Analysis and Commentary.
The Planning and Zoning Commission meets tonight at 7:00PM in Council Chambers. They will discuss and vote on a proposal to change the zoning code text for three different locations in our city: Washington Street, South Main Street, and Newfield Street.
The text change would open the door to high traffic commercial development in each of those areas.
The Commission has to weigh two different visions of the streets that serve as gateways to Main Street.
40 people spoke against the code change at the public hearing on February 27th. Most introduced themselves as residents of a neighborhood that spans from the southern border of Wesleyan to beyond Macdonough School in the north. Many spoke of Washington Street as a difficult street, but one that is within their neighborhood, not outside of it. They cross it on a daily basis, for shopping, to visit friends, for work, or to go to Macdonough.
The developer who proposed the text change has options to purchase property and made plans for a commercial development on Washington Street, in the middle of this neighborhood. His lawyer, and the 5 people who spoke in favor of this commercialization, saw highways, not streets: Routes 66, 17, and 3. They narrowly defined "the neighborhood" as highway frontage lots and pointed to the absence of families living on those highways. For the developer, the residents don't live in that "neighborhood", and they would be unaffected.
These competing views of the geographical boundaries and character of the neighborhood, one from the developer, and one from the residents, frame the Commission's decision.
If these are large neighborhoods with busy streets running through them, it is hard to imagine that this text proposal would do anything other than damage. It opens the door to the degradation of residential neighborhoods and the loss of property value in hundreds of homes.
However, if the "neighborhoods" are simply highway frontage lots, then the text proposal enhances the value of those lots by allowing them to be used to sell things to the motorists on the highway.
Disclosures: Many of the people who spoke
against the proposed change are friends, and I share most of their
concerns about this proposal before Planning and Zoning.