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Infill Development Details Explained: Plan Accordingly

Understanding The Ins And Outs Of Infill Development In Denver

The utilization of the popular infrastructure construction and development approach, known as infill development, is a powerful, new way for cities, such as Denver, to enhance its economic spread, to revitalize communities, and to increase the efficient use of resources within the ecosystem of Denver’s infrastructural systems. 

To understand why infill development is a significant trend that can radically change the “business as usual” development model in cities around the U.S. – including Denver – and to understand better the ins and outs of infill development in Denver, it’s important to note what it infill development isn’t:

  • While infill development is a developmental construction approach that can revitalize communities, this process of development is different from what is known as redevelopment, which is a process that seeks to convert and upgrade existing buildings and structures within a residential, commercial, or industrial city zone. 
  • The act of “revitalizing” a community or building zone acts as an umbrella term that includes several construction processes and models, all of which instill new life into a community, usually to increase city infrastructure efficiency and to create broader economic returns.

Infill development as a construction endeavor has several advantages for both urban and suburban areas. While there can be disadvantages to this approach, infill development can reap massive benefits to communities around Denver over the long-term. 

Infill development is usually a complex process that includes understanding zoning laws. It requires local communities, construction companies, shareholders, and developers to work closely with local and state governments to comply with pertinent regulations and developmental legislations. 

What Is Infill Development?

Infill development is, simply put, the building and constructing of structures on vacant land within an already-developed community or area. When it comes to zoning areas – which often includes residential zones, commercial zones, industrial zones, governmental zones, institutional zones, etc. – underutilized land within the appropriate zone allows developers to “fill in” that land with new structures. Such an opportunity provides for several economic returns and the ability to breathe new life into what would be empty spaces within residential, urban, suburban areas, residential, or commercial urban areas.

Infill Homes

Infill homes are newly built homes built on vacant land within an already-existing community. This practice allows existing communities to more efficiently and compactly accommodate a greater population via high-density residential or urban systems, leaving low-density rural areas open for farming, for instance. On a micro-scale, this practice helps make land use within a small residential area more efficient. In contrast, constructing infill communities on a more extensive, macro-scale enhances whole communities.

Infill Communities

Infill communities are communities (typically in urban areas) with vacant land that allows developers to construct structures to enhance the entire city. As a construction model, infill development in urban communities has become a popular and increasingly sought after practice as workers and specialists strive to move back to urban areas or live closer to the city.

The Four Main Types Of Infill Development

Infill development seeks to create more densely-structured areas and can be broken down into several subsystems that usually align with city zoning codes and building and zone legislations.

Residential Infill Development

There are two main types of infill development, urban and non-urban, both of which can be subdivided into residential infill development and commercial infill development. As the name implies, residential infill development is associated with creating residential structures for residents to live in and occurs in residential neighborhoods, zones, and areas, including suburban and urban areas.

Commercial Infill Development

Commercial infill development is associated with creating commercial hubs and commerce centers, including the development of stores, malls, shopping centers, and other similar commerce-focused structures.

Mixed-Use Infill Development

Mixed-use development combines residential and commercial infill development together in the same parcel of land so that structures for residents to live in are built near commercial centers. These types of developments offer a compact living and working zone. This can benefit the local economy and decrease greenhouse gases by decreasing commute times and placing more emphasis on shared public transit.

Brownfield Infill Development

Brownfield infill development is associated with repurposing land that has been contaminated or damaged by hazardous substances or waste. Remediation is often needed to restore and use the land; because of this, brownfield development is often regarded as costly in the short term but it can result in long-term payouts by creating an opportunity to use land that was previously vacant, underused, or unused.

What Are The Benefits Of Infill Development?

There are a variety of benefits associated with the use of infill development. While many of the pros are matched with short-term disadvantages, the long-term benefits of infill development typically benefit a community in more ways than one. 

As noted by Murfey Company (2019), there are many standard advantages for using infill development in Denver, and in general, any city:

  1.    “Infill projects place residents closer to jobs and community services.
  2.     New construction revitalizes the area and boosts the neighborhood’s economy.
  3.     Infill often utilizes existing infrastructure and facilities.
  4.     In some cases, infill saves historic structures, including preserving them or bringing a new appreciation.
  5.     City centers typically offer more transportation options than the suburbs.
  6.     Businesses are closer to residents and existing facilities.
  7.     Landscaping is mature landscaping, which reduces cost and increases property values.
  8.     Infill invests back into the existing community.
  9.     Local or state agencies sometimes provide financial incentives (“Pros and Cons of Infill Development”)[1].”

Additionally, several reports have noted that specialists and workers often seek to live in, or close to, the city for the sake of convenient shopping and more manageable transport to work. The development of infill housing within existing urban spaces (open spaces within a residential zone) increases workers’ ability to work more efficiently and effectively. As noted by the Urban Land Institute’s Urban Infill Housing Myth and Fact report, the increase in infill (urban) housing development has resulted from an increase in workers desiring to live in – or close to –  the city for work and leisure purposes. Accordingly, zone laws may place residential and commercial zones nearby while also being close to public transport services and other necessary amenities. All this combines to create a more effective work environment that can boost the local city economy.

Create Less Of An Environmental Impact 

One of infill development’s most significant advantages is how it creates smart growth in urban systems. This approach is superior to the common practice of building residential and commercial systems across large, sprawling areas within farming zones.  Compact urban centers allow agricultural zones to remain intact while offering a wide range of positive environmental impacts, including:

  • Conserving more massive, untouched land for farming, which helps the city’s agricultural economic sector
  • More efficient use of resources in compact, urban zones
  • Allowing more residential infrastructure to be built within cities, allowing workers to live nearer to their city-based workplace, making the economy more efficient and investments more likely
  • Allowing more workers to live closer to their urban workplace, along with the creation of more compact, walkable urban zones, results in reduced transportation transmissions such as greenhouse gases

Infill development helps the economy and the environment by promoting the efficient use of land and available resources.

Revitalize An Existing Community

Infill development construction’s entire goal is to revitalize existing communities in urban or residential neighborhoods and certain government-regulated zones. “Breathing new life” into an existing community- while building new structures that can benefit these areas -allows a community to economically benefit from new properties without the cost of having to build an entire matching infrastructure.

Build In A More Desirable And Convenient Location

When comparing the different areas within a building or city zone to build new urban, residential, or commercial structures, choosing a location with already built-up infrastructure is a crucial reason why infill development is such a lucrative venture for development companies. Constructing a building in an area that already has the usual urban amenities, including public transportation, means that businesses can choose the most desirable locations for their building projects – places with the most convenient features in existing infrastructure.

Contribute to the Local Economy

Encouraging growth where existing infrastructure exists helps ensure that the significant economic systems – corporations, firms, enterprises – can exist in an efficient work zone. 

Brownfield development is a particular type of infill development where the construction of infrastructure in areas associated with hazards (such as contaminated industrial sites), that when restored to a normal state, allows for the effective use of all land within a state or city, minimizing land use and resource wastefulness. 

Are There Any Drawbacks To Infill Development?

Murfey company (2019) noted that there are also downsides to infill development construction projects, which – ironically – often directly result or are tied to its advantages:

  • “Infill development can affect established communities and the people who live there. Not only is construction messy, but traffic patterns often are altered and…dirt [gets] on the road, noise [occurs] during construction and blocked lanes or driveways [result] [1].”
  • “New construction in the city usually is more costly than suburban development. The cost of updating or upgrading infrastructure can be a [challenge] as well. Sometimes existing infrastructure has to be updated or relocated [1].”
  • “Zoning changes can create angst for neighborhood residents and businesses. The permitting [process] usually requires multiple hearings, increased building/zoning requirements, and parking requirements. Area residents who oppose projects are typically more vocal than those who support the idea [1].”

Thus, the three major issues associated with embarking on an infill development project revolves around cost and community agreement.

Local Residents May Oppose Infill Development

Unlike traditional development projects, the very nature of infill development occurs in already-existing communities; thus, obtaining community agreement and undergoing community outreach processes to reach an agreement with local residents is a time-consuming, often frustrating obstacle to infill development projects. Even with such outreach missions, local residents may oppose infill development projects, stopping a construction project in its tracks.

Drawbacks Of The Location Will Remain

Since an infill community’s existing infrastructure is already built up, any drawbacks in the community will apply to the new structures unless the community is upgraded, which requires more expenses and resources.

However, over the long term, infill development can create positive changes due to its positive effect on the property and economic market.

Initial Development Costs Are More Expensive

The cost associated with brownfield infill development, for instance, is more than standard construction costs due to the remediation costs associated with such projects. The same may also be true of typical infill development: it can be costlier than traditional construction.  It is often necessary to upgrade the surrounding infrastructure or demolish or tear down underdeveloped parts of the parcel of land used for infill development. Lastly, the many regulations and zoning laws often mean that construction companies have to spend extra money in the short-term obtaining the permits and entitlements needed to build on vacant or underused lands.

Infill Development Is More Limiting

Infill development is also a rather complicated process that requires an extensive understanding of the process, which requires the correct partner (such as redT Homes) to comply entirely with:

  • Permit Laws: The applicable jurisdictions require construction projects to be aligned with – and to meet – a set of strict standards, including health and safety parameters.
  • Entitlements: Entitlements are associated with a structure’s intended use and often relate to the intended jurisdiction zone and city plans. The city often limits the kinds of buildings that can be built on a parcel of land.
  • Zoning Laws: The local governments set zones to determine the type(s) of structures built in some regions of the city (i.e., parcels of land).
  • Construction Regulations: A host of government regulations control construction projects, causing infill development projects to have more stringent laws for the sake of ensuring that existing communities and infrastructure are left intact.

All of the above factors make infill development much more limiting since developers are required to adhere to many strict regulations. To that end, it helps to use the experience, entitlements, and zoning assistance of professional consultants like redT.

Planning An Infill Development Project In Denver

While undergoing an infill development project can be profitable and lucrative, various best-practices must be followed since such construction projects are complex and require extensive knowledge of regulations, zoning codes, and building codes. The costs, site constraints, and restrictive regulations associated with zoning and design standards, and the need for permits and entitlements, etc., make infill development a complicated process to complete. We suggest that four significant steps should be taken when planning an infill development project:

  1. Policy and Strategy Creation
  2. Location Designation
  3. Growth Projection
  4. Development Strategy

Each phase above addresses the issues associated with the limitations and complexities of infill development projects.

Must Evaluate Potential Infill Sites In Denver

The most crucial step associated with an infill development project in Denver is choosing and designating the project’s most appropriate location. This first step must consider brownfield contaminants, adjacent parcels, fundamental zoning limitations, and surrounding infrastructures (including whether upgrades will be needed). These factors are strongly correlated to the overall infill development cost and should be taken as a significant first step.

Must Understand Local Zoning Regulations And Building Codes

One of the essential aspects of infill development projects is the need to understand, and comply with, complex zoning and building codes, in which each establishes a set of ordinances and rules for how the land can be used for development and construction purposes:

  • Zoning Codes/Regulations: Zoning maps are a set of regulations that determine how parcels of land can be utilized for construction and development and help shape how the different areas of the city are built and structured. This regulatory system includes the types of buildings that can be built in certain areas, and the agreed-upon uses of each building structure, among other things. Zoning codes can often change, altering how parcels of land can be utilized and where construction can be accomplished within city limits. Zoning maps/codes and laws must be followed within the scope of infill development projects if such endeavors are to succeed and be profitable. 
  • Building Codes: The Denver Building Code is a set of established standards that regulates how buildings are constructed within the city. Such codes must be followed to ensure that building projects aren’t fined or stopped by the government. They address building safety and intended purpose and require the builder to obtain the proper permits and entitlements.

Must Carefully Analyze The Costs Of Development

Project costs associated with infill development are related to both the construction of the structures on the vacant property/land and the needed upgrades of the existing surrounding infrastructure. Higher costs may also be required to comply with stricter government regulations associated with development. In comparison, infill development usually incurs higher costs (comparable to greenfield development) due to factors such as smaller project sites, etc.

A financial officer of the infill development project should carefully analyze the development costs and project the long-term economic benefits to determine whether the proposed plan is genuinely lucrative and profitable.

Must Perform Community Outreach And Identify Barriers To Access

One of the unique aspects of infill development is that it takes place within an already-existing community. While residents may find it undesirable for construction projects to occur, embarking on an infill development project may require extensive community outreach “missions” that seek to identify possible development barriers and convince local leaders that the project is worthwhile and will ultimately benefit the community.

Infill Real Estate Development In Denver Is A Real Opportunity

Infill development is a remarkable opportunity that can completely revitalize and breathe new life not only into a community but into an economy, all while protecting the environment and increasing property values. Infill development projects require a lot of work, planning, and research. Still, our significant experience in entitlements, community liaising, and zoning can help your development firm avoid the pitfalls of infill development projects.

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