City Hall

Council Considers Allowing More Corner Stores

By Erica C. Barnett April 11, 2012

This morning, the city council's land use committee discussed a proposal I  wrote about a couple of weeks ago that would allow more small businesses to open in midrise and low-rise residential zones in city urban centers and transit station area overlay zones. (They punted for a month on a proposal to lift mandatory parking minimums for new developments and a proposal to increase the number of units that triggers state environmental review).

Every version of the proposed new rules would allow additional commercial uses (everything from craft businesses like home food processing to small restaurants and cafes) on the ground floor of buildings in midrise and low-rise zones. The difference between the proposals is the size of the areas in which such businesses would be allowed.

Under one proposal---favored by council member Tim Burgess---the city would allow home-based and small ground-floor businesses only on arterial streets, with the potential for expansion later, in low-rise parts of station area zones and urban centers. Burgess pointed out the difference between Capitol Hill east and west of Broadway; on the east side, he said, the neighborhood "does have more of a residential neighborhood feel than you get" on the denser west side.

Under another, favored by Richard Conlin, the city would allow those businesses throughout those areas, but would decrease the maximum size of such businesses---from 2,500 to 2,000 square feet. (In midrise zones, businesses up to 10,000 square feet would be allowed). "You're not going to see a significant restaurant in this size of a space," Conlin said. "There might be a small coffee shop or a café."

And under still another option, suggested by Mike O'Brien, the city would split the difference---allowing home-based and craft businesses throughout the zones, but restricting things like restaurants to arterials. "I'm looking for a path that allows a coffee shop or small grocery store to happen on arterials but doesn't restrict an office-type use from being everywhere," O'Brien said.

Also on the table: Should the city ban outdoor dining after 10 pm? Throughout station areas and urban centers, or just on non-arterial neighborhood streets?

The council rejected an option that would have restricted new ground-floor businesses to corners only.

The committee meets again May 9.
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