Monday, August 29, 2011

Urban Neighborhood Issue: Urban Infill and Increasing Densities

Attached infill housing in a primarily single-family urban area
Urban Area Plans done over the past ten years identify “Residential Infill Opportunity Sites” for vacant parcels that are at least 2.5 acres in size and are appropriate for residential infill. The characteristics of each site are studied and development recommendations are made pertaining to density, access and in some cases, appropriate zoning districts. Smaller, usually individual lots (less than 2.5 acres) within neighborhoods which are vacant are also given a land use recommendation in each Area Plan, typically single-family or Urban Residential (attached). Infill development can provide quality and affordable housing, keeping the urban area more viable.

Both large and small infill lots may have issues (slopes, drainage, etc.) that could benefit from an overall strategy for the development of infill lots. Areas for targeted infill development could be identified and basic standards put in place to ensure compatible development.
The question of increased densities for infill sites remains an emotional issue for many neighborhoods, as has been experienced through the Area Plan program. Perceptions of higher densities are often associated with bad design, increased traffic, decreased property values and increased crime, but Forsyth County has many examples of attractive urban, higher-density, high-quality housing stock. In fact, some of the most expensive housing currently being constructed in Forsyth County is moderate density. “Gentle density” associated with accessory residential units or slightly higher densities for residential infill are being used by many cities to revitalize urban neighborhoods and combat sprawl. While gentle density may seem an ineffective tool because it is piecemeal and scattered, such a strategy employed throughout the Urban Neighborhoods could create a significant number of new homes, and if done carefully would not burden any one neighborhood. How to combat the perception that an increase in density is always “bad” is one of Forsyth County’s biggest challenges in reducing our sprawling growth pattern.

Interestingly, citizens attending the Legacy Update 2030 Kick-off estimated that 30,000 people of the projected 120,000 population increase might be attracted to the Downtown, Activity Centers and Urban Neighborhoods (at 1.9 person per household, this would be approximately 15,800 household units). Under current Area Plan recommendations in all of the Urban Neighborhoods (outside of Downtown), only 324 acres are designated for densities higher than single-family. Combined with recommendations for single-family, This would accommodate 4495 housing units or approximately an additional 8540 people in GMA 2.

Carefully done, increased density in designated infill areas can be done in an attractive manner, provide housing choices for a large number of newcomers, and reduce the cost of providing public services to new residential development by adding housing to areas where infrastructure is already available. Another form of gentle density is the allowance of attached or detached accessory units in single-family areas. These units can be administered using specific criteria for both their location and design.

Yet another issue for Urban Neighborhoods, is our aging population. There are few facilities for the elderly within the Urban Neighborhood boundary, though citizens throughout the county have expressed an interest in "aging in place."

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