Called Town Central, the planned project includes 430 apartments and townhomes, more than 20,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, parking garages and open space. ... Paris Rutherford, principal with Catalyst Urban Development, told the planning commission. "This will be equivalent of kind of a Bishop Arts District feel."
Source: The Dallas Morning News.
Rutherford knows how to win votes by promising to recreate the popular Bishop Arts District vibe in downtown Richardson. Promises, promises. We'll see. Dallas's Bishop Arts District itself has seen a flurry of new development that has been met with some resistance by local residents and doubts by urban planning experts. So, color me skeptical that a Richardson developer can replicate the good parts from scratch. I've been burned before.
But that's not what primarily prompts this blog post. On Facebook, a critic reacted to the news with, "I'm tired of them continuously adding more apartments. The infrastructure can't handle it."
Is that true?
If you are speaking of schools, maybe yes, maybe no. High-priced, one-bedroom apartments, which many of these new units are, usually add very few children to the neighborhood schools. But for argument's sake, let's grant the claim. If you add housing, you'll add children. If you add enough children, you need to add on to schools or build new schools. But what this analysis omits is that the new children bring new parents (aka taxpayers) to pay for those new schools, so the so-called problem brings with it resources needed to solve the problem.
If you are speaking of streets, it's a different story. In the case of Town Central, no new streets are needed to support this huge addition of apartments, townhomes, retail and commercial space. The streets are already there. We're just filling in parking lots. In fact, the increased density makes paying for surrounding street maintenance more affordable by spreading the cost out among more property taxpayers.
Strong Towns highlights a case that "perfectly illustrates the financial problem with the suburban development model." Fate, Texas, east of Rockwall, recently annexed a neighborhood that includes a cul-de-sac with 22 houses. When faced with the need to repave that street, which had been neglected by the county, the city realized that it would take seventeen years of property taxes from the 22 homeowners to pay for the cost of even the cheapest method of repair, a chip seal, that might last only 5-7 years. And that's if the neighborhood taxes were entirely dedicated to street maintenance, leaving police and fire protection and every other city service unfunded. It also would require using none of the property taxes on shared arterials that the 22 homeowners need to go anywhere once they leave their own cul-de-sac. In 5-7 years, the city would be looking at needing to do it again, while still looking at ten or more years of collecting taxes to pay off the previous reseal. The mathematics of the problem are easy to see on a cul-de-sac, but the same problem faces suburban development all across America, not just in cul-de-sacs. Simply put, the mathematics are not sustainable.
So, if you think we can't afford higher density development because "the infrastructure can't handle it," you've got the argument exactly backwards. We have a problem affording basic street repairs in suburbia, but the solution lies in more density, not less.