The parcels in blue have the highest ratio of 2.0 or greater - that is the buildings are assessed with values at least two times the assessed value of the land by itself.
The parcels in red and orange, on the other hand, have buildings valued at half of the land's value - or less.
(St. Barbara's Cemetery is the largest red parcel, and it is odd that they didn't simply leave it "blank," since this ratio of building:land value is a wholly irrelevant metric for that parcel.)
So what about those parking lots?
Instead of building/land value, would property tax/acre be a better metric?
|Mid-rise downtown development generates 10x|
property tax/acre over suburban big box sprawl
(see here for discussion and image credit)
Joe argued during his talk that per acre, dense, highly valued downtowns generate much more public wealth than low-density subdivisions or massive malls by the highway. He pointed out how low-density development isn’t just a poor way to generate property tax revenue, it’s also extremely expensive to maintain. By comparison, dense downtowns cost considerably less to maintain in public services and infrastructure.By itself property tax/acre still might not tell us enough in the analysis. But I'm pretty sure that the building/land ratio alone also results in a meagre analytical gruel. (It could also be hampered by errors or problems with our assessment system - but that's a whole 'nother ball of wax!)
Cities can generate wealth not by raising taxes, but by better exploiting the economics of land use. Joe offered a simple analogy: When shopping for a new vehicle, we often evaluate its fuel economy. We look at miles-per-gallon, not miles-per-tank, because tanks come in all different sizes. Joe says we should look at buildings in exactly the same way. An illustrative comparison is the tax revenue per acre generated by a sprawling Walmart Supercenter versus that of even a modest multistory downtown mixed-use development: the downtown project returns a much higher level of tax revenue per unit area in return for the services it draws upon.
|The blue is mostly parking lot!|
It seems to me that a relevant metric needs to account for the square footage of the building that's actually generating value, and then sets aside the parking lot - which is "free" parking and not generating a direct revenue stream - as ancillary and not a direct part of the economically productive unit of real estate. (Even though they might round to zero right now for this particular analysis, people arriving on foot, bus, and bike also participate in the economies of these businesses, and they aren't using the parking lots at all - so that's an important definitional way this metric is flawed, assumes that only people using cars are economically productive, and contributes to a circularity in argument when what we want to do is improve things for people on foot, bus, and bike.)
At least property tax/acre as a metric does in an indirect way account for the square footage of the building.
This is not the first time that real estate analysis from the Leland Group has seemed thin.
You might recall the study on the north campus of the State Hospital.
|Streetcar-scaled and walkable retail|
doesn't have to mean convenience stores
This study on the Commercial-Vista corridor repeats some of the autoist assumptions and bias.
The area’s high traffic speeds and a lack of on-street parking mean that auto-oriented uses will continue to be the dominant character in the study area, especially for properties fronting along Commercial Street.But this could change! And in fact part of the reason for the study should be to change this and point the way to higher value and more efficient development. But parking trumps everything:
As noted in the Task 2 Memo, parking requirements in the area will dictate the type of development that can occur within the study area. The City’s regulations will help encourage less parking, although the market will still demand enough parking to satisfy the pass-through customers. Off-street parking ratio requirements are at “suburban levels” of 4 per 1,000 square feet of development for retail and 2 to 3 per 1,000 square feet for personal and financial service uses. The code does allow for off-street parking to be located within 500 feet of the associated use in a non-residential zone, and allows for shared parking agreements. Parking requirements will limit certain development types, especially vertical mixed-use development. There simply is not enough space, especially on smaller constrained sites, to park both the retail and the housing above. Even if the City were to drop parking ratios or requirements, the market in this area would expect to have parking available comparable to other suburban properties, and developers would have a hard time leasing space without sufficient parking....It seems like the project should be less eager to accept 20th century assumptions and conditions, and more interested in pointing the way to 21st century change.
Most buildings in the study area were built to accommodate cars. Retrofitting to make the area more pedestrian friendly will be difficult for many properties. Traffic along Commercial Street is fast-moving and noisy, which will limit pedestrian activity, especially for businesses fronting along Commercial Street.
|A difficult site, with much turn-over;|
currently the Blue Diamond.
Formerly the swampy pond and vacant restaurant pictured here.
Generally the study area is healthy, with a lot of economic activity currently taking place. Several properties are for sale or have recently sold. New construction is fully leased and healthy and parking is highly utilized during peak times.When I walk and bike this corridor, "healthy" is not the first word that comes to mind! Pawn shops, liquor stores, fast food joints, strip malls, and parking lots are what I see. While it is true that a jumble of different kinds and intensities of uses - a uniform monoculture of gentrification is too often pernicious on the flip side of this argument - is important, it seems like a stretch to say that this corridor has the right balance just now. The analysis could have said more about the current balance.
It also empties out at non-peak times.
|Wilco's going in now, but would a "healthy" corridor|
really take so long to generate a new use for former Safeway?
(Alas, the data is surely proprietary, but it would be more interesting to see how sales at this Roths and this Fred Meyer compare to the sales of their other stores. We need a deeper comparative approach before we blithely conclude the corridor is "healthy.")
Anyway, this is a conservative and insufficiently deep analysis, oriented towards keeping things the way they are with cosmetic change rather than a visionary and trenchant analysis, oriented towards the future.