IRVINE, CA—There’s a lot more to developing mixed-use projects than meets the eye. For one thing, mixing uses can be quite complicated with today’s building codes and parking requirements, David Senden, principal of KTGY Group Inc., tells GlobeSt.com.
“Parking is a huge consideration when designing mixed-use developments,” says Senden. “It is expensive, takes up precious real estate, and it’s not very pretty. More cities are allowing less parking as transit-oriented developments have gained favor, but it’s still a challenge.”
But parking doesn’t have to be ugly, Senden reports. “There are lots of ways to make a parking garage attractive. It is an opportunity for creativity. There are some great examples of funky garage screens that actually make the project.”
Another “must have” with mixed-use developments, Senden says, is the “back-of-the-house” functions that go with a retail/commercial and residential development like loading zones, electric/gas meter locations, transformers and grease interceptors. “Underestimating the impact of the back-of-the-house functions can unravel a design and proforma very quickly.”
Identity is another critical factor for both retailers and residents, says Senden. “From the architectural aesthetic to signage and branding, the development’s identity is key to how it will be received. While there is no particular mixed-use ‘style,’ it is important to find the right tone. No one wants to feel like they are living in a shopping mall or shopping in an apartment complex.”
Thinking of the pedestrian is crucial to developing a sense of place, Senden adds. “It is important to have enough room on the sidewalk for shoppers to move around easily, diners to sit comfortably and breathing room for the building. If residential units come down to the street level, it is important that they are set back from the sidewalk, preferably both vertically—with stairs and a stoop—and horizontally with a landscaped ‘shy zone.’ ” He adds that awnings can be used to put a ceiling over the sidewalk so the scale is reduced and it feels more comfortable for pedestrians. “Not only does the awning protect pedestrians and residents from sun and rain, but it can also indicate front doors and identity for individual retailers.”
Other elements that give a mixed-use development a sense of place include street furniture, plazas, artwork, fountains and other design elements that encourage people to linger longer. This makes the retail portion work and attracts residents, says Senden. “You always want to match the retail tenants to the residents. It is unlikely that shoppers will notice or care about who is living above the store they enter. However, residents greatly care about what they are living on top of, so it is important to match the retailer’s target market with the needs and wants of the residents.”
Another consideration of mixed use is the building design. Senden says, “Although retail needs to be recognized as a distinct element, it is important to make sure that the design encompasses the whole building and not as two separately designed buildings. Both uses need to work and look in harmony. It’s not easy, but each piece should claim a part of the whole.”