The days of suburban sprawl could be coming to an end as a new type of development — mixed use — is ushered in.
With carbon footprints and gas prices on the minds of so many these days, mixed-use development provides a way of life that doesn’t require driving everywhere.
Shops, restaurants and offices are side by side with houses, allowing residents to walk where they need to go instead of climbing the car.
A mixed-use development under construction in Franklin, Sanctuary Village, was discussed at a League of Women Voters forum at the First Presbyterian Church in Franklin last Thursday (Dec. 11).
A social atmosphere
The compact design of mixed-use developments creates a more social atmosphere than the suburbs where people interact little with their neighbors. In the suburbs the only time some people see their neighbor is when he pulls into the garage at the end of the workday, Franklin Town Planner Mike Gruberman said.
Gruberman said mixed-use developments move away from sprawling suburbs, cut down on driving and the carbon footprint and encourage exercise by walking places.
Older people may like the mixed-use concept because they have less yard to maintain, and once they lose the ability to drive they can still walk down to the store or restaurant. Sanctuary developer Tim Ryan said in typical suburbs older people who can’t drive are held hostage by their homes.
“They have little contact with anyone,” Ryan said. “All those things are unhealthy.”
The homes in Sanctuary Village will be built to resemble early 1900s homes in Franklin and be priced from the upper $200,000s to $700,000, Ryan said.
Sanctuary Village will have amenities such as a grocery store, restaurant and plaza and will be an “exciting and vibrant” community, said Ryan.
In addition to having amenities within the development itself, it will be just five blocks from downtown Franklin on Iotla Street.
Only one home is under construction now, which Ryan calls an “idea home” to give potential buyers an idea of what the homes would look like. The build out of the development depends on the economy, but Ryan expects more homes to go up this spring and summer.
Mixed-use developments are known for their high density. Whereas a suburban neighborhood may have one house per half-acre, Sanctuary Village will have seven units per acre.
Ben Brown of Franklin, a consultant for the Sanctuary development and regional smart growth champion, said over the years people have become “transfixed with having homes on acre lots.”
He noted that in big cities, like where he used to live in Washington, D.C., people don’t reside on acre lots. Instead housing is close together and surrounded by businesses and restaurants. That same density and village-like atmosphere will be replicated in the Sanctuary.
The development calls for 160 to 180 housing units on just 24 acres.
About 40 percent of the acreage in the development is green space for “pocket parks,” Ryan said.
Ryan praised the town of Franklin officials for being progressive in establishing an ordinance that accommodates such development.
There are not more mixed-use developments going in around the country because many towns don’t allow it and it is less expensive to build a subdivision with half-acre lots, Brown said.
Banks are more comfortable lending money to a developer building a typical subdivision as opposed to the new concept of mixed use, Ryan said.
Town encourages mixed use
Gruberman said the town adopted an ordinance in early 2007 to encourage mixed-use developments. Gruberman said under the town’s ordinance there can be up to eight units per acre, and if the development is located within one-half mile of downtown, that the density can be increased by 75 percent.
He said the mixed-use concept replicates what is done in larger cities. He said he grew up on the Southside of Chicago where he could get his shoes fixed and eat, all within a half-mile of his home.
In fact, mixed-use developments encourage walking so much that in the town’s ordinance rather than stipulating a minimum number of parking spaces, which is the case in most developments, there is a cap on parking.
The cap for a mixed-use development is 20 percent of the project area. A typical Wal-Mart project is about 75 percent parking, he noted.
Waynesville Planner Paul Benson said his town also allows for mixed-use developments. However, he said there is no bona fide mixed-use development in Waynesville.
He called mixed-use development “smart growth” because people who live in them don’t have to drive as much.
Mixed used gets away from the need to expand infrastructure, such as roads, and water and sewer lines, therefore preserving the environment, Benson said.
Smaller towns often don’t have as many mixed-use developments as larger cites because everything is already close to stores, Benson said.
“We’re across town in five minutes,” he said.
Benson said he thinks mixed-use developments will become more popular in the future as the demand for fuel by places like China continues.
However, in Western North Carolina mixed use may not be what is desired, said Gruberman, because people move here from places like South Florida to live in a cabin in the woods and “want to be the prince in their castle.”