Land that we love - Recent and emerging land use trends in the coastal Southeast

Urban infill. Mixed-use communities. Smaller places and scaled-back amenities. Those are just a few of the topics trending among land use experts.

As the economy bounces back from recession, demands on land have changed, not only nationwide, but also uniquely in the Southeast. Thomas & Hutton's land planning department manager, Bruce Boysen, helps shed some light on the big picture.

After working for more than 30 years up and down the East Coast, especially in the Lowcountry, Bruce has a knowledgeable perspective on what drives land planning in the coastal Southeast. From that vantage point, he shared other emerging trends including repopulation of cities, redevelopment of distressed properties and increased caution in site selection.

In the Southeast in particular, these trends are amplified by two important factors: the growth of manufacturing in the region due to favorable labor laws, and rising home sales in the Northeast, which have allowed retirees to sell their homes and move south.

According to Bruce, the phrase "land planning" has vast implications. "When we talk about land planning, it's important to avoid thinking, 'It's just planning,'" he said. "Pure land planning means what you do with a raw piece of land, but in our work it also includes landscape architecture, rebranding developments, and working with municipalities to help them rezone and update their development standards."

Those activities are now in growing demand, but in ways that are very different from the "housing bubble" days. Some significant distinctions include:

  • Site selection is key - “Before the recession, it didn’t matter much where a development site was; people were building, selling, flipping wherever they could get land,” Bruce commented.  “Today, investors won’t spend money unless they’re certain a development will do well.”

    Today’s in-demand sites include those near natural amenities (such as lakes, oceans or rivers) near employment centers (including industrial complexes, hospitals, and economically thriving cities, such as Greenville and Charleston).

    Bruce noted: ”As we expected, housing development came out of the recession on a small scale with infill neighborhoods and smaller greenfield development.  However, we are now seeing much larger mixed-use residential developments that incorporate sustainable practices coming out of the ground. Key components include mixed residential, office and commercial, sustainable amenities, walkable neighborhoods, energy efficiency and smaller homesites and homes.”|
     
  • Smaller homes and home sites - Like developers, homeowners have become more cautious in their investments. Demand for smaller lots is big, and demand for sprawling “McMansions” has declined.  
     
  • Demand for what’s distressed - Investors are currently keen on distressed residential developments, including those that were never completed or are now bank-owned.  “There are now developer groups whose sole purpose is buying distressed properties,” Bruce said, adding that much of his group’s work is rebranding such properties with new plans, new landscape architecture and new amenities.
     
  • Simpler pleasures - “Speaking of residential amenities, there’s a trend toward smaller and simpler,” Bruce shared.  Developers and homeowners alike are less willing to pay for elaborate pools, clubhouses and fitness centers.  Accordingly, new and rebranded communities are more likely to feature so-called “passive amenities,” such as hiking and biking trails, classic green parks and small playgrounds.  Even mailbox kiosks are often now designed to serve as communal gathering spots, with landscaped space and benches nearby.
     
  • Green space growth - It’s not just developers and homeowners who appreciate green space, Bruce noted.  Many municipalities are acquiring distressed land and turning it into regional parks and other recreation areas—sometimes tied to preservation of natural resources such as rivers and wetlands.  These parks and other “green belt” areas are popular buffers between residential and industrial or transportation areas.

    “We find we’re also doing a lot of classic parks and recreation work, such as upgrading, updating, and building new neighborhood parks, recreation areas and trails,” Bruce reported.  One example is the 4.8-mile Truman Parkway Trail System in Chatham County, which links two large, popular Savannah parks.  He also cited recent improvements to Lake Mayer Community Park, including a cushioned jogging trail made of recycled plastics.  “We’re putting in a lot of features that people really seem to like.”

     
  • Mixed-use communities and urban infill - Neither trend is all that new, but Bruce pointed out that both are still growing—and likely to be tied together. “New communities are becoming more mixed-use: commercial or retail on ground level and apartments above. They also tend to be closer to urban settings and employment centers,” he stated. “Lately, we’ve been focused on energizing and monetizing those urban centers, that is, with more restaurants and shops to bring people in and more attention to detail on the streets for a better urban environment.” Multi-family development has been particularly strong as urban and suburban infill.  Bruce added: “We are currently working on a number of urban infill multi-family and hospitality developments that combine high density, retail at the street level and residential or hotel units wrapping a parking structure. This movement back to the city and adjacent to employment centers exemplifies a sustainable living trend.”
     
  • Historic properties are hot - Bruce indicated that destination cities, like Savannah and Charleston, attract not only visitors, but also new residents and employers.  As a result, mixed-use developments in historic cities are especially attractive to investors.  Bruce referenced new plans for Savannah’s historic Riverside Power Plant and surrounding areas at the west end of River Street.  “It’s turning into its own district,” he said of the project, with which his team is involved.  “It will have restaurants, shops, hundreds of hotel rooms, a parking structure and convention facilities.”
     
  • A cautionary note - Bruce added that: “All new communities, whether pure residential or mixed-use, have seen a growing market in the last few years. One important thing to keep in mind is the point at which that will get saturated.  After all, the word ‘trend’ includes its own ‘end.’”

 


Meet Our Land Planning & Landscape Architecture Team

We are a small group that has the ability to work big due to the multi-disciplinary structure at Thomas & Hutton. Our group can reach out to our surveyors and GIS departments for mapping; our civil, traffic and structural departments for various site specific needs; and our graphics, marketing and administrative staff to assist in meeting our deadlines. We have assembled a staff of professionals whose individual strengths, when combined together, result in a highly creative and efficient team. 

 

Bruce Boysen, RLA, Planning Department Manager

After working for more than 20 years with Thomas & Hutton on consulting teams, Bruce joined T&H full time in 2008 with the directive to build the Land Planning and Landscape Architecture Department. Bruce worked under the tutelage of many of the founders of open space based land planning through project work at Sea Pines, Spring Island and numerous developments in the Hilton Head, Bluffton and Savannah region. Bruce’s primary areas of expertise involve all areas of land planning including: regional planning, entitlements, community planning, site design and construction. To date, Bruce has successfully rezoned more than 150,000 acres of land that have become some of the trademark developments of the Lowcountry.

Bruce earned a BS in landscape architecture from Iowa State University and a master's in landscape architecture from The Ohio State University.  Bruce is a registered Landscape Architect in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina and a member for the following professional associations:

  • American Society of Landscape Architects
  • Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards
  • Urban Land Institute

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Steve Dudash, ASLA, RLA, Land PLanner

Steve Dudash has 31 years of experience in design, master planning, urban planning, recreation planning, and landscape architecture. His breadth of market sector experience includes new towns, transit initiatives, commercial, recreation, institutional, government, and light industrial. His projects have won numerous design awards and have included Walkable Communities, Resorts, Neighborhoods, Parks, and Transportation Corridors, while meeting current code and design standards as well as incorporating sustainable practices.

Steve is currently chairing the Sustainable Leadership Institute of SC for ULI, which he has done for the past three years and is a founding member of The Coastal Transit Institute.  Steve is a registered landscape architect in South Carolina, and has a masters in landscape architecture from Louisiana State University and a bachelors in landscape architecture from Clemson University. 

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Ryan Thompson, ASLA, LEED AP BD+C, Planning Department Group Leader

Ryan’s areas of expertise are site planning, landscape design, zoning and municipal code compliance submittals. Ryan has more than 12 years of experience and maintains particular attention to the smallest of details to ensure plans are approved and projects keep on schedule. Ryan routinely works on multi-disciplinary projects within T&H. Ryan earned a BLA from the University of Georgia and is registered as a Landscape Architect in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.

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Mary Martinich, RLA, Landscape Designer IV

Mary is a Landscape Architect with five years of experience in land planning and landscape architecture.  She has gained valuable experience at national firms with public and private sector work located throughout South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, Kansas, and Colorado. Her experience with trails, greenways, and streetscape redevelopment is apparent through her nationally award-winning work on projects such as the Lafitte Greenway and Revitalization Corridor in New Orleans, Louisiana and the Wichita Green Infrastructure Transportation and Streetscape Plan. Her passion lies in ecological restoration of the urban and regional environment and creating projects that are sustainable, culturally sensitive, and economically viable. 

Mary earned a masters in landscape architecture from Louisiana State University and a BBA in marketing from Texas State University.  She is a registered landscape architect in Texas and a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects. 

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John Garceau, RLA, Project Landscape Architect 

John is the Planning Department's leader in the production of construction documents. John’s interests are in detailed site design, integrated hardscape detailing, landscape design, construction observation and as a client representative. John has more than 10 years of experience and can frequently be found in T&H structural department talking about rebar and bolts. John earned a BLA from Clemson University and is a registered Landscape Architect in South Carolina and Georgia. 

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Greg Stewart, Project Designer

Greg graduated from the University of Georgia, where he earned a BLA degree.  Greg has considerable experience in both master planning and construction detailing for a wide variety of project types, but the majority of his design work has focused on trails and greenway systems, retail centers and university campuses.  

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