Transit: Opinion, Time to prepare for transit-oriented development

by Southeast Valley editorial board

If the Southeast Valley learns one thing in this economy, it is that a recession is a terrible thing to waste.

Transit planners, take note: This is the time to set policies that promote business and neighborhood revival along transit routes, and to revisit current policies to confirm they still make sense.

Funds are tight at best and non-existent at worst. Public-transit projects that did not receive stimulus dollars are on hold.

But incentives to promote transit use and synergism in our communities do not have to involve cash.

Zoning ordinances that allow height, density and mixed-use development along transit corridors are often as enticing as a tax break or other financial incentive.

Planners should use the lull in the economy to set or revisit policies that promote an urban lifestyle along transit routes. When the economy returns and developers renew their interest, plans will be in place to create urban oases within our car-dependent suburbs.

Tempe implemented a Transportation Overlay District years ago to encourage urban development along its stretch of the Metro light-rail line. Parts of the area have seen rebirth.

Mesa is on track with a new zoning ordinance to encourage infill development. The idea is to build on vacant patches of land and incorporate pedestrian connectivity to encourage transit use and revive an area that once had life.

But more is needed. Plans that speak to redevelopment and urban design can turn destitute areas into round-the-clock hot spots for diners, shoppers, theatergoers, workers and residents.

There is talk that light rail will extend south on Gilbert Road, making this a great time for Gilbert to consider how it would mesh urban life into its otherwise family-friendly town. The same goes for Chandler, which tagged Arizona Avenue as a key transit corridor in its General Plan.

For developers that propose projects along transit routes, municipalities should consider speeding up their permitting processes, as cited in a recent review of such programs by Reconnecting America. The national organization focuses on the link between transportation and thriving communities.

The review didn’t have all the answers. Most of its findings included grants, tax credits and direct financial incentives. These measures may be necessary in Maryland, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and other older parts of the country. The review cited Phoenix’s use of funds to acquire land and reimburse developers for infrastructure improvements.

But such incentives in this economy are a non-starter. If transit-oriented development is the wave of the future, the business will come – without government subsidies. There is no better time than now to prepare for its arrival.

[online.wsj.com]

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