2014, August 8 | Friday 1:16 pm

by Peter Samuel

Notice where Frederick’s development is most vigorous – on the northern fringe around ‘Market Square’ off Route 26, well outside the historic district. And the eastern fringe, also outside the historic district, with big plans for development of Frederick East filling the land all the way down to the Monocacy.

In the downtown historic district? Not much at all. Comstock’s having a shot at revivingzoningmap the 2008-Maxwell Square project with a dozen townhouses under construction, Ron Hemby’s got several houses he’s building on East 4th Street, there’s a handful of renovations going on, and supposedly the City will choose a ‘partner’ to build the long-talked about downtown hotel/conference center (albeit with some City money needed to juice the project.) North Pointe languishes, developer Nexus having gone broke with half the 50 sites still unbuilt.

That’s about it.

Our elected officials and planners give lipservice to ‘infill’ development, but precious little occurs.

City government is the major obstacle to viable projects, any realtor or land use lawyer will tell you. Its labyrinthian zoning and permitting – especially historic preservation permitting – add enormously to the costs, delays and uncertainty of any downtown project.

zoningdistrictsLook at the complexity of the zoning map nearby!

Here’s a more general view by the Sonoran Institute on the damage done by government zoning:

“Highly prescriptive conventional zoning ordinances act as a market gatekeeper. Because they forbid sensibly combining non-conflicting, and indeed, harmonious uses – similar to the much more organic way towns were built before these zoning ordinances – they have all but dictated terms to the market: ‘Here ye shall build your homes, here be your business, and here be your offices, and what they shall look like’. Through the separation of land uses and highly prescriptive design standards, conventional zoning plays a heavy hand in shaping the market and therefore, what gets built and where.

“Conventional zoning rules are increasingly misaligned with what consumers and business owners want. Today, most Americans prefer to be able to walk in their neighborhoods and communities, and to live near stores, restaurants and entertainment. People and businesses are drawn to places that have a mix of businesses and residences, much like traditional downtowns, but the ability of the private sector to create these places, or to reinvest in those that exist, is made difficult due to the highly prescriptive nature of conventional zoning. Zoning in such a way is market inflexible: It does not respond to changing demographics and consumer preferences.

“Zoning codes are particularly inflexible when it comes to infill and redevelopment. TheyMixedUsePrePlg place the greatest burden on those projects that many communities are explicitly seeking to revitalize: downtowns, commercial districts and residential cores. Conventional zoning is often built around ‘suburban dimensions’ – those that require large setbacks, minimum lot sizes, large landscaped areas – that work for suburban development on open land. But when a developer is required to work with similar standards in the smaller spaces and greater complexity associated with infill and redevelopment, they are challenged to succeed.

SonoranInst“It makes sense, then, that developers, banks, and their financial backers often seek clear ground, outside city (downtown) limits, for their investments. Opening a project in a downtown area can be like opening a can of worms, and local zoning authorities are often just as perplexed by their own zoning codes as developers are.”

Also there is the whole quasi-corrupt crony business that has grown up to gain zoning changes – the Zoning Board of Appeals here. Project profitability too often depends not on serving customers but on skill and money spent working the government system to unlock land for a viable use, land which should never have been locked by zoning in the first place.



editor 2014-08-08

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