Higher Density/Mixed Use Communities – Pros & Cons

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities

A collection of articles and references citing pros and cons of increasing density and incorporating mixed land uses

A must read for home buyers, business owners, and investors, before buying a home or condo, or signing a residential or commercial lease in a mixed-use or high density community.


Advantages promoted by the industry:

Walkable communities

Affordable lifestyles near urban amenities

Reduces sprawl and conserves land and environmental resources

Promotes social interaction

Challenges and disadvantages of mixed use:

Residential and commercial owners and residents often clash, because they hold opposing interests and goals

Residential owners may be expected to subsidize commercial costs by paying more than their fair share of assessments to the master property owners’ association

Retail and Restaurant commercial tenants earn limited profits, may struggle to survive with limited foot traffic and no viable strategy to draw in customers from outside the community

Close proximity of commercial uses may expose residents to disturbances such as noise, foul odors, bright lights, and similar quality of life nuisances

Challenges and disadvantaged of increased housing density:

Residents have little privacy, increased exposure to nuisances such as noise from neighboring housing units

Parking is extremely limited or, if available, very costly

Traffic increases in suburban zones, where public transit is unavailable

Working class and low income residents are often priced out of redeveloped dense housing neighborhoods

In urban settings, limited daylight exposure for residents in highrise buildings

High concentration of hard surfaces and shortage of green space makes it difficult to manage storm water and prevent flood hazards

Many communities not designed to accommodate families with children

Have an article to recommend? Email me at debgoonan@icloud.com

Survey: More Than Half of Homebuyers and Sellers Oppose Housing Density, Only a Quarter Support It.

August 2, 2019 – By Tim Ellis for Redfin

Tiny homes controversy is anything but small and cute


August 17, 2018 07:46 PM

The emailed threat read like dialogue from 1930s pulp fiction.

“We’re going to tell you this once,” the message began that told Jonathan Endicott to give up his fight against the MicroMansions tiny homes development planned near his Cambria neighborhood, just south of Harry and 143rd East.

“If not we will use all of our resources, money and means to stop you. You’re dealing with powerful people that have no problems attacking your business, life and family if you choose not to stop.”

Read more here:

Nearby homeowners oppose a planned tiny homes community. Developers are calling these “MicroMansions,” 90 homes under 500 square feet. As usual, the city and developer are pushing yet another covenant restricted development with a homeowners’ association.

Critics say the economic model won’t work, and that the tiny homes will quickly become poorly managed rentals.

The City is happy to change zoning to create more taxable parcels, even if the tiny homes are the extreme opposite of obscenely spacious estate homes.

Condo owners so fed up with unruly customer behavior, they’re suing a Nike store for $3M
SoHo condo slaps Nike store with $3M suit over ‘noise and violence’ at events

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Thursday, January 18, 2018, 6:16 PM

Just do it — somewhere else!

A swank SoHo condo sued a neighboring Nike store Thursday, charging that sneakerheads are terrorizing residents.

The NikeLab at 21 Mercer St. holds events several times a week, often announced at the last minute, in which shoe freaks line up for hours hoping to get their hands on exclusive footwear, the suit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court claims. The events frequently erupt in “noise and violence,” according to the residents of 22 Mercer St., who seek $3 million.

“Each Nike event and the ensuing crowds subject the condominium’s residents to extended periods of public drunkenness and urination, violence (including brawls and fist fights) loitering, littering, smoking, drug use, yelling and screaming,” the suit says.

Read more:


An example of a bitter mixed use dispute between a commercial retailer and a condominium owners. Condo owners probably never expected such disruptive conduct during Nike events.

If condo owners prevail for $3 million, perhaps urban planning and economic development decision makers will reconsider mixed use that integrates residential housing in very close proximity to commercial businesses?

Denver approves rezoning plan to allow taller buildings in exchange for affordable housing
Denver7 – The Denver Channel 120 views

This report offers an explanation of why developers and local governments work hand-in-hand to increase building heights and densities. Essentially, the local government offers a sort of bribe — er, incentive — to convince developers to build rental housing or condos that the working class or the poor can actually afford.

A million dollars might sound like a lot of money to most American consumers, but to a developer who can sell an additional eight stories of residential or commercial units, it’s a small concession.

Instead of investing a portion of tax revenue in public housing, or offering public housing assistance directly to households in need, millions of dollars are exchanged between private real estate corporations and local governments.

And, as a result, the city gains hundreds, perhaps thousands of new properties to tax, even though the new private communities will receive limited public services.

It’s a symbiotic relationship between the public and private sector.

But does the housing consumer and taxpayer benefit?

The Great American Single-Family Home Problem
Building more housing, more densely, could help address
a widespread economic challenge. A fight over one
lot in Berkeley, Calif., shows how tough that could be.


BERKELEY, Calif. — The house at 1310 Haskell Street does not look worthy of a bitter neighborhood war. The roof is rotting, the paint is chipping, and while the lot is long and spacious, the backyard has little beyond overgrown weeds and a garage sprouting moss.

The owner was known for hoarding junk and feeding cats, and when she died three years ago the neighbors assumed that whoever bought the house would be doing a lot of work. But when the buyer turned out to be a developer, and when that developer floated a proposal to raze the building and replace it with a trio of small homes, the neighborhood erupted in protest.

Most of the complaints were what you might hear about any development. People thought the homes would be too tall and fretted that more residents would mean fewer parking spots.

Other objections were particular to Berkeley — like a zoning board member’s complaint that shadows from the homes might hurt the supply of locally grown food.

Read more:

This NYT article highlights the bitter battle for power over land use – one that pits state government against local governments. It also pits the NIMBYs against the YIMBYs. (Not In My Back Yard vs. Yes In My Back Yard)

YIMBYs argue that the only way to make housing affordable is to create more density. NIMBYs argue that other factors such as speculative development and foreign real estate investment put more pressure on housing prices.

The argument against excessive shading of existing homes and yards is a valid one. Not mentioned in the article, but also an important consideration, is how increased density can adversely affect storm water drainage. Local governments have had some very good reasons for requiring minimum setbacks and easements, as well as height restrictions on structures.

Have some local governments gone too far, making it virtually impossible to build apartments, duplexes, or back yard guest homes or cottages? Yes.

But there needs to be a reasonable balance between locally-mandated low density and state enforced maximum density.

Also missing from the discussion: no one is talking about bringing work centers closer to suburban areas, in order to cut down on commute times. Nor is anyone considering incentives for employers to permit remote work arrangements to reduce the number of commuters on California’s vast highway system.

South Boston’s biggest development ever? Builders detail plans for 2.1M square feet Including 1,588 condos, apartments


We’ve known for a long while that developers Hilco Global and Redgate want to build big on the 15.2-acre South Boston waterfront site of the long-shuttered New Boston Generating Station (aka the South Boston Edison Power Plant).

Thanks to a fresh filing with the city, it’s clear just how big the pair want to build.

The 2.1 million-square-foot development would include seven new buildings, three at least 200 feet high each. There would be 1,588 apartments and condos, plus a 150-room hotel, 339,000 square feet of office space, and 68,000 square feet of retail.

The project would provide 987 underground parking spaces as well as a new road off Summer Street and a 1.15-acre plaza along Reserved Channel.

Read more:


Southies are not too thrilled about proposed dense residential development on the site of a former power plant. For one thing, deed restrictions prohibit housing development on the site. The current residents also fear a parking shortage. And the site is adjacent to freight road that will serve a busy shipping terminal, making one wonder who would really want to live with the noise of huge trucks all day and night anyway?

Population Growth Means a City Is Thriving, or Does It?
Public officials and reporters alike adopt the myth that bigger is better. That’s not always the case.


Every year, the U.S. Census Bureau releases its latest data on cities and population growth. The reaction is always the same: News outlets look at the numbers showing which places gained and which ones shed residents, and use them as instant proxies for a decline, a boom or a turnaround in cities all over the country.

Population loss can become a symbol for other things people feel is going wrong in a city, such as rising poverty and unemployment rates, vacant and blighted housing, increased violent crime, the exit of pro sports franchises, racial segregation and police brutality. The “decline” in newspaper headlines may refer to the population, but it’s often shorthand for a host of complex problems, an easy-to-understand indicator that things are getting worse.

In Detroit, where the population fell 64 percent between 1950 and 2016, Mayor Mike Duggan told The Wall Street Journal shortly after he took office three years ago that “the single standard a mayor should be defined on is whether the population of the city is going up or going down.”

Read more:


According to research, increasing population density does not necessarily lead to a more prosperous city with a growing tax base.

‘Too much, too fast’: Collin County feeling growing pains from traffic, density, developments

Dallas News
Written by
Valerie Wigglesworth, Staff Writer

For years, top civic and elected officials across Collin County have boasted about their top-quality schools, family-friendly communities and vast expanses of open land ripe for development.

Their efforts have attracted people in droves. Since 2000, Collin County’s population has grown nearly 90 percent. If that pace continues, the county could double its current population before 2035 and exceed the populations of Dallas and Tarrant counties by 2050.

Developing all the available land is still decades away. But growing pains are an annoying reality now for many Collin residents, whether they’re feeling overrun by high-density developments, struggling with higher property taxes or getting stuck in traffic.

Read more:


Residents of fast-growing cities and suburbs push back against higher school taxes, more traffic requiring wider freeways, and dense apartment housing.

Vancouver’s detached homes are disappearing

Better Dwelling
Daniel Wong, Better Dwelling
May 7, 2017, 1:00 PM

Floating House Ontario, Canada Florian Holzherr/ArchDaily
The number of single family detached homes is rapidly declining in Vancouver. According to the latest Census 2016 numbers from Statistics Canada, more families are moving into multi-family units such as apartments buildings and condos. While the trend is consistent across Canada, Vancouver is one of the few cities where the actual number of single-detached homes is declining, as more get snatched up for land-assemblies.

Read more:


In metropolitan Vancouver, British Columbia, virtually all new housing is multifamily construction. Families with children either have to settle for cramped condo living or move quite far away from the city to find a single family detached home that they can afford.

Shaughnessy homeowner compares density to ‘stacking of human cargo’ on slave ships

Comment appeared in Shaughnessy Heights Property Owners’ Association newsletter

By Lien Yeung, CBC News Posted: May 05, 2017 6:54 PM PT Last Updated: May 05, 2017 9:10 PM PT

A homeowner in one of Vancouver’s wealthiest neighbourhoods has compared the city’s desire to increase housing density with the “stacking of human cargo” aboard slave ships.

Mik Ball, a board member from the Shaughnessy Heights Property Owners’ Association, wrote the article as part of the group’s spring newsletter.

He claims Vancouver’s mayor and city council are clinging to the “myth” that living in Vancouver is a right, thereby increasing density with no regard to livability.

“The result puts one in mind of the ‘dense pack’ strategy of early 18th century slavers, wherein they struck upon the idea of stacking their human cargo like cordwood in the hopes of increasing profits,” wrote Ball.

“The result was an increase in mortality that did exactly the opposite of what was intended.”

Read more:


The title of this article speaks for itself. Vancouver residents say that housing is too dense, making life in the city increasingly expensive and uncomfortable.

Parents say condo boom led to overcrowded schools

The Hamilton Spectator Sep 07, 2017

TORONTO — Serina Manek has been living in Leslieville for seven years, and has watched it go from a rough-around-the-edges area in Toronto’s east end, to one of the city’s most desirable neighbourhoods.

The demand for Leslieville was always building, she says, but when the condos started going up, the boom of young families started to have an effect on the neighbourhood dynamic, and ultimately, the schools.

“It was starting to burst at the seams with just the young families coming in at first,” said Manek, who has a five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter. “But with the addition of the condos, things are becoming unmanageable. It’s too much.”

Toronto public schools in condo-heavy neighbourhoods are starting to feel the squeeze of a dense population. The Toronto District School Board has been warning new home buyers in certain neighbourhoods that not all children will be accommodated in their home school.

Read more:


In Toronto, as in fast growing U.S. cities, existing schools no longer have the space or teaching staff to accommodate all the new children living in condos.  Some children are being bussed to neighboring school districts instead.

“Instant neighborhoods” don’t make for great cities, but DC insists on them

By Payton Chung (Editorial Board) September 25, 2017

In certain corners of DC, flocks of construction cranes are busy assembling dozens of apartment towers from scratch – while other neighborhoods look much the same as they have for decades. This imbalance is quietly undermining the character and continuity of DC’s urban fabric by eroding the physical, economic, and social diversity within neighborhoods. Yet DC’s planning policies explicitly encourage this pattern when they single out a few areas to develop all at once, while exempting other areas from growth.

There are subtle reasons why it’s not a great idea to funnel all of the District’s growth into just a few central-city areas. From an urban design standpoint, “instant neighborhoods” rarely have the visual or social diversity that many people enjoy about urban places. Great neighborhoods evolve as a mixed collage of uses, buildings, activities, and people over time – resulting not just in a more interesting place, but also a more enduring one.

One common complaint about areas like Southwest Waterfront, Crystal City, Golden Triangle, and even Capitol Riverfront is that they “look generic.” They’re filled with large, boxy buildings that were all built within a relatively short period of time, and thus responded to the real-estate market pressures of that one particular era. Suburban tracts filled with identical houses, whether in Olney or Bowie or Chantilly, face similar criticisms.

Read more:


In this editorial, Chung advocates for density at a slower pace, and more organically integrated into existing older neighborhoods. Chung says that a diversity of building types benefits communities, creates resiliency, and prevents “fashion construction” zones from becoming stagnant and outdated within a few decades.

But note that, in chung’s view, the goal is to replace old buildings with newer, denser housing. Read between the lines – more condos and apartments, more mixed use buildings.

Big Sky Crowded: Growth, density and the future of the Gallatin Valley

From the How Will We Grow? series

By Eric Dietrich Chronicle Staff Writer Jan 31, 2016

It’s hard to argue with the math.

Buoyed by the region’s booming economy and widely lauded quality of life, Gallatin County pushed past the 100,000-resident mark for the first time last year. Since 1990, annual population growth in the Bozeman area has averaged 2.8 percent — doubling the number of souls in the region in only a quarter century.

At that rate, thanks to the dynamics of exponential growth, the next decade will see 32,000 new residents in the county — a number slightly larger than the population of Helena. By the time children born today graduate from high school in 2034, the county could hold 165,000 people, a majority of the new arrivals likely to settle alongside those of us already in the Gallatin Valley.

In a place where the Big Sky take on the American Dream has long focused on the freedom to stake a claim amid broad horizons, there’s perhaps no greater source of collective angst than those numbers and their implications. Bozeman’s growth has gone hand-in-hand with prosperity, certainly, but has also brought change — not all of it entirely welcome.

Read more:


In Montana, housing density means building more single family homes per acre. That poses challenges, because in wide-open Montana, land owners prefer to build homes on acreage. Critics say that zoning ordinances and impact fees in cities push new development out to suburbs and rural areas where land is cheaper, with few land use restrictions.

Dessert shop is ground zero in neighborhood feud
Infighting over SnoZen, zealous enforcement of rules dividing the Crossings’ residents

by Mark Noack / Mountain View Voice

May 29, 2015 10:50 AM

SnoZen is located at the corner of Showers Drive and Pacchetti Way, across from the San Antonio Caltrain Station, on May 26,, 2015. Photo by Michelle Le

A corner cafe specializing in frozen desserts would seem like the perfect setting to relax and cool off, but the proprietors of Mountain View’s SnoZen have found themselves in the center of a heated political battle between residents in the Crossings neighborhood.

SnoZen owners Teague and Jennypher Ho, as well as other residents in the Crossings neighborhood, say the complaints come solely from the one household living directly above the shop. Over the 18 months since SnoZen opened, residents Konstantin Okunev and his wife Yelena Okuneva have made an estimated seven complaints about the noise to Mountain View police and code-enforcement officials. When authorities found no substantial issues, the Okunev family hired an attorney, who began sending written warnings to SnoZen to be quiet.

Read more:


Couple seeks to close doors of 
Aspen business

by Chad Abraham, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Developer, HOA ordered to appear for contempt hearing in August

The latest episode in the long-running legal saga involving a part-time couple who live on Aspen’s Restaurant Row will take place next month, as Michael Sedoy and Natalia Shvachko seek to declare the developer of 308 E. Hopkins Ave. in contempt of court.

Hanging in the balance is the fate of the upscale Bootsy Bellows business that operates in the building’s basement — with a crucial legal question being whether it is classified as a restaurant or a nightclub.

JW Ventures, the developer and owner of the building, has not shut down the business, in violation of the order made in May by Judge Gail Nichols of Pitkin County District Court, according to a recent letter from the couple’s attorney, Scott Barker of Denver. The missive was sent to lawyers representing JW Ventures and the homeowners’ association in the building.

Read more:


Two examples of unsuccessful business ventures in mixed use communities, due to complaints and lawsuits started by homeowners.

Great idea: Mixed-use urban centers

The market is much more receptive to the benefits of mixed-use today, but it is still easier to talk about main street retail than to effectively build it.


In celebration of the upcoming CNU 25.Seattle, Public Square is running the series 25 Great Ideas of the New Urbanism. These ideas have been shaped by new urbanists and continue to influence cities, towns, and suburbs. The series is meant to inspire and challenge those working toward complete communities in the next quarter century.

In the 20th Century, retail shifted from main streets and downtowns to strip shopping centers, enclosed malls, and big box stores. Building and revitalizing urban centers is one of the great tasks of the New Urbanism, including figuring out how traditional commercial centers function and incorporating mainstream retail into walkable places. The demands of retailers shape new urbanist designs for mixed-use urban and town centers, even as retail itself moves from brick-and-mortar stores to online sales.

Public Square editor Robert Steuteville interviewed planner and landscape architect Robert Gibbs, author of Principles of Urban Retail Planning and Development, and architect and urban designer Seth Harry, expert on sustainable commerce, on the challenges of mixed-use urban centers.


In most metro areas, new multi-family and office development has shifted to walkable urban much more quickly than retail.

Gibbs: I always ask my developers why they’re building the New Urban retail center. I give them three choices. They’re building it as a pure profit center, in which case, it tends to be more conventional. Or they’re building it as a legacy and they’re not really concerned whether it breaks even or makes a profit, they just want to build a beautiful place. Or they’re building it as an amenity—to sell houses quickly. If they’re building it as a legacy or an amenity, it can be a lot more flexible because it doesn’t require market rate rents for the retail. A lot of developers are building really beautiful twenty to forty thousand square-foot centers as an amenity. They’re two- and three-story buildings right on the street with parking in the rear and they’re really quite beautiful. The developer subsidizes the rents, because they’re using them as an amenity to sell houses or build a legacy.

Developers that want to build a profit center to get a market rate of return generally have to be more conventional except in the case of the larger town center format. Then there’s a lot of flexibility. You can actually build the small blocks and put the parking in the back or underground or in structures.

You can’t build retail and think that the residential will subsidize the cost of the retail. It’s really foolish, right now in this economy, to build only retail without building adjacent land uses.

Harry: The area that has a lot of personal interest for me is the smaller, neighborhood scale redevelopment that often happens along major suburban arterials. Again, a lot of these older, immediate post-war suburban commercial nodes are now redeveloping as mixed-use neighborhoods. That’s an exciting new development because now we’re starting to flesh out the full spectrum of community types, not just in the regional level, but we’re starting to see it work it’s way down to the community center scale and the neighborhood center scale.

Gibbs. That’s the real opportunity, to go to that smaller scale where you can perform an easy infill on a 5 or 10-acre parcel.

Read entire CNU Journal article:


Here is an interview that makes it crystal clear that Mixed-Use is designed to either benefit residential owners or commercial owners/tenants, not both.

It begs the question: Why entangle homeowner property rights, household wealth, or one’s personal investment portfolio with the success or failure of independently owned and operated commercial office facilities and small businesses?

Bayview Nail Salon Forced To Scrap Mural After Neighbors Complain

A mural is at the heart of a dispute between neighbors in Bayview.

Since opening in January, business has been steady at Luxurious Nail Boutique & Spa, located at 4138 3rd Street (near Innes) in Bayview. However, according to owner Richard Washington, the salon’s biggest issue has been visibility.

To remedy this, Washington applied for a $25,000 grant from SF Shines Program. Sponsored by the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) and the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC), the program provides various forms of facade and business interior improvements to small businesses in underserved neighborhoods throughout San Francisco.

Over the course of three months, with support from Steven J Eichler of Eichler Designs and Precita Eyes Muralists, Washington was able to secure a new awning and mural installation featuring cherry blossoms.

As the work progressed, neighbors occasionally popped in the salon to express their gratitude for the new facade.

However, earlier this month, Washington received a call from Nancy Zeng, the building’s commercial property owner. He was told that he needed to remove the mural and repaint the building to its original color.

Read more:


This business owner cannot even decide on a sign or mural for his business, without his mixed-use neighbors complaining.

A Storm Forces Houston, the Limitless City, to Consider Its Limits


The Houston metro area is an example of both sprawl of densely packed homes and businesses built over wetlands and clay soil praries – too many hard surfaces, not enough soft absorbant soil to handle storm water. Experts say that pumping potable water from underground has caused the land to sink, increasing the odds of flooding.

Land-use policies contribute to GTA’s housing shortage
The Ontario government directs growth to locations and built forms that don’t align with public demand.

By BRYAN TUCKEYSpecial to the Star
Sat., Oct. 21, 2017

A new report by Fortress Real Developments, a BILD member, suggests that there is a disconnect between Ontario’s land-use policies and demand in the GTA’s housing market.

This new report’s findings echo what I’ve been saying in these columns, and elsewhere, for years.

The Ontario government directs growth to locations and built forms that don’t align with public demand, resulting in insufficient housing supply and skewed housing values in the GTA, the fall 2017 Market Manuscript says. In the report, Fortress compiled responses from a survey of 53 urban planners in Ontario, including those who work for government and those in industry.

Fifty-six per cent of the urban planners surveyed believe that Ontario’s “urban containment policies,” such as the Places to Grow Act and the Greenbelt Act, contribute to the growth of new-home prices in the GTA. Legislation cannot change “long-held preferences” in the type of home that people want, the report points out. Single-family housing continues to be more desirable than condominium apartments, especially for families, Fortress notes.

In a social media survey of the public that the company conducted, 36 per cent of respondents said they would be willing to drive an hour each way to work if they could live in a suburban townhouse with a backyard, rather than in a downtown condo apartment with a five-minute commute to work.

Read more:


Just like metropolitan areas in the U.S., the Toronto area lacks reasonably-priced single family housing and affordable options for middle income households. Families want detached or semidetached homes on private lots, but local suburbs have not planned for critical utilities infrastructure to support growing demand for people who prefer not to live in a high rise condominium in the heart of the city.

Urban planners are now pushing for suburban density in the form of townhouses and low rise condo or apartment housing.

Will all proposed attached housing for purchase require condo corporations, of will townhouses be built as independent structures for private ownership?

Vancouver’s “Radical” Housing Plan Makes Waves


The affordability crisis that’s swept through coastal North American cities began to reach Vancouver’s shores in earnest about a decade ago. And once it did, it “hit us like a ton of bricks,” Mayor Gregor Robertson told the press on Monday. The city’s new 10-year housing strategy, released last week, aims to alleviate the pain.

As policy initiatives go, it’s a doozy: There are 248 pages of provocative proposals that have sparked local debate and garnered attention from cities around the world. It involves densifying areas that are currently stocked with single-family homes, restricting property ownership by nonpermanent residents and creating zones of rental-only housing.

Read more:


Leaders of Canada’s most unaffordable city have instituted a new housing plan. Once again, there is a push for densification, which, in Vancouver, means more multifamily housing in the form of condominiums and apartments. Never mind that research cited in the article proves that Vancouver does not have a housing shortage! And single family neighborhood associations are bound to object to serious densification nearby.

On the other hand, plans to curb foreign investment in real estate and to institute rental-only zones may have some promise, if they can be implemented. There’s no doubt that foreign real estate buyers are driving up prices in major cities across North America and around the world, a problem that is nonexistent in countries that disallow foreigners to own real property. And separating renters from owners is likely to reduce persistent conflict between the two groups of residents in stacked (strata) and townhouse condominium housing communities, IF existing condo associations can then successfully restrict rentals and promote owner-occupancy vs. investor-landlord ownership of units.

U.S. urban planners will be watching Vancouver closely.

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