Infill Opportunities Abound for All Sizes of Development

One of the places the housing industry has turned to in an effort to find increasingly scarce land resources is infill development. Infill projects on vacant and existing sites have the potential to produce high levels of profitability resulting from a premium for unmet demand in redeveloping areas. Because of these market dynamics, an increasing number of firms, including many smaller firms, specialize in redevelopment of infill sites within residential communities.

Ken Brinkman from Environs Development, Inc., really knows how to make infill work to his advantage in the neighborhoods of Chicago and won two BALA awards for the projects featured below.

The Lakeview Project

The first BALA winner site had a preexisting structure located on a property in the Lakeview area of Chicago. The structure was a small, neglected turn-of-the-century home that sat off to one side of the site. While the small building might seem insignificant to those viewing the site, the age and unique design of the structure warranted a mention on a city-wide historic survey, which led to complications in obtaining demolition rights. Although landmark authorities eventually permitted destruction of the unsalvageable house, the difficulty in obtaining approval illustrates why a developer must always be well-informed before purchasing a site for development.

During the planning stages on the Lakeview project, a potential client approached Environs Development about the possibility of designing a modern home that would fit the site. By working with Environs Development through the design process, that client could make stylistic decisions and layout adjustments throughout the entire home.

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Working New into the Old

The second home in Chicago was developed on a neighborhood block of Lincoln Park currently occupied by vintage-character, century-old homes. In this case, the Lincoln Park community stakeholders wanted to retain the timeless character of their block, so the infill project needed to match the architecture styles of surrounding homes.

Because of this, Environs Development’s design team was tasked with designing a new construction home that would appear as old as the rest of the block. One tool they used was to create an image library of other existing structures as well as to study photos of urban homes from that era. They then transferred some of the traits they saw such as the use of red sandstone, slate roofing and a recessed top-floor keyhole deck. From a marketing perspective, this matching of the old carries a risk: the real estate community and potential buyers are used to seeing newly designed façades to warrant the cost of new homes. To address this concern with the Lincoln Park project took considerable explanation to rationalize why a seasoned look was best for the community and therefore best for the project.


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What Infill Developers can Expect

Once planning begins, the developer must be aware of applicable zoning rules and regulations and what challenges might exist. This is because if a developer cannot convince local groups and governmental authorities that the infill will benefit the community, the site will remain undeveloped.

There also may be unexpected construction challenges and expenses in infill projects. Some of those include the need for structural shoring of neighboring buildings, work-hour limitations because of activity in surrounding areas and limited amounts of space available for storing materials. Still, infill developers know that when pricing an infill project, the guidelines are what competition there is for the project rather than project costs. Also, buyers in infill areas want the amenities inherent in new homes, so developers should not underestimate the market value of new construction over old homes.

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