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VOL. 38 | NO. 20 | Friday, May 16, 2014

Higher density translates to more tax revenue

By Jeannie Naujeck

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Adding higher-density development can be a difficult pill to swallow for longtime residents of a city, town or neighborhood residents.

More people packed into a small space can potentially mean more issues such as noise, traffic, crime and strain on public services.

But there’s an excellent economic argument for adding mixed-use, high-density infill developments to urban cores of all sizes – from downtown Nashville to small towns.

Redeveloped high-density areas generate so much tax revenue on a per-acre basis that they not only pay for themselves but essentially subsidize services and infrastructure for low-density areas, says Joe Minicozzi, principal of Urban3, an Asheville-based private consulting firm specializing in land value economics, property tax analysis and community design.

Last month, Minicozzi dazzled some 700 regional planners and leaders with an eye-popping presentation on the fiscal impact that downtown redevelopment can have on city and county coffers.

Using Davidson County tax data, he showed the disproportionate value that downtown Nashville produces for the county.

Downtown zip codes account for only 0.3 percent of county land but generate 18.7 percent of retail taxes.

What’s more, despite the fact that half of downtown’s footprint is non-taxable because it is owned by government, downtown generates eight times more retail taxes per acre than the Mall at Green Hills – $522,220 per downtown acre compared to $63,568 for the Green Hills acreage.

Minicozzi also used the example of downtown Asheville, a major tourist draw, to quantify the value of restoring urban cores.

One historic building was valued at $300,000 before it was redeveloped with a mix of retail, office and residential suites.

With the city kicking in $20,000 for a sidewalk and streetscaping, it is now worth $11 million – a 3,500 percent increase on taxes paid on that property.

It’s contributed to an increase in downtown Asheville’s total value from $100 million in the 1990s to $600 million today.

The retail tax revenue findings echo those of a study conducted by Smart Growth America.

It analyzed fiscal costs and benefits of three different residential developments in Nashville – Bradford Hills, a traditional low-density suburb with 538 housing units on 185 acres; Lenox Village, a New Urbanist-style development with 1,715 units on 185 acres; and The Gulch, a high-density urban infill project with 4,552 units on 76 acres.

Bradford Hills generated $100 per acre of net revenue for Nashville-Davidson County, while Lenox Village produced $780. In contrast, The Gulch generated a whopping $115,720 per acre – nearly 1,150 times the net revenue per acre of Bradford Hills and 148 times that of Lenox Village.

“Density is not a bad word,” says Marion Fowlkes, president of Centric Architecture.

“Density is good. But density is not understood.”