Linear shopping centers in affordable housing, mixed-use development

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BOSTON – Obsolete and decaying malls can be found in most towns in Massachusetts – ghosts of what were once thriving places for local businesses and restaurants.

Some may think that all hope is lost to reinvigorate these malls, but a new report from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council argues that the sites can be reused in mixed-use developments to increase tax revenue and provide needed housing for low-income residents.

“If even a fraction of these underutilized commercial sites were redeveloped as part of mixed-use pedestrian neighborhoods, it could help meet the region’s housing needs, increase municipal tax revenues, provide better conditions and opportunities for housing. existing businesses and local entrepreneurs, improve community character, expand access to otherwise exclusive communities and improve sustainability, ”the report states.

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The future of shopping centers

MAPC’s Chris Kuschel, Tim Reardon and Jessie Partridge Guerrero are the authors of the study and report a shopping center in Woburn that was mostly vacant in 2017, attracting fewer customers for the businesses that were staying and struggling to survive.

Several years later, the site was turned into an example of how municipalities can reuse linear shopping malls to benefit communities, the authors write. Woburn’s redevelopment may not be perfect, according to the report, as it still has copious amounts of surface parking.

“But the positives far outweigh the negatives, and by replacing a dilapidated shopping center, the new development, now known as Woburn Village, sets the stage for the creation of a new neighborhood in the city. “, says the report.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council report found that if only 10% of small commercial sites – like the one in Woburn – were redeveloped into mixed-use projects, around 124,000 homes could be created, increasing the value of buildings and generating $ 479 million. dollars in additional tax revenue. for host communities.

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If municipalities benefited from state aid Smart Growth Zoning By-law 40R, the host municipalities in that 10 percent sample cited by the report’s authors could be eligible for incentive payments totaling $ 1.2 billion during rezoning and $ 373 million when sites are redeveloped.

Kuschel said that since linear shopping malls are already developed, municipalities and developers have the option of reimagining a site rather than building one from scratch.

“They tend to offer an opportunity for change in the shorter term and the reason I say this is that many sites are smaller,” Kuschel said. “They’re often somewhere in the neighborhood of, say, an acre and can be redeveloped in a much quicker timeframe in terms of planning than something like, say, a Burlington mall.”

With thousands of linear shopping centers across the state, it can be difficult to decide which ones to expand into mixed-use developments. As part of the MAPC report, the authors identified several priorities that can be used in deciding whether to renovate a commercial area.

Among the considerations: if they are close to high quality public transport and walkable destinations which may offer “the greatest benefit in reducing congestion and [greenhouse gas] reduction, ”the report says.

“Our analysis shows that 29% of the sites we identified are within half a mile of transit, meaning their rezoning could help host communities meet Section 3A multi-family mandate obligations. MBTA, “the authors wrote. “Those that are large, or in groups of properties, can have the greatest impact on housing supply and affordability. “

Concerns about preserving the “character” of the community

Kuschel said MAPC has seen a “good amount” of interest in mixed-use development, although some municipalities have raised concerns about upgrading linear shopping centers.

“So sometimes the concerns are related to traffic, sometimes the impacts on schools, sometimes how you want to define the concerns about the character of the community,” he said, adding that the impacts on the community. school budgets were often at the top of the list.

The report says concerns about the impacts of a new development on school budgets have led to demands for unsuitable housing for families, “perpetuating regional segregation and diluting the potential benefits to housing affordability.”

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“Concerns about ‘community character’ often veil discriminatory interests in maintaining the existing racial and socio-economic makeup of the municipality, depriving others of opportunities to live there,” the report said.

For Kuschel, the advantages of modernizing linear shopping centers into mixed-use developments far outweigh the disadvantages.

“MAPC has done a lot of research in regards to schools which I think does prove that the impacts on schools are very low, and where there are situations where they are valid there are basically programs to help. to provide this type of complementary funding to address any problem related to fiscal impacts, ”he said.

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