Can commercial strips in the small town environment such as we find in Maine be retrofit to meet the needs of both property owners and the public?
To answer the question, three design exercises were carried out in cooperation with local planners and the owners of (1) an older strip shopping center in an in-town location, (2) an older strip shopping center in a suburban location, and (3) a group of properties in an emerging strip along a rural arterial and, in each case, local planners and design and development consultants.
The purpose was to test whether there is a “sweet spot” for developing, redeveloping or expanding these properties into activity centers that satisfy both owners’ perceptions of market requirements and best land use–transportation practices.
The benchmarks for best land use–transportation practices are embodied in the “four Ds”: density, distance (accessibility), diversity (mix of uses) and design. At certain levels of density, distance, diversity and design, choices in transportation improve and pressure on arterials is reduced; and retail experts suggest that the same strategies that help achieve these levels also can help to brand the centers as livelier, more competitive locations.
Each exercise found a “sweet spot” that appears to be achievable. The combinations of strategies are tailored to the specific conditions of the properties, but there are common elements:
This project was limited to examining individual or small groups of properties that are part of larger commercial strips. Redeveloping or developing them according to best land use transportation
practices would be a first step toward transforming commercial strips into mixed-use centers. The lessons learned from these exercises apply to the larger strips as well and are available to property owners who see opportunities in them and to communities who may want to upgrade their land use regulations to be consistent with them.
Fortunately, a number of community-based efforts in Maine are underway to facilitate the transformation. This report reviews the status of several. To the practical first steps suggested in this report for individual properties they add broader plans for zoning and public investments needed for the transformation.