Daybreak makes no small plans

Even as the New Urbanism is retooling itself as ‘lean’ and ‘tactical,’ the biggest traditional neighborhood development (TND), by far, is taking shape in South Jordan, Utah, near Salt Lake City.

Daybreak began in 2004 and hit a peak, prior to the financial collapse, of sales of 700 houses per year. After the crash sales dipped, but the project’s market share increased to 20 percent for the entire Wasatch Front. “Great master planned communities are usually at around 8 percent,” says Stephen James, manager of planning and community design for the developer, Kennecott Land.

Townhouses built and under construction in Daybreak

Daybreak now has more than 3,000 housing units built with a small commercial center, two elementary schools, and about 10,000 residents. But with 20,000 housing units entitled, Daybreak is in its early stages. Sales are currently more than 400 a year, plus leasing of multifamily units. The entire site is 4,100 acres on reclaimed mining land.

At the current average of 3 to 3.5 people per household in Daybreak, total buildout could yield an urban center of 60,000 people, with up to 13 million square feet of commercial space, in mid-century. About 60 percent of residents are families with children, with the rest empty nesters, married couples without children, and singles. Marketing focuses more on “psychographic groups” that prefer community than demographic groups, James says. “Parents feel comfortable letting their kids out on their own. They are attracted to places where kids don’t need play dates.”

TND in an infill era

In these days of development focused in infill areas, how does a huge TND on open land meet the goals of the Charter of the New Urbanism? Housing starts nationwide now top 900,000 per year, more than 60 percent of which are single-family units. In most communities with open land there is no network of streets, so single-family houses are built in disconnected subdivisions.

Daybreak is being built on a connected network of streets (see plan) with plentiful parks and civic spaces, laid out by Calthorpe Associates of Berkeley, California. Few places in the Wasatch Front, outside of Salt Lake City itself, have such a network of streets on which to build a town. In the core city, there’s not a lot of room for new single-family housing.

The Eastside master plan for Daybreak in South Jordan

The region’s light rail line, TRAX, was launched in 1999, and now serves 60,000 riders daily. One of the lines terminates at Daybreak — although the station is mostly surrounded by undeveloped land. Eventually two TRAX stations will be immersed in Daybreak.

Even with 10,000 people, Daybreak can feel sparse at times, especially in its mixed-use town center. But Daybreak currently represents one of the best opportunities to organize suburban growth in the region into something that is multimodal and walkable.

South Jordan, with 50,000 people, was recently identified as the second-fastest growing city in the nation. Prior to Daybreak, the suburban market in the Wasatch Front was centered on one-third-of-an-acre housing, James says. Daybreak has achieved market acceptance of up to up to 13 units per acre. In order to build its full entitlement, Daybreak will need 30 units per acre in its town center, which will contain to 8,000 housing units.

The town has given the developer substantial flexibility. Daybreak is entitled to develop at any density that the market can support up to the maximum units, James says. The commercial can be built in any combination of office, retail, health care, light industrial, or other uses.

Light bureaucracy

City officials in South Jordan saw Daybreak as an opportunity to advance the vision created with Envision Utah, an influential public-private coalition that conducted surveys and formed a regional plan in 1999 and 2000. “There was an attitude of ‘let’s see how we can make this happen.’ “ They recognized that in a project this size, many unexpected things will happen. “The planned commercial zone is very flexible. It allows us to do what we have to do to keep the ball rolling. There’s very little bureaucratic overlay on the project.”

Daybreak was originally entitled for 13,000 units and 9 million square feet of commercial, but each figure was increased approximately 50 percent.

With freedom comes responsibility, James says. “We have to demonstrate that we can meet the expectation of that vision. As a result of what we were able to accomplish, we received the additional entitlement. We could probably get more if we need it.

“A lot of what we do is figure out to get to where we need to be,” in terms of density, James says. “We are proactively pursuing multiple higher density deals. We think about what the market will accept now and how do we lead in such a way that the market is conditioned to a higher density pattern.”

Kennecott also pursues niche market segments. One such segment consists of senior citizens attracted to an age-restricted community. For that, Daybreak created the 550-unit Garden Park, covering 20-plus blocks near the town center. “We had misgivings about building an age restricted community,” James says. “But it is turning out all right -- it does not feel like an enclave.”

Garden Park, where some of the blocks at green space, is at the center of this plan.

The builders said that people attracted to this kind of housing demand gates. They were unacceptable, so the developer compromised by snipping the grid down to four automobile entrances (see plan on page 6). Pedestrian connections are unimpeded.  A narrow edge of green space surrounds Garden Park. More than 200 houses are built or under construction in the area. “Absorption probably isn't as great as if we had gated it like the adult builders asked for, but it is good enough,” he says. “We opened right at the downturn, and it has still taken off and the fight is to keep lots in front of builders.”

Daybreak has a wide range of prices for units, including condominiums as low as $150,000, townhouses for up to $240,000, and single family from $220,000 to a million-plus. Some of the mixing is fairly radical for a master planned community, with $200,000 houses close to $800,000 houses, James says. At first, this was a challenge for appraisers, who were only used to seeing such ranges in a historic urban setting.

The project is opening three new development areas this summer. Some of the housing is designed with a more modern feel -- as compared to the traditional houses based on a pattern book by Urban Design Associates in most of the project's current neighborhoods. Some houses also feature solar photovoltaics, tankless hot water, and ultra-efficient insulation as standard features. Despite that, they are reasonably affordable, starting in the low 200s.

The town center for Daybreak, at bigger than two square miles, has a 50-plus year development horizon. Daybreak will be one of four regional urban centers identified in the 2040 plan. “Unless we create quadrants within the valley, the transportation network would come to a standstill. Daybreak would be the center for the southwest valley,” James says.

Many types of mixed-use and commercial projects could be built in the town center — including a 50-acre health campus for the University of Utah. The first 200,000 square foot building of this center opened a year and a half ago, about a block from the light rail station. The building, which is on the street, includes an emergency room, primary care, specialty care, and out-patient surgery. The master plan calls for a medical research center, a school, and a full-scale hospital. “We think it will be a good anchor for the town center,” James says.

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