Come, let us rezone together

I’m completely ripping off The News-Sentinel’s headline above, but it’s too good not to. (BTW: Great headline, Caleb!)

In his column today, Kevin Leininger comments on the proposed rezoning of 633 properties in a “downtown edge” zone.

On paper, perhaps, the proposed changes — intended to codify earlier downtown improvements plans — don’t seem all that consequential. It would limit the location and size of gas station/convenience stores, for example, establish guidelines for heights and setbacks, and would seek to limit common features deemed too “suburban,” such as surface parking lots and drive-through service lanes, while promoting so-called “mixed-use” projects combining housing, stores and other urban features.

But recent history shows how even seemingly benign guidelines can conflict with market decisions.

Consider planners’ preference for “pedestrian-friendly” development that eliminates parking lots between the sidewalk and door. When Subway Systems Inc. built a new restaurant on West Jefferson Boulevard earlier this year, it included a parking lot and drive-through — passing up a city grant in the process — because an earlier location had taught that foot traffic alone could not sustain the business. And when Woodson Motorsports moved to East Washington at Clay two years ago, it lost a city grant when it put a modern metallic façade on the historic brick building.

In each case, the owners decided to act in their own perceived best interest – even though those interests were not necessarily compatible with planners’ interests.

If their properties had been rezoned, however — and both are included in the proposed “downtown edge” area — those decisions could have been made more complicated.

Personally, I’d hope that such rezoning would not mandate urban-style development, but at least put it on even footing with “normal” suburban-style development. Because it seems to me that current zoning is not in any way “neutral,” despite Kevin’s perspective.

Suburban-style development, including minimum parking standards, is the only one codified, with everything else having to be submitted for “exceptional” approval. Unless I am wrong, the code the city is considering would only open a new urban-like avenue for development. Is that true?


  1. From the way he puts it in the column, it sounds like Subway gave up a grant by having parking at all. I thought it was the difference between having the parking out front or in back?

    I might be confusing this with something else I read, however.


  2. The issue with Subway seemed to be much more about the drive-through than the sub-urban vs. urban design. I don’t understand why the city couldn’t accommodate and even possibly offer a grant – perhaps of a lesser amount – for Subway to move its building up against the road, thus putting the parking lot in the back.

    I have seen several restaurants that have and Urban design, but that have also integrated a drive through that is on the side of the building.

    On another note, I haven’t seen many Subways with a drive-through. I know they exists, but my assumption is that Subway would gets most of its customers from those that actually go in the store (mainly so they can choose what they want on their sub). I was surprised by the fact that Subway turned down the other location and grant.

    This seems to be a condition of the city not being walkable at the time Subway took on this endeavor. If the city/downtown was walkable they could easily argue that Subway would get plenty of business from walking traffic, which would have eliminated Subways desire for a drive-through.

    I am somewhat confused though. Correct me if I am wrong, but this Subway is supposedly close to Harrison Square. Wouldn’t there be a mass of walkers in that area? I would think that making itself welcoming to walkers would be more in the best interest of Subway.


  3. All the more reason for zoning. I can’t imagine that the newspaper columnist wants to read _Planning the Capitalist City_ but it discusses the property contradiction — that to maximize property values owners need predictable actions from others, and that without some regulation they won’t have it — and the democracy contradiction — that with regulation comes public involvement, and they don’t want too much of that either.

    Check out Cleveland’s Business Revitalization Overlay zoning category. It allows for an additional level of design review in revitalizing areas, to ensure that design coincides with other objectives, and maximizes positive investment.

    If Subway needs a parking lot and drive in and you want to create a different type of urban form then they just get zoned out — meaning no drive ins, no parking fronted places.

    Let’s just say that in thriving traditional commercial districts in cities, you don’t find parking fronted buildings and drive throughs (for the most part).


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