Multiple factors are now converging in Utah to make infill more imperative, including rapid growth, rising housing costs and changing residential preferences.
Infill development – particularly multifamily housing – comprises an increasing proportion of new residential development along the Wasatch Front.
Infill development can offer a variety of benefits to local communities, including: an expanded housing supply; more attractive city and town centers; more efficient use of land; a strengthened local tax base; efficient delivery of public services and infrastructure; and improvements to overall quality of life.
Communities looking to promote infill must wrestle with major obstacles, such as zoning, site issues, citizen opposition, cost uncertainties and ownership issues.
Local governments can attract infill investors by taking an inventory of potential sites and making key information on them publicly available.
Clear, comprehensive and user-friendly information on the development approval process is critical. Local governments may also consider creating a “fast-track” approval process for infill projects at targeted sites or in targeted redevelopment zones.
To measure success in promoting infill, local governments can formally target particular zones or sites, then deploy strategies and actions to those locations accordingly. Local governments can prioritize such target locations based on fixed strategic criteria and share the priority areas widely with the public.
There are multiple means of recalibrating land-use requirements to encourage infill, including rezoning targeted areas, creating overlay zones and employing form-based codes.
Existing surface parking lots are often prime opportunity sites for infill. But parking rules on the books may prevent infill development from meeting economies of scale for investors. It is important for local policymakers to take a hard look at whether existing parking requirements are overly aggressive.
Investing in infrastructure upgrades and streetscape enhancements at targeted opportunity sites can support the strategic focus of an infill program and attract private investment. Limiting the use of tax increment financing for such upgrades to public assets can reduce the dangers inherent in using public dollars to support private developments.
Main street programs, public art, neighborhood rebranding campaigns and events can help to create new interest and investment in target infill areas.
Local governments can leverage federal support through mechanisms such as Opportunity Zones, the New Markets Tax Credit program and the EPA Brownfield Program.
As part of an infill strategy, it is important to identify sites near mass transit lines, so that new developments can capitalize on these existing investments. The Station Area Plan process offers the promise of community-based transit-oriented development planning.
Utah Foundation President Peter Reichard said that, despite the tremendous growth in recent years, opportunities for high-quality infill development abound. “From small towns to big cities to suburbs, Utah’s communities can use infill to improve quality of life,” Reichard said. “Infill holds the promise of new housing, more attractive streetscapes, an improved tax base and reduced pressure on development at the suburban fringe.”