After HUD announced that they would begin scoring grant projects on “location efficiency” using LEED ND as a guide, I got curious as to what that might mean for the Twin Cities region. In Part 1 of the series, I began looking at what requirements LEED ND has for “location efficiency” and came up with a map that identifies areas of the region that are basically off-limits due to special environmental or land use characteristics. This was based on prerequisites 2 – 5 in the Smart Location and Linkage topic area of LEED ND. This post will focus on the last prerequisite in Smart Location and Linkage: Smart Location.
This exercise isn’t supposed to be just about HUD, but about what planning in our region might look like if location efficiency, smart growth and infill development were prioritized over greenfield development.
Instead of being about what is off-limits, as the other prerequisites in SLL are, Smart Location is about identifying locations that are best for development. The “intent” of the Smart Location prerequisite is described in the LEED ND rating system as:
To encourage development within and near existing communities and public transit infrastructure. To encourage improvement and redevelopment of existing cities, suburbs, and towns while limiting the expansion of the development footprint in the region to appropriate circumstances. To reduce vehicle trips and vehicle miles traveled (VMT). To reduce the incidence of obesity, heart disease, and hypertension by encouraging daily physical activity associated with walking and bicycling.
The requirements of Smart Location, in brief, are as follows:
- All projects must be within a legally-adopted, publicly-owned, planned water and wastewater service area AND
- the project must be on an infill site OR
- an adjacent site with connectivity OR
- a transit corridor with adequate service level OR
- a site with nearby neighborhood assets.
So, sewer and water are required for all projects, and then the project must meet one of the last four criteria.
Water and Wastewater Service
Sewer is relatively straightforward. In the Twin Cities metro area, we have a planned Metropolitan Urban Service Area, which is intended to identify phasing for development. While cities are supposed to identify development phases of 2010, 2020 and 2030, it is not unheard of for cities to amend the phasing based on the wishes of landowners and developers. If existing pipes are close enough, cities may extend them or ask developers to pay the cost of extension. The point is, the phasing is not an iron law. Therefore, identifying the 2030 MUSA boundary as the limit of the first requirement seemed reasonable. Also, the 2010 and 2020 MUSA boundaries are not significantly different to exclude much of the area that will be eligible anyway.
The rating system has a complex definition of infill site which basically is a way of measuring how much of the land surrounding the project boundary has been previously developed. There are a number of reasons why my estimates of what is infill may not be exactly accurate, including not knowing specifically how any particular project site would be shaped, but what I’ve come up with is a conservative estimate of areas that would qualify as infill in the metro. So this map of eligible infill sites probably represents a slight underestimation of the eligible areas, but better safe than sorry.
Adjacent Sites with Connectivity
This criterion allows projects to meet the prerequisite if they are adjacent to previously developed areas that have a street-network density of at least 90 intersections per square mile (measured along at least 25% of the project boundary, within 1/2 mile). There are also requirements about how frequent through-streets must be at the project boundary. Street network (or intersection) density is an important determination of walkability and transit use.
To measure intersection density, I broke the metro into a grid with each square being 1/2 mile on a side. I then counted the intersections in each grid square. This map shows the intersection density throughout the metro. For any 1/2 mile project boundary, I figure you’d need at least 23 intersections in the adjacent grid square to meet the criteria. Singling out those squares with at least 23 intersections and buffering them to capture adjacent land that would be eligible, you get this map.
Adding areas with high intersection density to the “eligible” category does not really expand the possibilities for LEED ND in the Twin Cities, since there are much greater infill opportunities than sites with high intersection density, and the infill sites largely overlap these areas.
Transit Corridor or Route with Adequate Transit Service
Projects can also qualify if they are within 1/4 mile walk distance of bus stops, or within 1/2 mile walk distance of BRT, LRT, heavy rail, or ferry terminals AND the service at those stops meet certain thresholds (e.g. 60 trips per weekday). Not all the bus stops in the metro met this threshold. Also, the Northstar Commuter Rail does not meet the threshold due to low numbers of trips. Again however, this path to eligibility does not add much land beyond what is already included as potential infill.
Sites with Nearby Neighborhood Assets
Finally, sites can also qualify by being located within a 1/4 walking distance of 5 diverse uses. Without parcel data, I was unable to do any analysis of these locations. However, like some of the other areas above, I don’t think this option would add much area outside of what is eligible from being infill. So while I technically may have missed something, I’m relatively confident that any site that qualifies under this category has already been taken care of by one of the above.
Identifying the final eligible areas is mostly an exercise in layering all the eligible areas together, then cutting out any ineligible areas (areas outside the MUSA and ineligible areas that were computed in the last post). I also excluded any areas that were under 1/2 acre, assuming that this would be the minimum size for an area to be considered realistically developable.
Here is the final map. Areas in green are the locations in the metro that could be considered “location efficient” according to LEED ND, and perhaps soon, HUD. In my opinion, a surprising amount of the metro area is eligible.
In the next post, I’ll try to do a little bit more analysis of this final result by city. I’ll also look at another critical factor, whether a LEED ND project would likely be allowed in a particular area given the existing intensity of development in that area (and the planned intensity). In other words, would a community’s planning and zoning rules allow a LEED ND project?