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Thread: Prohibiting ground floor office uses in a suburban downtown

  1. #1
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Prohibiting ground floor office uses in a suburban downtown

    So, we are working on the new masterplan for our dowtown are. We are a 2nd/3rd-ring affluent suburb of Chicago. Our downtown is approximately 15 square blocks with 2 major arterials running along the perimeters and a commuter rail stop.

    As part of the masterplan, it has been decided that the main local street running through the most active portion of the downtown should have office uses (real estate offices, business offices, etc.) prohibited from the ground floor, pedestrian accessible retail spaces. This would be along a 4 block stretch of the street.

    What are your comments/suggestions or do you know of any similar efforts.

    We are thinking of an overlay district.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  2. #2
    How prevalent are these uses there now? While I agree that street level retail sales and service helps create vitality, I also am practical enough to know that running a bunch of realtors and other office uses off is likely to stir up some serious ill-will.

    I will say that I wouldn't use an overlay, but rather I'd do a text amendment to remove office uses from the base zoning district (or permit by Special or Conditional use).
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
    "Once he timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy."
    Warren Spahn

  3. #3
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker
    How prevalent are these uses there now? While I agree that street level retail sales and service helps create vitality, I also am practical enough to know that running a bunch of realtors and other office uses off is likely to stir up some serious ill-will.

    I will say that I wouldn't use an overlay, but rather I'd do a text amendment to remove office uses from the base zoning district (or permit by Special or Conditional use).
    Well, we don't want ground floor office uses completely prohibited from the entire downtown, just a four block stretch along one specific street.

    We want office uses in the downtown. Our CBD zone allows for mixed uses and building heights up to 140 feet, so we certainly would like businesses to locate in the downtown, just not in the prime retail spaces.
    Last edited by mendelman; 07 Mar 2006 at 1:14 PM.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    We have recently eliminated office uses from first floor spaces in a couple of areas of Albuquerque, including our core downtown. They are allowed at ground floor on many adjacent streets and a great many lawyer and real estate offices function this way. Its too early to tell what effect it is having, but there is a lot more activity retail-wise since the new sector plan was adopted.

    I don't know how it works elsewhere, but here, when an area is governed by a sector plan, it is all zoned SU-2, which allows each sector to determine its own zoning requirements within (but must be approved, of course). Sometimes this means coming up with a new designation, the specifics of which are articulated in the plan. Other times (and this is only in the last 5 years or so) we use a semi-form based code. I say "semi" because the city is still uncomfortable with switching over to this graphic mode entirely, so we have something of a hybrid. We only use overlay zones for historic areas, or occassionally a "community conservation" zone. The SU-2 designation covers most elements, though, as a sector can create its own design guidelines, regulations, or whatever within their new zoning designations (as general as massing, and as specific as architectural style).

    You can view these plans here: http://www.cabq.gov/planning/publications/

    The Downtown 2010 Plan and the Proposed Central-Highland-Upper Nob Hill Master Plan both use the semi-form based codes.

  5. #5
    Member Wulf9's avatar
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    This type of zoning is often used in very successful commercial districts where one type of use threatens the mix of uses necessary for a pedestrian and mixed commercial area.

    Carmel CA put limits on tee shirt shops, jewelers, and realtors. They didn't do the same for art galleries and lost a lot of their distinctive mix. Healdsburg CA has limited wine tasting rooms and realtors around the square. Both of those limited first floor uses when they threatened to take over the downtown.

    A few cities have proactively limited the uses that would unbalance their commercial areas. St Helena CA has limits that have maintained a lot of local serving businesses. I am not sure of the exact limits, but I am certain it does not allow any franchise businesses (more than one off). The are starting to lose some local serving businesses more rapidly now, but they have held off the tide for many years. Windsor CA has a newly built downtown (condos over retail) with a homeowner's association that has maintained retail downtown and limited competition (limits on the number of same type businesses).

    It is harder to be proactive because you are often limiting the businesses that will pay higher rent. In the end, the downtown will usually have much higher rents, but there is a short term loss of rent, and property owners would rather have the immediate rent than future higher rent levels.

    With reactive zoning (after it has become a problem), rents are already high, and it is pretty clear that the overall business climate will decrease if the business area is taken over by realtors, or tee shirts, or franchises, or wine tasting, or art galleries, etc.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian dogandpony's avatar
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    I'm also in a chicago suburb, north shore, we adopted an overlay district in the late 80's in the face of an potential onslaught of real estate offices and other offices that apparently were poised to move into a fairly retail focused district.

    I'd probably favor the overlay district approach, making such "non-retail" uses subject to a special use permit, rather than outright prohibit them; otherwise i'm assuming you'd end up with two very similar zoning districts, with the main difference between them being the uses permitted. More importantly, a special use process would theoretically allow, as a safety valve, a particular location to be used for non retail if it the case could be made that it wasn't suitable for retail (due to inadequate size of the space, too far off the sidewalk to support retail, etc).

    Our retail overlay district covers the majority, but not all, of two of our core commercial zones, and leaves a third entirely alone, with non-retail office space permitted by right.

    Some of the applicable language, particularly the standards for special uses, are liste below. That being said, our overlay district has been fairly successful, and to that end we've been pretty stingy about special use permits for non-retail occupancies (banks, etc).

    PM me if you have any questions...

    Use classification
    *All of the uses marked with an asterisk (*) in the foregoing list are special uses if they are located on the ground floor in the C-2 Overlay District and within one hundred (100) feet of a public street.
    Standards
    Special Use. As a special use, subject to the conditions and requirements set forth in this chapter and in Chapter 17.56, any one of the following:
    a. Any use listed in subsection B above designated by an asterisk, located on the ground floor in the C-2 Overlay District; provided that, in addition to the standards set forth in Chapter 17.56 for the granting of special use permits, the applicant demonstrates that the special use will be in compliance with the following additional standards:
    i. The proposed special use at the proposed location will encourage, facilitate and enhance the continuity, concentration, and pedestrian nature of the area in a manner similar to that of retail uses of a comparison shopping nature.
    ii. Proposed street frontages providing access to or visibility for one or more special uses shall provide for a minimum interruption in the existing and potential continuity and concentration of retail uses of a comparison shopping nature.
    iii. The proposed special use at the proposed location will provide for display windows, facades, signage and lighting similar in nature and compatible with that provided by retail uses of a comparison shipping nature.
    iv. If a project or building has, proposes or contemplates a mix of retail, office and service-type uses, the retail portions of the project or building shall be located adjacent to the sidewalk. The minimum frontage for each retail use adjacent to the sidewalk shall be twenty (20) feet with a minimum gross floor area of four hundred (400) square feet. In addition, such retail space shall be devoted to active retail merchandising which maintains typical and customary hours of operation.
    v. The proposed location and operation of the proposed special use shall not significantly diminish the availability of parking for district clientele wishing to patronize existing retail businesses of a comparison shopping nature;
    Last edited by dogandpony; 08 Mar 2006 at 10:50 PM.

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