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Reusing Vacant Properties

Reusing Vacant Properties 

Figuring out the most appropriate reuse for any of the vacant and underutilized buildings and land parcels that are available is a central task for anyone working to plan, redevelop or rebuild cities and neighborhoods.


In strong-market, fast-growing communities, nearly all uses other than public facilities are driven by developers; the city’s role is regulatory, guided by its land use ordinances and constrained by the limits set by state law. Discretion tends to be limited to areas where a developer is seeking an amendment to or variance from the zoning code, and even then operates within fairly clear limits set by statute and case law.


In cities with weaker market conditions, such as most older industrial cities, the role of the planner, community development director or community development corporation (CDC)  is very different. While the private market may take on some sites in some areas, most decisions about reuse are driven in whole or part by the public and nonprofit sector, and fall into two categories:


  • Uses initiated by a developer or CDC, but where the developer needs assistance from the municipality, such as sale of city-owned land, tax abatement or capital subsidy; and
  • Uses initiated by the city, particularly with respect to the reuse of vacant properties.


In both cases, how uses are selected, planned and designed is a critical step in the revitalization of neighborhoods and, ultimately perhaps, the regeneration of the community. 


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