New development mixes industry with housing
When the new Auto Doctor building off of Pioneer Trail is completed this summer, beds, couches and televisions will be hauled into the industrial structure along with tools and auto parts.
That’s because the Auto Doctor, like a growing number of businesses in and around the Pioneer Commerce Center, will be employing and housing workers in the same building.
This progressive mixture of industry and housing is breaking down traditional development patterns that for decades have separated blocks of housing from commercial centers and industrial complexes. And the new approach is adding employee housing while reducing traffic and increasing security at businesses, owners say.
“I think it is a good idea that they are mixing residential along with industrial because Truckee needs places that are affordable,” said Kent Atwater, an Auto Doctor employee who may move into one of the four apartments above the auto repair shop.
Auto Doctor owner John Lamoreux believes the four apartments on the second story of his auto shop will help him recruit and retain quality employees.
“I can attract employees that normally couldn’t afford to work or live here,” Lamoreux said.
Mixing uses like commercial and residential, or retail and residential, is not a new idea. Examples are widespread in Sacramento and in the Bay Area. But mixing industrial businesses with apartments is an odd coupling that is not as prevalent, especially around Truckee.
“I think that it is a wholly new idea for the area,” said Ciro Mancuso, developer and owner of the Pioneer Commerce Center.
Truckee’s strapped housing stock and an industrial sector that is closer to heavy commercial than hard-core industry are two elements that have spurred the pairing of the two divergent uses, Mancuso said.
“What makes it work here in Truckee is the extreme lack of affordable housing and the extreme lack of land for affordable housing,” Mancuso said, adding that “what we call industrial here is more service-oriented business.”
Those service businesses, he said, are much more compatible with housing than true industrial outfits.
The affordable apartments do not count against restrictions the town has placed on the size of industrial buildings. In essence, it means “free land” for affordable apartments.
With regional land costs sky high, the idea of taking advantage of this free land for employee housing was developed between Mancuso and the Truckee planning department in the early stages of designing the Pioneer Commerce Center, and carried over into the designs of Industrial Way businesses.
But while the land is for mixed use essentially free, the additional construction costs that apartment building tacks on is not.
“It cost me a lot more money to do it this way,” said Lamoreux, who added the apartments onto a building design that had already been developed for the plot of land on Pioneer Trail. Constructing noise barriers and fire walls are two additions that hike building costs.
Other disadvantages are the noise associated with industrial businesses, the aesthetics of living in a commercial and industrial area and the responsibility of a business owner to wear the hat of apartment manager.
“Probably, it’s not the best place for family housing,” Mancuso said.
These qualities, however, reaffirm the apartment’s place as worker housing that will never be in danger of becoming unaffordable apartments.
“It is the type of housing that will stay in the workforce,” Mancuso said.
Town planners, meanwhile, believe this will be a key strategy for proposed employee-generating projects, which must meet the town’s new standards that require development to house 15 percent of the workers they attract.
“This is going to be one key component to whether industrial projects can meet their employee housing demands,” said Duane Hall, Truckee’s town planner.
The buildings along Industrial Way and Pioneer Trail are still being constructed. Businesses and tenants have yet to move in to what Mancuso calls an “experiment.”
“The jury is still out on if it will be successful,” he said.
But Mancuso maintains that the creative approach to solving the employee housing shortage is a good idea.
Lamoreux, who expects his building to be completed in July, already has two prospective tenants for his upstairs apartments. He is still searching for two more renters to fill up his second story housing. But with three of his employees commuting to Truckee from Reno, and a tow company moving in alongside the auto repair shop, he is fairly certain renters will not be hard to find in a town where rent prices continue to climb.
“The housing up here has become so unaffordable for the regular worker,” Lamoreux said.
For Atwater, the Auto Doctor employee who is eyeing one of the apartments as his new home, the noise and aesthetics of living in an industrial zone are superseded by one overriding issue ” affordability.
“If it is more affordable, yes [I’ll move there],” Atwater said.
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