UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Planning for local strip commercial areas Whitson, Brian Leonard


Declining strip commercial areas are a common problem. Typically, they appear unattractive and often have significant vacancy rates. Without positive municipal action, they appear to have undesirable or at least uncertain futures. Yet the complexity of these areas makes it difficult for planners to suggest a viable development policy. The main purpose of this thesis is to explore conceptual frameworks and analytical techniques that municipal planners can use in studies of these problem areas. The first step is a review of the planning and retail market structure literatures, with particular attention to the development and functions of commercial strips. An important conclusion from this review is that while retail strips face strong competition from planned shopping centres, there is a somewhat limited range of functions that require or prefer strip locations. The concepts developed in the literature review are applied to a case study area on Hastings Street in Burnaby, B.C. Land use studies indicate the area has the characteristic structure of an unplanned shopping centre, but with a larger proportion of services and a limited range of retail facilities. A market study indicates modest potential for expansion, but virtually no potential for major new facilities. Marginal sales estimates for some retail outlets are attributed to competition with other retail facilities, particularly those in the Brentwood Mall two miles away, and to deficiencies in the appearance and structural condition of buildings in the area. Policy proposals include redevelopment in accordance with the existing Community Plan for the area and a rehabilitation and revitalization plan developed from the analysis. Evaluation of these proposals is based initially on the return on investment criterion. The high density, mixed residential and commercial redevelopment alternative is rejected because the land residual value generated by the residential component is shown to be less than the land assembly costs, and the commercial development greatly exceeds the available market. The revitalization plan includes street beautification, renovation of some of the existing buildings, and encouragement of lower density selective redevelopment compatible with the present character of the area. Significant economic benefits from the beautification and renovation elements are inferred from the market study by cost effectiveness analysis. Lower density development is shown to be feasible despite a lower land residual value than the Community Plan proposals because of reduced land assembly costs. The results of the economic evaluation are combined with an evaluation of social costs and benefits for a wide range of interest groups affected by the project using Litchfield's Planning Balance Sheet framework. Revitalization produces significantly higher social benefits due to reduced disruption of the community and more immediate benefits for the majority of affected interest groups. The concluding discussion is primarily concerned with methodological issues in the context of what can be accomplished by a small planning team using readily available public information. It is argued that the use of detailed land use data within a conceptual framework derived from the retail location literature is the fundamental tool for analyzing the internal structure of strip commercial areas and assessing the competitive potential of retail facilities. The land residual approach to analysis of redevelopment proposals, despite the scope, diversity, and uncertainty characteristic of projects involving redevelopment and rehabilitation over an extended period of time, is shown to have value in the assessment of municipal policies. Furthermore, these market and investment oriented methods of analysis can be integrated into the more comprehensive evaluation methodology necessary for government decision making. The conclusion from the analysis is that while planned shopping centres have not made strip commercial areas obsolete, they have necessitated adjustment to a more limited role. In general, that role is best achieved by revitalization of the existing structure, rather than redevelopment.

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