Recipe for successful suburban transit-oriented developments

  • Maple Street Lofts, a 192-unit luxury apartment community in Mount Prospect across the street from a Metra station, is an example of a suburban transit-oriented development.

    Maple Street Lofts, a 192-unit luxury apartment community in Mount Prospect across the street from a Metra station, is an example of a suburban transit-oriented development. Photo courtesy of Wingspan Development Group

  • Christopher Coleman

    Christopher Coleman

By Christopher Coleman
Wingspan Development Group
Updated 9/8/2021 11:12 AM

You'll find them in suburban Chicago downtowns from Highland Park to Orland Park -- new buildings that include a mix of housing, office, retail and/or other commercial development and amenities integrated into a walkable neighborhood and located within a half-mile of quality public transportation.

They are called transit-oriented developments (TODs), and if you think you've seen more of them over the last few years, you're right. According to the Center for Transit-Oriented Development (CTOD) and its 2004 Hidden in Plain Sight Study, U.S. households near transit are expected to rise by 117% between 2000 to 2025 -- from 6 million households in 2000 to 14 million in 2025.


The reason for the increasing popularity is twofold.

While residents are drawn to living in suburbs with walking access to retail, cultural attractions, jobs and mass transit, city planners appreciate how TODs increase tax rolls, bring more foot traffic to their downtown merchants and offer higher-density smart growth without suburban sprawl.

If you've ever been by Hancock Square at Arlington Station in downtown Arlington Heights, Wheaton 121 in downtown Wheaton or two of our recent projects -- Buckingham Place near the Cumberland Metra station in Des Plaines or Maple Street Lofts, across from the Metra station in downtown Mount Prospect -- then you've seen a TOD.

It's all about the ingredients

When done right, TODs can be wonderful additions to any suburban downtown. However, not every TOD is a winner. Like any good recipe, all the ingredients for the TOD need to work together to elevate the success of the finished product. Here's our tried-and-true approach:

1. Start with a great location

The No. 1 factor is a great location with access to transit. According to the CTOD, people who live within a half-mile of a major transit stop are five times more likely to walk to it. Transit centers also tend to have a positive economic impact on the community. Case in point, jobs within a quarter mile of the Emerald Express bus rapid transit system in the Eugene-Springfield metropolitan area in Oregon grew by 10% between 2006 and 2010, per the CTOD.

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And while the TOD should be close to transportation, it shouldn't be cut off from the street. Avoid having a large parking lot as a buffer between the building and street.

2. Thoughtful design, amenities

Exteriors should relate to the surrounding area and stir in plenty of stylish unit and amenity designs. Make sure the floor plan mix suits intended residents, especially those who are 34 and younger or 65 and older as they have the strongest desire for living near transit, per the CTOD.

And add quality finishes like quartz countertops and plank floors, plus amenities that will appeal to your residents, such as coworking spaces, gathering areas, outdoor lounges, balconies to give people private outdoor access, fitness centers, pools and more.

3. Genuine and cooperative approach to the neighbors

Good TODs exist in harmony with their community. Neighbors naturally question development. It's a developer's job to bring people through the process and show that we're committed to build the best development possible to benefit residents and the community at large.


4. Municipal support

A good relationship with the local municipality makes or breaks this recipe. Recognizing the positive economic impact of TODs, some municipalities will even provide incentives to encourage TODs. For example, Evanston and Chicago provide parking relief to developers based on proximity to transit.

5. A high-quality development team

You need to be sure to have a solid team well-versed in TODs, including a strong architect, engineer, general contractor, attorney, landscape architect and interior designer.

6. (Optional) on-site retail

TODs may include office and retail space as a convenience for residents, which also creates revenue for the suburb.

We only include retail in our developments if it will not add strain on existing retailers already struggling for foot traffic.

Sometimes, retail actually fills a void -- such as a lack of nearby walkable grocery shopping. Case in point, our Maple Street Lofts TOD will bring an Angelo Caputo's Fresh Markets to downtown Mount Prospect. Or the new retail has unique design characteristics, like the two-story restaurant space at 20 West, also in downtown Mount Prospect.

It's also worth noting that while some retailers struggled during the pandemic, many of those located in TODs benefited from a building's built-in foot traffic, creating a win-win for residents and retailers.

With the continued demand for living in Chicago's suburbs due to the pandemic, developers, residents and municipalities alike may all be hungry to add more TODs to their plate over the next few years. Just to be sure to watch your ingredients.

• Christopher Coleman is vice president of development for Wingspan Development Group in Mount Prospect.

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