November 24, 2014 Housing Action Coalition

Revolutionizing Economic Development with OppSites

Cities and innovation are often considered synonymous. But for a variety of reasons, the two fields most responsible for building the cities we live in – urban planning and real estate development – are often late adopters of technological innovation.

So what happens when you apply evolving technology tools to the planning and development of our built environment? Recently several new technology tools have emerged that could potentially answer that question, and have a profound impact on traditional planning and development, decision making, investment, and community engagement practices for new development projects in our cities.

OppSites:  Identifying underexposed development sites and assessing their economic potential.  

OppSites – which stands for “opportunity sites” – is an online tool that enables cities to promote their priority redevelopment sites to a national audience of real estate developers, brokers, and investors and for these same real estate professionals to identify sites cities want to see redeveloped and visualize the potential return on investment for developing those sites. OppSites differs from the traditional brokered site acquisition process in a number of ways: a) only city staff (or their authorized delegate) can add sites to the database; b) cities can promote as many sites as they want with no fee or commission; and c) cities can add sites that are publicly-owned, privately-owned, for-sale, or even off the market, but all sites must be priority redevelopment opportunities within their community. When adding opportunity sites, city staff are encouraged to share comprehensive local information about the site’s regulatory context, recent planning initiatives, technical assessments already completed, incentives being offered, and level of community and political support for redevelopment. Real estate developers, investors, and brokers can conduct unlimited free searches for opportunity sites in markets across the country, based on the site’s allowable uses, parcel size thresholds or APN. Alternatively, developers can pay a fee to follow a particular site and receive updates on that site (or even follow an entire city to be updated when new sites are added in that community). Once a developer identifies one or more opportunity sites they are interested in, they can use OppSites’ fee-based 3-D tool to quickly calculate the unmet economic potential of their sites by visually comparing the development on the ground today versus the allowable building envelope under the existing zoning code.

Key Benefit: Equalizes information asymmetries in local real estate markets and reduces deal flow friction including site selection, acquisition, and due diligence. (Full disclosure: Jeremy Nelson is currently an advisor to OppSites.)

How do you think this tool could impact the future of urban planning and development?  We welcome your ideas and questions in the comments section.

(Note: This is the first post in a six-part series that will highlight emerging technology tools with the capacity to impact planning and development practices.)

About the Authors

Will Heywood is a Senior Associate at the San Francisco District Council of the Urban Land Institute. He can be reached at

Jeremy Nelson is a SFHAC member and President of REgeneration Strategies, where he advises public and private clients on community revitalization plans and real estate redevelopment projects.  He can be reached at

Image credit: OppSites

Housing Action Coalition

The Housing Action Coalition is a member-supported non-profit that advocates for the creation of well designed, well-located housing at all levels of affordability. We believe more housing means more choices and better solutions.

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