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Infill Development and Sustainable Reuse

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As local governments grapple with the issue and consequences of sprawl, infill development and sustainable reuse have arisen as a sustainable smart growth solution.  Infill development encompasses sustainable reuse that recycles existing land sources, minimizes impacts to habitat, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and preserves open space.  But infill development is not only a sustainable solution, it is also a cost effective method that also promotes job creation, boosts the local economy, creates affordable housing opportunities, and encourages complete neighborhoods. 

Generally, infill consists of redevelopment and reuse of vacant or existing sites and buildings in a city’s existing neighborhoods, transit corridors, and commercial centers.  Infill development addresses the use of vacant or underutilized land or parcels, while sustainable reuse addresses the redesign and repurpose of vacant or underutilized buildings.  Common goals for infill development and sustainable reuse include increasing residential density, creating new uses for underutilized properties and sites, developing existing sites before expanding outward, and locating new development near existing services such as transit. 

Infill development and sustainable reuse programs can take many forms.  Through zoning regulations, local governments may choose to designate specific districts as infill priority areas or to encourage infill development citywide by definition.  Infill development programs may include incentives such as grant funding, property tax abatements, infrastructure upgrades, impact fee reductions, streamlined permits, reduced zoning requirements, or increased density allowances.  Other strategies include implementing infill policies through the general plan, design guidelines or specific plans, creating infill designations as part of the redevelopment process, establishing common ownership land parcel assemblies, or zoning for mixed use designations. 

Infill development and sustainable reuse programs are characterized by a two-pronged approach: encouraging or requiring infill by streamlining or changing regulations and implementing design guidelines that ensure new development is compatible with the existing neighborhood.  Regulations typically influence the growth pattern, density, scale, design, and connectivity of development.  An infill development or sustainable reuse program will define what is meant by infill or reuse, address opportunities and constraints of development, establish targets for development, and implement an infill strategy that includes specific goals and policies for development.  When modifying zoning standards, local governments should focus on permitting mixed uses and revising development standards to increase allowable density, building height, and lot coverage, and reduce setbacks, lot width and parking requirements.

Local governments interested in establishing infill development or reuse policies should start by forming an advisory committee and creating a work program to initiate and outline local efforts.  The advisory committee should educate the public on the benefits of infill, hold community meetings, and work with the community to define a vision, set distinct goals, identify problems and solutions, and consider different infill and reuse strategies.  The local government and advisory committee should then begin to designate potential infill and reuse sites and the types of preferred development for those sites.  To do this, a study addressing the infill or reuse potential, density impacts, zoning consistency, and physical, economic, social, and regulatory feasibility of new development is necessary.  Finally, the advisory committee and local government should choose and implement the type of program or regulation (i.e. specific plan, zoning district) best suited to the vision and goals identified earlier in the process.

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