There is a renewed push in city hall to pass a significant zoning code overhaul and I am really happy to hear it. The current code, after being amended 31 times between it’s adoption in 1950 and now, was explained to be, by city planner Geoffrey Knight, appearing capricious and spot zoned. He’s completely right. Currently there are 27 different zones and four overlay districts.
Aside from the massive improvement in administrative ease (I am understating as to how important that is) here is what I like about the changes thus far. I will comment on what I don’t like in a separate posting.
-Increased height caps
The draft code eliminates height maximums in the Downtown Center designation and Industrial zones. The existing code actually had no limits on height in Business General, BG Outlying zones, and Industrial zones, but some of what would be considered downtown was capped at 100 feet under the Planned Business Zone 1 designation.
Outside of the uncapped downtown and Industrial zones, Commercial Neighborhood, Commercial General, and Institutional zones see a significant increase in height caps as well. 75, 100, and 100 feet respectively. These zones are comparable to the existing business zones which are currently capped lower at 50, and 60 feet for Community Commercial General and Business Local zones.
The ability to build up in more districts allows means that even in a hot city property market, which we cannot say there is now, there is greater ability to add supply, helping to cool it down. It also pairs well with the city’s already split rate tax structure, that puts some of the city’s tax burden on land as opposed to entirely on property, and in turn incentivizes vertical development over outward expansion. I am hoping this will help neighborhoods that have been struggling to turn over the vibrancy engine, like Midtown’s 3rd street, to transform into stronger market for goods and services.
-Lowered off-street and accessory parking requirements
The draft code completely eliminates the need for any off-street parking in not only the Downtown Center zone but also the Commercial Neighborhood zone. This is great because land for parking is an expensive, ugly waste of space. The current code requires a special exception to waive parking minimums.
Every additional dollar spent on parking in development is money and land not capable of being put into useful property, which drives up construction costs. A lack of guaranteed parking will lead drivers to utilize garages, which will help pay down the city’s debts, or hopefully will continue to increase the share of commuters who do so via transit, walking, or cycling.
-Extension of Downtown to Rt. 230
A major change in the draft plan that has gotten a lot of attention was a decision to include the section of Market Street between Rt. 230 (Cameron Street) and the rail road tracks in the Downtown Center zone. It currently has a small section within Business General zone, but is mostly within the Light Industry zone. The major change is that the new designation brings with it the ability to build without parking and restricts industrial use’s. The current owner of 815 Market, site of the former post office, is whining about the possible change in TheBurg.
NONE of the various uses that we have put into place at 815 Market St. over the past several years are listed as Permitted Uses under the proposed changes and, furthermore, the clear industrial bones of our property were not taken into account in pushing this new ordinance ahead. . .
Our property is also the location of a thriving, 700-space parking business (http://transitpark.com) that is largely populated by (1) City, State and Federal workers and other downtown employees looking for affordable monthly parking and (2) customers of the Harrisburg Transportation Center.
The owners are right that under the new plan 815 Market will have to continue as a pre-existing non-conforming. Under current and new rules though, that means that they can continue the previous usage of the property until they sell it or it is abandoned.
By extending the downtown designation it also serves to create a stronger connection between South Allison Hill, the city’s poorest neighborhood, and the city’s business center. Any development that improves ease of walking or cycling, or reduces commute times for the poor lends a proximity bonus to wages and property values. If the plan does take off and convert this largely barren industrial zone over to a more natural extension of the downtown, the political economy will dictate improvements for the Hill as well.
Concerns about parking are pretty much always overblown, as they are here. The city’s planning commission has made the proper determination in assessing that there is significant available garage parking and transit to accommodate all who need to access this area.