Why Zoning Matters for Economic Development

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Tomino’s deli finally won approval from Bethlehem zoners to serve hot food and stay open after 6pm and on Sundays after 10 years of struggling against the city and NIMBY busybodies.

The NIMBYs argue that the Tominos facade sucks (it does) and Bill Tomino hasn’t made renovations he said he would, so why let him expand?

This gets it exactly backwards. Tomino’s been operating at a severe handicap because of city zoning rules, with no dinner hours, no hot food options, and a full weekend day lost each week. Take away those restrictions and he’ll earn some more money, at which point you can push him to modernize his ugly building.

The root problem here though is the zoning code, which even after the rewrite doesn’t allow businesses like Tomino’s to do all the things he just won approval for by-right, because he’s in a “residential” area.

Actually he’s right downtown and there’s no reason for that area to be zoned residential, but even the residential zoning rules should really let people do these things by-right. As it stands you can’t open a business in an existing retail space in a residential neighborhood without special permission. But many of these “residential” areas around downtown were originally conceived as mixed-use at the outset, which is why you see those storefronts there in the first place.

A lot of city effort goes into figuring out how to attract businesses to the city, but here’s a pretty effortless and cost-free way to get more economic development: let people use the existing spaces without having to tangle with the zoning board.

This entry was posted in Miscellany.

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