A Long Overdue Action
By Bill Christopher
April 15, 2010
There is cause to celebrate some long overdue State legislation, which is now on the Governor’s desk for his consideration. House Bill 1143, which pertains to RTD owned property, would allow (for the first time) residential development to take place. Prior to this enabling legislation, only retail, office and commercial land uses were allowed on park n ride or vacant RTD locations. Unlike cities and counties, RTD is dependent on the State Legislature to determine which land uses are allowed on RTD owned property. With the increasing interest and support for Transit Oriented Development (TOD) at many of the designated FasTracks rail stations, this legislation is a key piece to the puzzle of creating some affordable (work force) housing opportunities. And the nexus between TOD affordable housing and transit service is a “no brainer”. It has been documented time and time again throughout America that works effectively.
The impetus for the legislation evolved from a coalition of interests including affordable housing organizations, developers, housing authorities, city and county governments and more. RTD did not push the bill although some individual Board members including myself have been championing such legislation for 2-3 years. Although the City and County of Denver led the way on spearheading the legislation, other municipalities, which have FasTracks corridors/stations, demonstrated their support.
CHALLENGE TO MAKE IT “PENCIL OUT”
Assuming the Governor will sign the bill into law, the stage will be set for the development and affordable housing communities to put their pencils to potential residential development involving RTD owned land. This of course is in addition to development activity on privately owned land adjacent to station sites. Concurrent with the actions of the State Legislature and Governor Ritter, the RTD Board of Directors will need to update and broaden its land development policies to reflect this legislation. The Board is slated to take up this item in the next 60 days. Having said that, it is important to point out that TOD development is a challenging endeavor from the standpoint of cost, loan commitments, return on investment and in particular sorting out the parking needs at transit stations, which have private development with them. Creative solutions will be needed to make residential development work including higher densities. In the case of affordable housing (up to 60% of area median income), the creativity and partnerships become all the more critical to make the developments “pencil out.”
A NEW DAY AT RTD
For too long, RTD had the mantra of “we are the “T” in TOD.” In other words, RTD should only be focused on the transportation services at TOD sites. Former General Manager Cal Marsella and previous Board members subscribed to that philosophy. But it is a “new day” and General Manager Phil Washington with a consensus of the current Board support collaboration and partnering with developers on residential development close to transit stations. It’s a “win-win” for lower income families and for RTD as they realize convenient housing with less dependency on a vehicle and it increases ridership on FasTracks light rail and commuter rail service.
The Cities of Westminster and Thornton are to be commended for their early planning and action in conjunction with the proposed station locations on the North West Rail Corridor and North Metro Corridor respectively. Westminster developed a “master plan” of complimentary land uses for south Westminster focusing on the 71st Avenue and Irving Street station. Thornton on the other hand has had the vision to acquire land at proposed station locations to be “positioned” to work with developers. This proactive approach will help assure successful TOD related developments at the subject commuter rail stations.