Starting a Conversation About Zoning

Another Tool to Facilitate Economic Development in the Downtown

By Noel Purdy, President, Downtown Chambersburg Inc.

31671We’re at a tipping point with downtown revitalization. More than 30 years of hard work, commitment and investment have made downtown what it is today: ready for growth. Over $30 million dollars of investment is planned for the downtown in the next few years, and we must position ourselves to leverage that investment. We need to be firing on all cylinders - or we might miss out on a rare opportunity.

Downtown Chambersburg Inc. (DCI) recently completed a Downtown Master Plan, which is rooted in the Main Street economic development model, a holistic approach to downtown revitalization. The Main Street model has four focus areas: organization, design, promotions and economic restructuring. The design area is anything that affects the physical character of downtown— which includes planning and zoning.

Input from the community during the recent downtown master planning process yielded many discussions about how to bring more retail and entertainment options that could create more patron and pedestrian activity. One strategy DCI is exploring is a zoning concept called storefront preservation. This would target Main Street businesses with a high percentage of windows and restrict certain uses of these storefronts that are perceived to be counter to revitalization efforts.

12513578_999977673400401_8686435753154286830_oUses like residential, churches and soup kitchens do not generate foot traffic that translates into business sales. Essentially, these types of uses do not maximize the economic activity traditionally associated with a Main Street location. Rather, these kinds of uses create a lack of cohesion, a disjointed feeling on Main Street, and a lack of investor confidence.

Downtown Chambersburg’s Main Street is located in the most flexible zoning district in the borough, which allows most uses and even has areas that are not defined. Some would argue this is a good thing. The reality is there are over 80 unique parcels fronting Main Street from the Towers on the Falling Spring to Washington Street and over 40 unique property owners who have different investment philosophies. A discussion about how to create cohesion from a zoning perspective just makes sense. It’s much easier to facilitate cohesion in a strip mall or business park, because typically there is one owner.

Historic TownhomesAdditionally, if someone wanted to tear down a building that's on the historic registry (like the row houses on North Main) and put up a gas station or used car lot, they could. There is nothing in the existing code to protect historic buildings or to prevent a used car lot from being on Main Street.

With downtown revitalization, collective impact can be marginal without some type of standard or consensus about what brings visitors to downtown.

Local government is the only entity who can do that.

That is why DCI has started an important conversation about zoning with the Borough Planning and Zoning Commission. DCI has asked the Planning Commission to be involved with a committee to explore zoning in general, and how it can help with downtown revitalization. While DCI has submitted a report to the commission about the storefront preservation zoning concept, it has not asked that it be formally adopted. The submitted report is simply an example of a zoning concept that is being used in other downtowns.

If you want to be part of the conversation, please consider attending the next Borough Council meeting on Monday, May 9 at 7 p.m. where DCI will give an update on the ongoing conversations.

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