Some saw confidence stirring among land-use and real estate professionals when 6,000 attended the 2009 Fall Meeting of the Urban Land Institute in San Francisco—50% more than ULI expected. Others saw renewed commitment to ULI’s mission of creating thriving, sustainable communities worldwide.
ULI is dedicated to research, education and advocacy on best practices that create great places. The recession may slow progress, but issues like sustainable design, compact development, transit-oriented development and workforce housing span economic cycles. With 74 years of history, ULI is in for the long haul and vision.
Here in Colorado our 1,000-member Colorado District Council blends ULI’s international expertise with our local membership and community to make a positive difference in City Hall, at County Commissions and in the State House. ULI Colorado barely existed when this last decade began. Since then, we have emerged as a strong influence shaping land-use policy in Colorado.
ULI achieves this by engaging our members—leaders from 26 different professions—in research, education, advisory services, public policy and community outreach. Nearly 25% of Colorado’s membership participated in ULI volunteer activities last year.
Yet ULI is not a lobbying organization. How do we influence big issues?
• Denver’s New Code: ULI Colorado members are being heard loud and clear on the city’s first major zoning code overhaul in 53 years. Working with the new code’s “framers”—Peter Park, city planning director; Brad Buchanan, planning commission chair; and Jeanne Robb, city council president—ULI has hosted three “Cracking the Code” workshops. More than 220 have attended, including most City Council members and leading developers, architects, planners and policy-makers.
Rather than taking a stand for or against the new code and its timing, we asked our members to do the research and present results in an open forum. They responded by taking “real” sites and modeling development that compares the old code to the new code.
Some case studies revealed new-code flaws such as awkward setbacks or building prototypes that failed to make best use of the site. These models demonstrated loss of square footage from the program and dollars from the pro forma. Peter Park and the Zoning Code Update team have responded in kind with appropriate revisions.
What easily could have been an argument between the public and private sectors has turned into a respectful and productive conversation. ULI will continue to help the city craft a new code that works for both developers and neighbors.
• FasTracks and TOD: Funding of FasTracks is unresolved, but ULI is part of the team working on it. An underlying issue is the lack of flexibility to encourage transit-oriented development.
For example, in California the Bay Area Rapid Transit system can lease land around stations for major development. Some publically owned land around light rail stations is restricted from joint-venturing opportunities, especially on mixed-use projects.
ULI research has shown that such policies could forestall billions in investment around stations while also reducing the utility and ridership of the system.
By convening a coalition of business, government, environmental and housing organizations, as well as a bipartisan group in the State House, ULI is helping to find a solution that could allow flexibility in land use around stations.
Looking to 2010, the economy continues to be tough on development and investment. This year could be especially hard for commercial real estate.
But there are signs of hope. Our membership numbers provide a barometer of the economy. After dropping for a year, these numbers have leveled off.
ULI has been helping members get through the recession with special services, mentoring programs for young leaders, women and minorities, and a job bank and counseling. We are here to advise, influence, refer and educate during these times and we welcome your suggestions.
Like most nonprofits, ULI Colorado is experiencing challenging times financially. Still, we provide 30 programs a year for members and guests, two mentoring programs and outreach activities that reach thousands in our community. We have cut our budget while increasing our services.
I hope readers of this publication will see the value of ULI for networking, education and convening diverse viewpoints to reach consensus on tough issues.
I urge your companies and agencies to support our work. To learn more about sponsorship opportunities, please call our office at 303-893-1760.
Finally, I am pleased to welcome Chris Achenbach as vice chair of ULI Colorado. Chris is a rising star in Denver’s real estate community and an emerging leader for sustainable design and development.
As an architect, project manager and principal with Zocalo Community Development, Chris has broad knowledge of ULI best practices. He has done a great job as a ULI panelist and as co-chair of our Sustainable Communities Committee. He will succeed me when my term as chair is done in 2011, ensuring a vibrant future for ULI Colorado and our community.