Tinkering with retail zoning categorization to maintain a slice of neighborhood serving retail
In a thread on a GGW post, a commenter made a point about how as part of a new apartment building project at 2255 Wisconsin Avenue NW, the developer is kicking out the hardware store--the only one in the area--in favor of a Rite Aid pharmacy, even though there is already a CVS pharmacy across the street--albeit not in property owned by this specific developer.
I don't know what the process was for approving the development, if it was a standard process or a Planned Unit Development process.
PUDs provide a density bonus in return for negotiated "community benefits." I have written ("Community benefits agreements: revised (again)") that the community benefits negotiation process is very loose, and needs tightening up
Generally, PUDs don't do a very good job providing directed requirements concerning retail, and the GGW comment highlights this problem, which admittedly, I might have missed myself, had I been involved in the process.
This piece about Florida Market (now called once again, Union Market) provides an example of how to go about providing more directed guidance on retail and commercial district amenities as part of a PUD negotiation process, "Retail planning and the Florida Market."
The zoning order (if there was one) should have specified that neighborhood serving retail ("convenience retail"), specifically the hardware store, should be maintained as part of the new development, rather than being displaced by new retail that merely repeats what already exists.
Rating stores in terms of product mix, goods, and price points.
In any case, the process demonstrates an ongoing defect in the city's commercial zoning categories as they relate to encouraging the provision and maintenance of neighborhood-serving retail.
2. Separately, I was taking some people from Europe on a tour of Union Market, and we were discussing various trends in retail, including lifestyle centers, which are anti-mall, and outdoors-focused, with the development laid out more like traditional commercial districts.
I mentioned how Bethesda Row in Montgomery County is an example of a lifestyle center, and the first thing one of them said was "but they don't have any stores that provide real services, like a dry cleaners."
That's the flip side of the issue identified in the GGW thread about new retail developments in the city.
They are set up to add retail space, but not to provide space for what might be called "convenience services" as opposed to the commonly used term "convenience retail." Services would include dry cleaners and repair services (shoes and leather goods, appliances, etc.)
In large part this happens because owners of newly constructed space seek out tenants that can pay the highest rent. That tends to be either big chains or restaurants generally, and definitely not service businesses like dry cleaners that have low profitability.
3. From time to time, I mention that Laguna Beach, California has a "neighborhood serving" retail zoning category, which I noticed the one time I visited there, based on a notice placed on a particular building, but I never really looked into it.
Laguna Beach. Flickr photo by Dean.
It turns out that Laguna Beach has an array of commercial zoning categories, most focused on maintaining locally-serving retail and services in the face of the reality that Laguna Beach, a small community with about 22,000 residents but located on the Pacific Ocean with great beaches, is a major tourist destination, with an average of thee million visitors annually.
Generally, tourist-focused retail is much different from resident-serving retail--art galleries and souvenir shops vs. pharmacies, supermarkets, hardware stores, dry cleaners, etc. The rents end up being much higher, which normally prices out convenience goods.
The city's Commercial Neighborhood Zone focuses on maintaining retail that serves residents. According to the city code:
Principal activities are commercial retail functions, service oriented businesses, office/professional uses, and limited residential uses. The commercial-neighborhood zone differs from the local business-professional zone in that it features a stricter orientation to resident-serving businesses and greater limitations on residential uses.4. I do think that there is a need to refine DC's commercial zoning categories, which mostly build in a lot of "matter of right" which limits review, to better focus attention on the continued provision of neighborhood serving retail in those commercial districts which are primarily neighborhood serving.
This is especially important in the face of conversion of property ownership from small operators to large firms and the rebuilding of small spaces into larger and new buildings.
The Laguna Beach zoning code provides some good examples of how to go about doing so.
Changes in DC should include the PUD process and better specifying retail mix and the provision of retail space for "community services." This could involve tax incentives or other considerations such as density bonuses.
Another way might be to add a special exception review process concerning "use" changes for specific spaces, e.g., such as from hardware to restaurant, or when certain categories, like chain pharmacies, are already represented.