As CA Turns to Infill, L.A.'s Largest Undeveloped Area Fills Up

Robbie Whelan reports that the last remaining unbuilt parcel in L.A.'s 1,000-acre Playa Vista development has been sold to Brookfield Homes, reflecting a turn by developers away from the exurbs and towards densifying urban cores.
November 28, 2012, 11am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Whelan details Brookfield's plans to develop the 110-acre site in Playa Vista as "600 to 800 homes, 1,500 apartment units, and a downtown-like 'village' that includes a supermarket, movie theater, and office buildings." As he notes, the project reflects a focus by builders in Los Angeles and throughout the country on projects in 'greyfield' and 'brownfield' sites in developed areas, rather than 'greenfield' sites at the fringe of urban areas, as land use patterns that were the norm pre-recession get rethought. 

"Developments like these—smaller home groupings, mixed with commercial uses and wedged between urban areas—are becoming more popular partly because of changing ideas about land-use planning in places like coastal California," says Whelan. "During the housing boom of the last decade, builders’ mantra was 'Drive till you qualify'—a slogan that described a business strategy of slapping up hundreds of cheap homes on inexpensive land far from city centers. If buyers went far enough into the suburbs, they could eventually qualify for a mortgage."

"But developers today are looking more for “infill” locations like Playa Vista. 'It’s an attempt to push growth back into urban cores,' says Michael Lea, a professor of real-estate finance at San Diego State University."

This trend is not limited to Southern California, however. Whelan points out that, "[b]uilders are targeting infill projects in other parts of the country as well. PulteGroup, a Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based builder, has recently focused on opening communities with between 30 and 100 homes in markets like Chicago and Minneapolis. The company has traditionally concentrated on large tracts in the suburbs."

“When we were in growth mode, we probably would have passed on a 45-unit project,” says Patrick Beirne, Pulte’s president for the region that includes the Midwest. “But before, we were targeting entry-level buyers and very young families, and a lot of that was in the outskirt locations.”

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Published on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 in The Wall Street Journal
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