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On the comeback, mixed-use developments have plenty of benefits

As municipalities attempt to fight sprawl and reinvigorate downtown areas, mixed-use development again is gaining in popularity.

Mixed-use development can be defined as a real estate development or building that blends a combination of uses such as residential, commercial, cultural and industrial.

Historically, most development was mixed-use out of necessity. Think of the more traditional downtowns in the Lehigh Valley; many had first-level commercial uses with residential use on the upper levels.

Beginning with the Industrial Revolution, however, planning trends shifted to separating residential, industrial and commercial land uses in separate zones of a municipality.

In the past decade, concerns related to single-use planning (i.e., automobile dependence and traffic concerns) have made mixed-use development enjoy somewhat of a renaissance.

While mixed-use development is not appropriate in every case, it can be a good planning choice in certain circumstances.

HEALTH, SAFETY ADVANTAGES

Benefits associated with mixed-use development, such as increased property tax revenue and decreased infrastructure costs, are widely accepted. There are, however, also vital public health and safety benefits to mixed-use development that should be considered.

For example, the pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use concept promotes an increase in general physical activity, which benefits residents’ health.

A less obvious benefit of the mixed-use community is lower crime rates. Mixed-use communities tend to have “more eyes on the streets” at more times of the day, which can help to lower crime rates.

Finally, the mixed-use concept arguably also may decrease incidents of drunk driving. In the mixed-use community, patrons at restaurants have a built-in alternative to driving – walking to and from a restaurant.

FINANCIAL SENSE

These represent only a few of the public health and safety benefits that municipalities and developers may want to consider when evaluating the appropriateness of a mixed-use development.

Naturally, for a mixed-use development to go beyond a land planner’s dream and become a reality, it also must make financial sense for both the local economy and the developer.

The public health and safety benefits highlighted above may help to tip the scale from dream to reality when it comes to mixed-use development.

Stephanie A. Koenig is an attorney at Zator Law in South Whitehall Township. She focuses on business and commercial, real estate, litigation and arbitration, municipal law and general civil practice. She can be reached at skoenig@zatorlaw.com and 610-432-1900.

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