As promised (albeit much later than I’d have liked) here is some information on RTD’s new TOD Pilot Program.

With planning efforts slowing down this year, The RTD Board of Directors has  approved the introduction of the TOD Pilot Program to help shift efforts towards implementing TOD near stations with high chances of success. Many municipalities around the metro area have looked at how they want their station areas to look. Around 40 plans have been completed since FasTracks passed in 2004 – a staggering amount of planning. The Pilot Program shifts RTD’s approach to joint development opportunities in a way to (as RTD puts it) “nudge” potential TODs that need a little help moving from pipe dreams to groundbreaking.

Previously, RTD required upfront, market-rate payments for land involved in joint development projects. The Pilot Program will allow more creative financing structures between RTD and potential development partners, including considering other benefits when determining a final sale price for the land (assuming RTD sees benefits such as additional parking, bus bays, etc.). The program also allows RTD to look at the possibility of reduced parking at certain locations (Yes…reduced parking – You read that right). This is a major shift away from RTD’s previous stance as the “T in TOD.” RTD is realizing that they have a more active role in TOD besides simply providing transit service. They can be a partner in shaping what station areas look like and how they function. While many land use considerations remain in place (especially in terms of eminent domain control measures, land use oversight, etc.) RTD is making a shift in how they look at development.

RTD solicited metro area cities to submit proposals for a limited number (3-5) Pilot Program participants. The stations were required to be along an existing (Central/CPV, Southwest, Southeast) or funded (West, East, Gold, Northwest Electrified Segment) corridor, have a TOD plan (Station Area Plan) in place, commitment by the local jurisdiction and property owners, and market potential. RTD received 12 applications, selecting four participants: Alameda Station (Denver), Federal Center (Lakewood), Welton Stations (Denver), and Olde Town (Arvada).

This by no means implies RTD will not focus on stations besides the four Pilot Program participants. RTD will being implementing the new tools the Pilot Program provides in 2011 while continuing to facilitate TOD near all planned and completed station throughout the RTD rail network. It is important to realize that this is a long-term (3-5 year) project. RTD will reevaluate its benefits prior to implementing any changes across the district.

This is a major step forward for RTD and the metro area as a whole. While this won’t remake RTD to be the caliber of a BART or Tri-Met, this is definitely a positive and powerful first step in that direction. It will be interesting to see how the Pilot Program works and what kind of interest is shown in these sites.