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City of Monroe Goes Back to the Future With New Urbanism Redevelopment Called Mason Run
By James M. Harless, PhD, CHMM
Location: Monroe, Southeast Michigan
1. also known as Traditional Neighborhood Design, New Urbanism is a growing movement that recognizes walkable, human-scaled neighborhoods as the building blocks of sustainable communities and regions. They typically embody some of the spirit of older neighborhoods, and feature a range of housing types, narrower streets and sidewalks that encourage the interaction of neighbors, front porches, corner stores, and plenty of mature trees to make the place feel rooted, as though it has been there for a while. This style of development is ecologically friendly, and reduces pressures from suburban residential sprawl.
Mason Run, a sustainable residential redevelopment, is one of the largest New Urbanism projects constructed on an urban brownfield site in the nation. The development is having and will continue to have, profound economic and social impacts on the city of Monroe. The project team, including the city, Crosswinds Communities, Soil and Materials Engineers, Inc., and others developed innovative brownfield financing strategies, creative environmental response programs, and cost-effective site preparation strategies to transform a 45-acre abandoned paper mill site owned by the city into a charming, vibrant community. The project has spanned nearly a decade and has been conducted in six phases.
The city and project team faced several hurdles to make the project possible. Challenges included finding more than $7 million to finance environmental response actions needed to prepare the site for redevelopment, addressing the presence of cinder/ash fill blanketing the site, remediating contaminated soil, removing buried plant basements, tackling numerous constructability issues, and facilitating coordination with public and private stakeholders. City Manager George Brown reflected on the changes the project has made to the city of Monroe, “Just the removal of obsolete and blighted industrial facilities, along with the remediation activities that helped make the site suitable for reuse, has had a huge positive impact on our community.”
The city and project team worked diligently to make Mason Run an exemplary sustainable brownfield redevelopment. It is characterized by a density of approximately seven homes per acre, front porches and sidewalks to promote community, detached garages on alleys, traditional architecture reflective of the Monroe community, a mixture of home sizes and costs to foster family diversity, and community parks. In the New Urbanism tradition, more than 10 percent of the land in the development has been set aside for landscaped parkland and green space for residents and the Monroe community.
The site had historically been used for manufacturing paperboard packaging materials, a process that required large amounts of water, sewer, and electrical capacity. In fact, the existing infrastructure, including streets, sewers, water mains, and utilities were wholly adequate to support the development, saving Monroe millions of dollars in infrastructure costs.
The design process for Mason Run began with identification of the types of traditional architecture and neighborhood designs that created the fabric of the city. Community involvement began with a series of public charrettes to collect input about all aspects of the content, layout, design, etc. The predominant architectural styles found in Monroe and selected for the development include Colonial Revival, Victorian, and Craftsman.
Since many municipal development codes and ordinances have not been developed with traditional design and development in mind, a pattern book was created to establish site design and development requirements. In this way, as Mason Run has been built over time in phases, it maintains a wonderful consistency and rich architectural variety.
The city and project team worked hand-in-hand to resolve a myriad of challenges.
The former Consolidated Packaging Corporation property was owned by the city of Monroe and generated no tax revenues. To date, approximately 120 homes have been constructed adding needed housing stock to the community and significantly increasing the annual tax revenues to the city. The increased population in the area is also supporting service/retail development in the city. Like any residential development in the current economic climate, Mason Run is having trouble attracting home buyers. It’s anticipated that once this economic slump passes, construction will rise, and the development will continue to produce significant social and economic rewards.
Redevelopment of this site is having a positive effect on property values in the adjacent established neighborhoods. Mason Run’s network of tree-lined streets connects to adjacent neighborhoods, creating a seamless addition to the city fabric. “The fact that a traditional neighborhood was developed on this site, which attracted additional homeowners who have displayed pride in their homes and neighborhood, has made a real contribution to our city’s vitality,” said City Manager Brown.
Mason Run stands as a shining example of what can be accomplished through brownfield redevelopment. It’s a successful New Urbanism development that performs a difficult balancing act by maintaining the integrity of a walkable, human-scale neighborhood, while offering modern residential “product” and amenities. Its design is a creative solution to rebuilding a brownfield site into a charming, vibrant community.
Mason Run Development in City of Monroe Gets Regional and National Attention; Brownfield Renewal Award
This project demonstrates that owners of industrial, commercial, and brownfield properties can economically redevelop those properties rather than abandoning them. Mason Run has received multiple awards for redevelopment excellence, including the 2009 Brownfield Renewal Award in the Social Category from Brownfield Renewal magazine, a 2008 Economic Development Excellence Award from the International Economic Development Council, an Environmental Excellence Award from the Michigan Association of Environmental Professionals, and an IMPACT Award in the Redevelopment Category from
James M. Harless, PhD, CHMM, is vice president/principal of Soil and Materials Engineers, Inc. You may contact him at 734-454-9900 or email@example.com.