Adding Housing To Office Parks

Facing a shortage of affordable housing, Westchester, New York, is considering using the excess parking lots of local office park campuses for new housing development.

"Generating both praise and criticism in a county with plenty of expensive housing but not much of the budget-friendly kind, a Department of Planning report urges towns and villages here to use land in existing office parks as sites for new housing, some of it for moderate-income families.

There are two big reasons that he believes the plan would work, Richard Hyman, an independent housing and planning consultant hired by the county for the study, says. To start with, office parks are typically created with more parking than they need, to meet standard zoning requirements. Additionally, the complexes are often built in campuslike settings, with room for more construction - in this case new residential buildings.

The recommendations came in response to a severe shortage of moderate-income housing in Westchester. Demand is expected to reach 19,083 units by 2015, yet between 2000 and 2005 only 970 units had been built, according to Deborah DeLong, the county's housing director.

Because the roads and utilities in existing office parks are already in place, the study asserts, further development of those properties would not be as costly for developers.

Builders could afford to set aside as much as 15 percent of the housing for moderate-income families without relying on public funds, Mr. Hyman said.

Put another way, said Robert F. Weinberg, an Elmsford developer of mixed-use projects in Westchester: "Here we have already cut down all these trees, put in the sewer and water lines, so there's no hole to be dug, no addition of parking lots and no extra runoff. It makes sense economically and environmentally.""

Full Story: Parking Space as Living Space?

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Housing to Office Parks

Supporting quotes from famous planners:

Peter Calthorpe (author: The Next American Metropolis) at the Congress for New Urbanism Conference (CNU XIII), June '05: "We new urbanists didn't focus on the growth of office parks. This was a huge mistake. We need powerful strategies for these job centers."

UCLA Professor Donald Shoup (author: The High Cost of Free Parking) at CNU XIII. "Parking lots within our office parks represent a 'land bank.' Office parks can be transformed in ways that few people now envision."

UC Berkeley Professor Robert Cervero (author: The Transit Metropolis) states: "Parking lot laden office parks are one of our biggest blights, but they also represent our largest opportunity for in-fill development because of their inefficient use of land."

Says Andrés Duany (author: Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl ...) about his plan to transform the "Upper Rock" business park in Rockville, MD, "If Suburbia is to thrive in the 21st century, a place must be created that captures the imagination of the young, educated 'creative class'. No longer seduced by office parks with out-dated marble lobbies, these workers are attracted to loft living and downtown intensity that reflects their self-image as 'worker-as-artist'."

Geoffrey Booth (ULI lead author: Transforming Suburban Business Districts) "It's all about quality of life - our life and our life style. We are looking for more vibrant, pedestrian-friendly, live-work-shop places - making such places the emerging focus of smart growth. Our overriding objective in Transforming Suburban Business Districts is to secure the Place-Making Dividend. Not just a sound real estate return but one that carries with it tangible benefits to the community and for government finance. Create a special place in which we feel comfortable and secure, and where our spirits are lifted."

- Steve Raney, Cities21, Palo Alto, CA

Michael Lewyn's picture
Blogger

unlikely to happen as long as its for the poor

The last thing most suburbanites want next to their offices is housing projects full of poor people. So I think that the only way office parks will be turned into housing is if affordability requirements are eliminated or watered down quite a bit.

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