2022 40 Under 40: Chessy Brady, AICP

Aug. 23, 2022
Chessy Brady, AICP, Transit-Oriented Development Manager, Regional Transportation District of Denver

Alma Mater: Brown University; Pratt Institute

Fun fact about yourself: Mom of twins

Favorite station or stop that you have ever visited or frequent (and why): Denver Union Station, because the historic building is amazing and the area is a shining example of TOD, plus it’s a perfect introduction to Denver for those arriving from the airport on the train.

Favorite route you have ever ridden or frequent (and why): We had a love-hate relationship when I lived in Park Slope, but I look back with fondness on the F Train between Brooklyn and Manhattan.

The intersection of transit and development is the perfect spot for Chessy Brady, who brings a passion for transit-oriented development (TOD) through her work at the Regional Transportation District (RTD) of Denver, Colo.

While Brady’s efforts have been impactful in the Denver region, she began her planning career at the New York City Economic Development Corporation, where her major project consisted of a feasibility study for decking over a 200-acre railyard in Long Island City, Queens, used predominately by the Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak. Brady’s spouse accepted a position in Denver, which eventually led to her joining the RTD in 2016. Through collaboration, strategic planning and sheer determination, she has advanced TOD in the region through a number of key projects.

Within months of beginning as a TOD associate at RTD, Brady was already creating a system to prioritize RTD sites with potential for joint development and codifying an unsolicited proposal procedure that would make working with RTD more predictable for developers while also protecting RTD’s operational and fiscal interests. The clarity of the unsolicited proposal procedure continues to help internal and external partners advance TOD projects that will generate ridership and revenue for RTD. Promoted to TOD manager in 2017, Brady led her team as they managed TOD, plaza and sidewalk projects in several jurisdictions throughout RTD’s service area.

As the housing crisis in the Denver region became increasingly apparent, Brady and her team took steps to find a role for RTD in the affordable housing sphere. In 2020, the team completed a parking study that showed what many regional partners had known for a long time but had been unable to prove: the supply of parking at private residential buildings consistently exceeds demand and far exceeds it at mixed income buildings. Since the report was published, jurisdictions and developers have used the data collected by Brady’s team to reduce parking supply at new residential buildings within one-half mile of high-frequency transit. This reduction saves money for the project and creates space to house people rather than cars – two crucial improvements, especially where mixed-income housing is concerned.

In 2021, Brady proposed a new Equitable TOD Policy for consideration by the publicly elected RTD Board. The policy guidelines were the outcome of numerous conversations with RTD directors, affordable housing experts, developers and jurisdiction staff. Brady also consulted with peers at other transit agencies to fully understand best practices and apply them to the Denver region's context. The policy commits RTD to push for 35 percent of residential units built on agency land in the following 10 years to be affordable, as determined by local standards. The policy creates flexibility in how RTD evaluates replacement parking when development will occur on existing park-n-rides and clarifies RTD’s stance on parking replacement costs and its ability to negotiate the price of land sales and ground leases.

In 2022, Brady and her team have advanced an affordable homeownership project on RTD land in a gentrifying neighborhood and issued an RFQ for a high-value site in a transitioning neighborhood. The combination of the unsolicited proposal procedure and Equitable TOD Policy have generated significant recent interest in RTD property. The future holds the potential for several more solicitations, as well as expectations for pursuing unsolicited proposals from developers, which are currently in process on more than five sites.

Brady is continuously looking for ways to expand her knowledge and experience. In recent years, she has presented at and participated in conferences and events hosted by Rail~Volution, American Planning Association, Women’s Transportation Seminar and other regional organizations. She has been deeply involved with RTD’s Employee Engagement Committee seeking to improve employee ownership and morale throughout RTD. She is also pursuing an MBA at the University of Denver to improve her ability to communicate with the business community and better facilitate the production of high-quality TOD at RTD’s stations.

Is there a specific experience that led you to where you are today?

My path to RTD was serendipitous. I was a planner in New York City when my husband got a job in Denver. Most of my transit knowledge came from being an MTA rider, but I had the development knowledge to take a TOD role at RTD and it has turned out to be the perfect mix of transit and development work for me.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

In this job, I am always learning. I get to interact with different community partners and private developers across the Denver Metro Region, discovering their challenges and perspectives. My job takes me all over the region and the challenges certainly keep things interesting.

Accomplishment you’re most proud of and why?

RTD’s Equitable TOD Policy. Denver, like many cities, is experiencing a housing crisis. RTD is not set up to solve this regional issue, but by having an equitable TOD policy in place, we can now do our part with the land that we have.

Best advice/tip/best practice to share from your area of expertise?

Persist. Planning for and around transit is never easy, but I find that if I stay on course and keep inching forward, change happens.