Letter: Protect local businesses
October 28, 2015
Don't throw out service-commercial-industrial zoning at Obermeyer without a comprehensive strategy in place to preserve and protect local, service-oriented businesses.
In a recent City Council meeting, stakeholders advocated dropping the zoning at Obermeyer because they believe long-term vacancies mean the zoning isn't working. I have no specific information on vacancy rates, but to my eyes, most all of the commercial spaces there seem to be occupied. What I do know is that service-commercial-industrial zoning as currently defined is the only protection many of the business owners in this zone have from unchecked rent increases. So tinker with the code if it makes sense but not until the city can articulate another way to protect the last few commercial areas where locals are serving locals.
Any comprehensive solution would include the city purchasing the aging commercial complex at 465 N. Mill St. via a public-private development to create a work-live-play campus. Such a development could include employee housing, subsidized commercial space and/or owner-operator-owned units as well as creative outdoor spaces tied into the improvements at Rio Grande Park and the Old Power House across the street.
Imagine — instead of the current dilapidated, congested and anti-pedestrian mess we have there — a vibrant and eco-friendly island of housing and small business permanently protected, accessible and easily walkable within the city.
A number of council members seemed ready to treat the question of service-commercial-industrial zoning at Obermeyer as a one-off decision. That would be a mistake and a missed opportunity to craft the creative and comprehensive solution the city deserves. The areas currently zoned service-commercial-industrial are ripe for reimagining and, in the case of 465 N. Mill in particular, big-picture public-private redevelopment.
The council could set allowed uses within service-commercial-industrial zoning that differ across the variety of properties based on specific objectives for each location. For instance, Obermeyer could allow cafes and other uses but not offices or retail, Clark's could allow some retail, and 465 could be strictly light industrial. Either way, the service-commercial-industrial zone is our last chance at a bulwark for Mom and Pop, and if the council takes bold steps like negotiating a deal on 465 N. Mill, local businesses will be protected and new entrepreneurs and families will find a home in the city.
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If the goal is preserving a sustainable community, I'd trade young families working and living in the heart of town for any number of additional tourists or second-home owners. Tell the City Council that it's time for a bold and comprehensive solution for service-commercial-industrial zoning that protects local businesses now and in the future.
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