Home Builders – Allies for Density?

Every city has a bunch of developers that redevelop land into denser apartments, condos, or offices. For example, NMS and Archstone are a couple major apartment building developers in LA.

There’s also the kind of developers that build master planned residential subdivisions out in Riverside County. I wouldn’t expect there to be much affection between urbansists (for lack of a better word) and those developers.

That’s a shame, because the mutual dislike is a sort of fallacy of opposition: urbanists really don’t like suburban development patterns, so they assume that the proponents of those developments do really like suburbia. That’s not the case: homebuilders don’t like suburbia, they like making money. It’s just that they put quite a bit of effort into figuring out what their customers want, and a lot of their customers want (or wanted) suburbia. Meanwhile, homebuilders often wrongly assume that urbanists don’t care about the profitability of a project, but the reality is that there’s lots of money to be made in city development.

However, with cities growing in popularity, many home builders are moving to try to serve that market as well. I stalk the big builders on their websites to keep track of prices and get a feel for what, how much, and where they’re building. Some builders are still only in the suburban market – for example, Woodside has 9 projects going, and they’re all in Riverside County. DR Horton has 26 projects going, and even their townhouses are solidly suburban projects. But others have a foot in both ponds.

For instance, Brookfield is the head developer for some big master planned subdivisions, like Audie Murphy Ranch in Menifee and Spencer’s Crossing in Murrieta. But they’re also heading up the development of Playa Vista, and they’ve even got a New Urbanish project going at Colony Park in downtown Anaheim. (Now if only downtown Anaheim had a Metrolink station, it’d really be in business. An issue for another time.)

KB is working on a couple master planned communities in San Bernardino County (The Preserve in Chino and Parkside in Ontario), as well as six subdivisions in Lancaster, but they’re also working in Playa Vista. Richmond American has eleven subdivisions active in Riverside County, but in my last check, they added three redevelopment projects in the Valley. Van Daele and Williams recently announced a couple projects in Hipster Heaven (Silver Lake & Echo Park).

You get the idea. Home builders are seeing opportunity in redevelopment projects. So, are they natural allies for making it easier to redevelop property with higher density? Or do they like the current zoning & permitting scheme, which is just complicated enough to keep out competition from small developers but just easy enough for them to navigate successfully? My guess is it’s a mixed bag – they don’t want NIMBYism to shut out development completely, but to some extent they benefit from regulations that keep prices up and competition down.

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