Monday, August 8, 2011

Living Green Lecture - Part 2

Here is part two of the Creative Fresno Living Urban lecture.

A Q&A session was held with the city sustainability person, and during it, the following was mentioned:

-Evaporative cooling is more efficient that A/C, but fell out of favor in the 70s.

-In the past few decades, Fresno has grown 8x…but the land area consumed has grown by 12x.

-A pool pump, set incorrectly, can add 50% to a home electricity bill.


After the brief session, the president of Granville homes spoke. While Granville is known for their suburban detached homes, an arm of the company called GV Urban is responsible for many of the new residential developments downtown. Without them, downtown Fresno would be as stagnant as ever.

He started on a grander scale by noting that as a business man and resident, he wants to see more government investment in water storage and solar technology, because it will help make living in Fresno more sustainable.

He then moved on specifically to downtown Fresno, and noted that land is not priced correctly. That is, it is not priced at demand levels but at speculation levels. Downtown is full of empty lots, but they are very expensive to purchase.

The reasoning:

1) The city and county paid high prices for the land they purchased to build things like the courthouses and such. This set a standard
2) The owners of the other lots expect to sell their lot at this inflated price
3) There is no incentive to not sell an unproductive piece of land. Because property taxes were kept frozen, it is not costing these owners much to look over a barren piece of dirt. They have every incentive to hold onto it and hope that one day, someone will pay the inflated amount.

This led to his next point that was very surprising for a housing developer to say:

Higher taxes are needed to spur development!

Besides causing the property owners to incur costs, that would prompt them to sell to someone looking to develop, the speaker noted that when invested properly, the additional tax revenue can really make downtown look more attractive. More street lights, more landscaping etc will draw residents downtown.

Another thing he moved onto is that there is too much street space downtown. He noted that there is very little traffic (note my pictures from a few days ago) so the street space isn’t being used. But all the asphalt stores heat, creating an island effect that makes downtown Fresno uncomfortably hot. He was proud to note that the Iron Bird development eliminated a small street and expanded the sidewalk (concrete reflects heat).

He then turned from talking about the success of Iron Bird, to some of the difficulties. He mentioned that currently, 12 of the 80 units are vacant, and this creates a whole new set of challenges.

As developers only have a certain amount of money available, the easy choice is to develop a suburban project that they know will sell, instead of risking it on an urban one. Even if their urban development is profitable, there is an opportunity cost, because it is likely that their suburban development could be even more profitable.

While GV has been a pioneer in urban development, and taking a giant risk, he was frank about the fact that if the market doesn’t respond quickly, their experiment will have to end. They currently have two other projects in the works, each with very different market focuses, but if the community doesn’t come together to support them, then they will have no choice but to move away from downtown, and no other developer will come in.

There will be a part three!

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