of land, with less space between buildings. Building up rather than building out increases the density and allows more users on an infrastructure system, which usually reduces the cost.
In Grand Junction, water tap fees are significantly less for infill projects that lie within the boundaries for City of Grand Junction water district rather than Ute Water or Clifton. A typical residential tap fee for city water costs $1,000.
It costs $5,000 for Clifton (and is called a plant investment fee rather than a tap fee) and $5,800 for Ute Water. When developers want to tear down an existing house and put in multi-family housing, the city district charges by meter size rather than unit, and the cost is also significantly less than in the Ute or Clifton water districts. The city water district is small and landlocked, but does encompass much of the area in which city planners would like to encourage more infill development.
The drawback to infill development is dealing with existing structures or previous uses of the land. Contaminated soils, which may be found at old gas station sites, present problems, as do buildings with asbestos.
White Hall, which burned in September 2011, is an example of a much-needed infill makeover. The city received the property after the fire when it was discovered the previous owner had no insurance and was in default. The city will be responsible for the demolition of the damaged building and the asbestos abatement.
With the help of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the city was awarded a special grant to help pay for some of the cleanup costs. Once the city demolishes the existing, damaged structure and cleans up the property, the DDA will take over the property and develop it for use in a commercially viable manner.
“Our intention was that the DDA would take title by the end of this year,” said Harry Weiss, director of the DDA. That timeframe could be extended due to delays at the state level, but the DDA is planning on retaining the shell of the existing education wing, which wasn’t damaged in the fire, and hopes to turn it into apartments.
Perhaps in a year or two, Real Estate Weekly will be doing a feature story on the new downtown apartments.
When Silas and Chris Colman, a father-son team that specializes in purchasing and rehabilitating distressed housing, purchased property at 15th and Glenwood with the intention of building a four-plex, the old single-family home was gone. There was no need for demolition or toxic cleanup. They began construction of the building in August and hope to have Campus View Suites available for leasing by the January semester.
“This building was easier than remodeling a $150,000 house,” said Silas Colman.
As a man who isn’t too far removed from college himself, Colman designed the apartments to be the perfect solution to those who want to move out of campus housing, but still enjoy the social aspect and affordability of shared housing.
Each unit has four bedrooms and four bathrooms. Each unit also has four locking pantry doors. Each unit does not have a dining room, however, as Colman thought the long bar separating the kitchen from the living area would be more readily appreciated and utilized by college students.
Sometimes, those who wish to find the right property for infill development have to use unorthodox methods in their search. Brian Mason spent more than a year looking for the right site for his Del Taco franchise. He wanted to be somewhere in between Mesa Mall and the Rimrock shopping center along Highway 6 & 50. When Morse couldn’t find a property that would give them the access they needed, he started knocking on doors.
Morse ended up purchasing the old Cottonwood Liquors location, which has a high traffic count and good access. The existing building, an old metal fabricated structure from the 1970s, had to go.
“It was a very easy, clean project to tear down,” Mason said.
Morse hopes to open Del Taco by the second week of January 2013 and then hopes to find property on the other side of town for a second Del Taco location.
Every infill project is unique, with challenges and advantages due to each particular location and the intended use. There may be unanticipated costs involved with cleaning up properties, but the sight of a new building or a new use revitalizing an old site can make infill development satisfying as well as lucrative.