Since 2010, Garner’s long-range downtown plan has involved future mixed-use development. Hundreds of residential units have accompanied White Oak’s commercial development.
A recent national survey seems to validate those efforts at mixed use development, and perhaps even suggest more; the study found that no type of neighborhood in the U.S. is more oversupplied than residential-only suburbia.
Transit Center, a civic philanthropy dedicated to research and innovation in mass transportation, gathered detailed survey data to learn about transit leanings of a variety of demographics and released that study Friday. In the process, its survey of nearly 12,000 Americans in 46 metro areas determined that existing housing does not match what people want.
What they want is more mixed-use neighborhoods.
“The top predictor of whether or not you use transit is what type of neighborhood you live in,” the study concludes, adding that “There is unmet demand for mixed-use urban, suburban and small-town neighborhoods across all age groups.”
Garner has worked to both beautify downtown and make it safer in preparation for creating such a district. While it remains sleepy it looks better and many say they it feels safer. And with relatively low density and cost of property (and the town hopes, a future commuter rail station) the town thinks developers would find an ideal place for retail, restaurant and residential additions. There have also been discussions about mixed-use developments near the proposed final commuter stop in Greenfield. The county is re-analyzing its transit plans this fall.
“We are seeing more and more conversations with people using those kinds of ideas and districts,” Garner planning director Brad Bass said. “Things are changing from what they were maybe 10, 15 years ago.”
Bass said the town encourages developers to consider such plans. But town manager Hardin Watkins said it doesn’t necessarily make a concerted, incentive-driven push toward mixed-use development.
“A menu of choices is healthy for a community. I feel Garner has a good mixture,” Watkins said. “At the end of the day, the market tells communities what works. We can plan for certain things and lay infrastructure for certain things but ultimately it’s the market that decides that.”
Areas like Aversboro Road between Town Hall and Timber Drive provided examples where housing already has walk-able access to commercial.
The survey found age to be a big predictor of public transportation use, noting that Baby Boomers largely reject transport despite being raised by parents who generally encouraged it, while more Millennials like it despite Boomer parents having tended to drive them everywhere.
In part because of that demographic shift, the study found a large gap between where people live and where they ideally would want to live, with mixed-use housing under-supplied and residential-only suburban and small town neighborhoods over-supplied.
Regarding attitudes toward public transit, the study found that while age influenced views on transit heavily, attributes such as region of the country, income and education level had marginal effects. The kind of neighborhood a respondent lived in most drastically influenced usage rather than attitude.
The most important elements for transit across all age groups, the study found, were commute time, proximity of stations/stops to home and work, price and reliability. Perceived safety, cleanliness, comfort and WiFi availability ranked lower in priority.
Mixed use even in the country
Meanwhile, further south, Cleveland remains mostly a bedroom community for Raleigh and Research Triangle Park. Rail transit can’t even be seen on the forseeable horizon.
But even Cleveland has seen at least elements of the trends identified in the study. Johnston County planning director Berry Gray said about a decade ago planned use developement began to tick upward as a general trend.
He also noted that about three years ago the county altered an ordinance governing requirements for “planned unit development” to make it easier to create that kind of neighborhood. Before, a developer needed 100 acres of land, but now only 25 acres are required.
“That opened the door to a lot of developers,” Berry said, noting that in places like Cleveland, in particular, tracts of 100 acres are increasingly rare.
That designation allows up to six housing units per acre of townhomes, plus 16 apartment units per acre if the developer wants to create mixed-use development. Single-family subdivision are capped at 1.5 units per acre of the overall property (including roads and common space). It is only permitted in sewer service areas, which in Cleveland means near the I-40/N.C. 42 commercial hub.
The Adam’s Point subdivision was permitted under special rules, and though the neighborhood just south on Old Drugstore Road from N.C. 42 consists mostly of houses, some townhomes and commercial space is also planned.
Another multi-use development had been planned and approved for the northeast corner of I-40 and N.C. 42, but the developer backed out of the project.
Transit needs will be discussed with CAMPO, though rail to Cleveland will not come in the forseeable future, Berry said.
Bass said Garner has a designation in its unified development ordinance called Planned Residential Districts that allow for a variety of options, and flexibility for the town to work with developers in creating the kind of developments that could meet demand in the community.