The Advantages of Mixed-Use Development

+     The Planning Commission in Rosemead has recently approved a number of mixed-use developments.  Additional projects are likely coming down the pipeline.

+     Generally speaking, why are these projects preferable to "regular" retail or residential developments?  I'll start a thread that introduces some of these advantages here, and add to this thread at periodic intervals.

+     One advantage is the reduced traffic impact.

+     There are a number of reasons why this is so.  One has to do with what the alternative use of a property would be.

+     Mixed-use developments are going in along our major streets:  Garvey, Valley, Rosemead, Del Mar, and San Gabriel.  Now, consider what the city of San Gabriel is putting along it's stretch of Valley:  Traditional retail.  But, to make those retail developments pencil out, the developers have been pushing mostly two-story retail projects.  That's retail on the first floor and retail on the second floor.  Parking is often underground.  And, to quote a certain whale from The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, "It (parking) must be something very important because there certainly seems to be a hell of a lot of it."  So if you go to the "Great Chinese Mall," or the Hilton Hotel shopping complex (across the street from the Great Chinese Mall), or nearly all of the other Valley Blvd projects in the city of San Gabriel, you'll find underground parking.  Sometimes, you'll find several levels of underground parking.  And you'll also find surface-level parking.  Sometimes, there'll be surface-level parking in front of the stores, then another, larger parking lot behind the stores.

+     What's the reason for all that parking?  To accommodate all the traffic these retail projects generate, of course.  Many of these retail projects have floor-area ratios (FARs) of 1 or greater.  That means a parcel of land, say, 12,000 square feet in surface area, has 10,000, or 12,000, or maybe even 18,000 or more square feet of retail.  And, as most of you probably already know, each square foot of retail needs to attract additional shoppers/eaters/etc to generate enough revenue to justify that added retail floor space.  That's why they need all that parking.

+     All those retail uses (two stories worth) basically fill each parcel of land, and generates all that traffic that jams Valley Blvd in San Gabriel.

+     By contrast, the mixed-use developments that have come through the Planning Commission have had retail FARs of anywhere from 0.25 to .40.  That's because, almost by definition, mixed use developments mean there are retail uses on the first floor of a building, only.  Yes, a project with (say) 12,000 square feet of retail generates more traffic than an empty field, or a purely residential complex.  But, conversely, an empty field or a purely residential complex doesn't generate any sales tax revenue for the city.  And they don't provide any retail, restaurant, or other services that residents might demand, nor do they provide local residents with employment opportunities.  Instead, we'd have to drive out of town for our entertainment.  Other cities would gain the jobs and tax revenue that we should be keeping in our own ciy.

+     Mixed-use developments let us get the best of both worlds:  Increased tax revenue from retail and restaurant uses (that wouldn't get built in Rosemead unless we let them build multi-story, purely retail projects like they do in San Gabriel) without having to bring in the same sort of traffic gridlock they face in San Gabriel.

+     There are other reasons why mixed-use developments have a smaller traffic impact than traditional retail.  There are also other reasons why mixed-use developments are preferable to purely retail or residential projects.  I'll post on those later.

Also, they are trendy

For better or worse, it seems communities in the SGV are choosing mixed used because it's pretty trendy, and seen as a way to attract higher-income residents who cannot afford, say, $600k for a single family detached with only 1,300 sq ft. or who see the same price for an even smaller place downtown as not a good value or a place to raise kids.

Some folks don't like it (Alhambra, Temple City - see links to left). Some folks like it.

My gut feeling is that it can work, but you need some "there" there. If all these condos-in-a-mall projects look and feel the same, and aren't inherently good homes, their fortunes will decline with the trend. And vice versa. Decent condos that make people very happy will always be in demand.

I realize this is a somewhat reactionary attitude -- the idea is that if the trend fades, at least the resident can cocoon and enjoy their condo. These mixed use new urbanist spaces are supposed to be public spaces. I just don't see that happening much, at least not widespread. I see 20-somethings and immigrants doing it.

[See also the article about Baldwin Park. That thing is extreme.]

Also, they are trendy

It's a trend spurred by necessity.  Median home prices in the area have dropped recently, but it's still in the mid-$400 thousand range, which is way beyond the reach of even someone earning twice the area median income.

reducing the number of vehicle trips

Another way in which mixed-use development reduces the number of vehicle trips generated is that they put the people and the amenities in the same place.  Residents in the upper floors can meet many of their shopping and entertainment needs by simply going downstairs.  There's no need to even bring a car on to the road.

Of course, this is more true for larger mixed-use developments, or when a specific portion of the city has a number of similar developments in close proximity.

Greener Buildings

Another advantage of mixed use development is that they have a smaller environmental impact than do single-family homes.  For example, they cost a lot less to heat (and, potentially, less to cool, as well).  Each adjoining unit helps to insulate the neighboring units from the temperture outside.  Rather than having 40 degree air or 105 degree air surrounding your home on all sides, you're surrounded by rooms with 68-75 degree air.

Also, because you don't have the large, grass-covered lawns (the largest consumer of water in urban settings), you need less water per dwelling.  That saves water.  It also saves the cost of having to transport that water to the L.A. area (a non-trivial cost in electricity, except for the water that comes to the city of Los Angeles from the Mono or Inyo Basins).