|188.8.131.52 Underutilized shopping center:
Underutilized shopping centers are proliferating across America. In Richland County this situation exists in a number of locations within the suburban area. These contexts typically satisfy many of the criteria recommended for locating suburban village centers.
They are generally well situated with respect to existing residential development and, in fact, present numerous opportunities for establishing pedestrian and automobile connections to these neighborhoods.
These developments are usually along multi-lane regional roads at points of high accessibility, and, generally, have been built on high ground.
The Boozer-Dutch Square shopping center has been selected for a demonstration project to illustrate this variation on the suburban village center idea.
Figures 7-12 and 7-13 illustrate the existing site area. The parcel contains a retail structure surrounded by parking. The center is surrounded by existing residential development. The following series of diagrams illustrate how this retail center could undergo a phased evolution to a suburban village center.
Figure 7-14 illustrates the first phase of activity. A village street plan that includes a “main street” through the site is created. This network roughly conforms to the driving lanes within the existing parking areas. This phase should also include the creation of development parcels or blocks, each with a specified minimum and maximum range of permissible development. At this point guidelines should be created for each block locating a “build-to” line, designated parking areas and service locations. All of this could be accomplished either through a rezoning or the creation of an overlay district upon the existing zoning. In either case village center design guidelines should be created to ensure that future development conforms to the village principles recommended in the vision plan. A focal open space in the form of a village green is also designated and can act as a magnet for new mixed-use development.
Figure 7-14 also illustrates how infill development can begin to gradually create the village center. It is important that connections to the surrounding residential neighborhoods are established in order to facilitate automobile, pedestrian and bicycle access. In addition, medium density townhouse development is introduced into the mix. This, in conjunction with residential units located above ground floor commercial, will begin to establish a 24-hour village center population.
Figure 7-15 illustrates an ultimate build-out scenario. Until this point all parking has been provided either on street, in lots placed behind buildings, or in a few strategically located areas within the village center fabric. More intensive development may result in the need for structured parking. This should be provided on the sites previously designated for general village center surface parking. With the maturing of the village center, characterized by more intensive development, well-formed connections to surrounding neighborhoods, a thriving village center residential population, and perhaps the introduction of public transportation, it may be possible to reduce, somewhat the parking requirements for the village center. This would reduce the amount of structured parking required in this phase.
Figure 7-16 illustrates a view down the main street of the mature village center. Note the pedestrian-friendly street environment, on-street parking and village block concept.
184.108.40.206 Transportation for the Boozer-Dutch Square Example
The Boozer and Dutch Square shopping centers represent an excellent opportunity to “retrofit” a struggling suburban commercial area as a “suburban village.” Current low occupancy rates underscore the problems inherent to the present setup, which consists of massive parking lots, less-than-optimal local connectivity, and surrounding roadways that are burdened by heavy, unstable traffic flows.
To redefine the area as something better, and to begin to address the area’s traffic problems and low vacancies, the district needs to develop a unique identity that distinguishes itself from competitors. The site under its present configuration is burdened by the general rule of thumb for strip retail centers: those that are newer and closer to an ever-shifting population base will dominate. Only by distinguishing itself as “something different” can a diminishing center regain a sizable market share.
The pursuit of the suburban town center concept represents an effort to re-introduce to suburban shopping districts the desirable qualities of traditional town centers. While many of these qualities are architectural and design-related, many are transportation-based and will be discussed here.
The first step towards re-organizing the Boozer and Dutch Square centers into a pedestrian-scale town center is to increase the density and connectivity of the site’s street network, for the reasons detailed in the general discussion of town and country transportation principles. One way to achieve this is to create public streets from the aisles serving the shopping areas and parking lots, as such aisles typically represent a sufficiently-dense network and an efficient circulation pattern. These streets should be altered where appropriate to create a regular pattern suitable for pedestrian-scale development.
At the edges of the site, these roadways should connect, wherever permissible, with surrounding streets, to optimize the site’s access to both regional and local travelers. Where possible, these “new” streets should connect directly across from existing streets or existing driveways, else minimum “driveway offset” standards need to be imposed for safety reasons, as described in the document entitled Access and Roadside Management Standards by the South Carolina Department of Highways and Public Transportation.
In the Boozer/Dutch Square area, major flows of traffic emanate from freeway interchanges at West Colonial Life Boulevard (I-126), Bush River Road (I-26), and Broad River Road (I-20). The “natural” flow between these interchanges (in a general southwest-northeast direction) should be recognized as a potential source of patronage as the site is redeveloped, since travelers often have the desire to shop, eat, and run errands without having to go too far out of their way.
The establishment of a general southwest-northeast route across the site can capture a significant share of this “errand” traffic and function just like a traditional Main Street. This Main Street, as drawn on the accompanying graphic, can capture the major traffic progressions between the three aforementioned freeway exits. In other words, motorists traveling between these exits can utilize the new Main Street without having to go out of their way. Traffic signals at the Bush River Road and Broad River Road intersections can ensure that it is relatively easy for travelers to make left turns into and out of the Boozer/Dutch Square site via “Main Street.”
The specific design of the new Main Street should be one that resembles that of a traditional Main Street, most likely a two-way, two-lane roadway with on-street parallel or diagonal parking. This design has two major primary benefits: it carries traffic slowly enough that pedestrian-scale businesses lining the roadway are clearly visible and readable to passing motorists; and it makes all street-front businesses easily accessible to passing motorists. Once motorists park their vehicles and run their errands, the “park-once” nature of the development—fostered by the pleasantness of the pedestrian environment—will entice them to walk around and browse through other nearby stores.
The surrounding supporting streets should also exhibit two-lane cross-sections, and should include on-street parking if the street is fronted by retail businesses or public spaces.
The existing parking lots, as mentioned, should be “sectioned off” by new public streets. These lots would likely continue to serve as surface lots in the near term, but their new organization would enable them to be developed incrementally, i.e., block by block, as the value of the land increases. As surface lots are converted to shops and restaurants, the demand for land will rise to the point where the construction of parking structures becomes feasible, thereby freeing up even more land for development.
In the end, the district would have ideally evolved into a fully mature suburban village, with a large volume of pedestrian-scale activity anchored by several large parking structures and defined by the character of its streets and public spaces, not by the size of its parking lots.