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Posted over 1 year ago

Creativity and Community Respect – A Property Tour

In National City, CA is a multi-use development project that takes up half a city block. The project is primarily multifamily consisting of 127 total units, most of which are 400 square foot microunits. The full residential component includes these studios, a few co-living spaces, and rowhomes. They also offer small-business oriented retail and coworking office space.

The residential units are rented to those with qualifying income (meaning that if you make above a certain figure you’re disqualified), and many of their residents will move up the ladder, starting in a co-living arrangement, moving to a private studio apartment, and finally one of the rowhomes. Because of the high demand for affordable housing, the entire place was fully leased up in only two months. They were assuming that it would’ve taken a minimum of six months to fill the place.

The Plan

The basic concept was to offer small units and add amenities, so that despite the size it would have the impression of a higher class residence, despite the lower rental rates. Inside the furnished studios you’ll find a couch and a murphy bed. Other units are unfurnished. In the kitchen there are two burners on the countertop and a large microwave that doubles as a convection oven. It has the added feature of a wifi connection that allows tenants to warm up their food to be ready when they arrive home. The refrigerator was specially designed to be smaller than average as most studio tenants live alone and do not need a full-sized appliance. The space saved is then used for storage.

Getting Creative

The local fire code allows for five stories of multifamily use, but six stories for commercial use. So, the development team took the unprecedented step of building five residential stories and adding an additional commercial story above that. The sixth floor is communal space that can be rented out to tenants for special events (hence the reason it’s commercial). When not reserved, it houses the laundry facilities and a game room. It also offers all residents excellent view of the city, the bay, and the San Diego skyline.

By not putting the laundry machines in each unit or even a laundry room on one of the lower floors, they were able to add more studio units to the project, which was essential to its overall financial feasibility. This was just one way that the developer was able to take a project that others might pass on and make it successful.

The only reason they were able to make this plan work is that the developer knew what he was doing. He took the time to work with the City, to understand the Master Plan, to understand the needs of the community, and because he took the time to read the zoning regulations and building codes.

It was a good lesson about how taking the initiative to truly understand what you can and cannot do, and sprinkling in a little creativity can lead to productivity and profitability. This team was able to make a project work, and work well, in an area that many other developers would’ve avoided.

Blending into the Community

When it came to parking, they realized they had another challenge to face. Parking takes up a lot of space and is expensive. First, they purposely chose a location close to public transportation to reduce the need for parking. But they realized that while they could reduce the need, they couldn’t eliminate it.

Subterranean (or underground) parking is the most expensive and so they decided to build podium parking instead (above street level). There are two stories of parking with the residential units resting on top. Adding to the appearance is the fact that the parking garage is hidden from view. Depending on which side you’re looking at you’ll see either retail storefronts, office space, rowhomes, or other, unrelated businesses.

The building is further tailored to the neighborhood on a street-by-street level. The project takes up half a city block and faces three streets. The six-story mid-rise component is on one of the City’s main commercial roads and blends in nicely with the retail establishments up and down the corridor.

On the back end of the project the rowhomes ease the transition between the mid-rise component and the single-family homes that extend beyond the project. Connecting these two roads is a side street with small coworking office spaces that further contributes to the transition effect.

Looking at the outside, I could really appreciate the effort that was put into making this project blend in to the community. It’s a nice looking building, and the fact that there are multiple components makes the project feel more like a small community or section of a neighborhood than a single, block-style structure would appear.

These types of development projects are less likely to scare off residents in the area who have concerns that their neighborhood will lose its appeal. When developers, city designers, urban planners, architects, engineers, contractors, and others work together they can create projects that address the concerns of the neighbors as well as the needs of the market (i.e., those from other neighborhoods looking to move in).

You can view pictures of the project on the Property Tours page of my website.