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Mixed-Use Projects Are:

New Yorkers like everything from shopping to baseball stadiums close by, so the numbers from this week’s poll make sense. When asked about mixed-use projects, 82% of our GlobeSt.com readers felt they were more important than ever, while only 18% think they’re a bad idea in this economy. Barry Poskanzer, AIA, principal and partner of Poskanzer Skott Architects, spoke with us about mixed-use projects and gave us his opinion.

“The numbers don’t surprise me. The question is location, not the economy. It’s more of a zoning question. It’s location that’s more than economics. It has more to do with the density of the location you’re looking at than any other need.

“If somebody’s bringing money into develop and to work, that’s a good thing. In a suburban community, if you do a mixed-use project, it may be difficult to get to except for those who have driven to that particular property. If you put a mixed-use property in a semi-urban or urban area, clearly that’s a pedestrian or mass transit world. Then it’s much easier to utilize.

“The mixed-use projects that we’ve done typically are using the ground floor of a building where floor two on up is use ‘B’ or ‘A,’ and then the ground floor can be something else. That’s analogous to lots of hotels where you go to where the ground floor is a conference center and retail shops, and then for the next 20 stories up above they are hotel rooms. That’s really mixed-use right there. When we get it we usually end up with an apartment house with retail use on the ground floor. That’s particularly an urban product type. The reason for that is the zoning allows for horizontal zoning rather than vertical zoning.

“Particularly the city, not the suburbs, finds its own density and center of need. If there is new housing going up, somebody better find that they’re supporting that new housing with new shops. Otherwise nobody will live there because they can’t go to a supermarket or a drug store. There’s an inherent inertia, natural planning inertia.

“A good example would be Red Hook in Brooklyn, which has come of age recently: the new Fairway Supermarket there. Why? Because there’s a large percentage of new housing that’s within walking distance or close to the bus.

“We do mixed uses all the time. Each section of a city usually does its own mixed use zoning. Now you get big developers that have large parcels of land. The developer will go to the municipality and say ‘I want to put a hotel, an office building and a strip of stores all on this property.’ That’s the developer’s way of maximizing use and density. The town would be in favor of it if it promotes a logical development of its land-use plan. In the suburbs, usually an entire parcel is zoned for one thing or another.

“For an architect, mixed-use projects are fun because they’re more interesting than doing an office building in the middle of a parking lot. Or doing a retail strip center with cars on one side and truck loading on the back. The minute you start saying it’s got a multiple use, it has to be serviced in different ways, the architecture should reflect that it’s not all one thing but multiple uses. If the client is willing, the architectural opportunities are much greater in a building with variety.”

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