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Horizontal Zoning Ordinance
March 2009 | John Kerridge, El Amigo


Gas Station Site

How can the city, its taxpayers, and its business district derive most benefit from the storefronts along Camino Del Mar? Read on.

The Horizontal Zoning ordinance, recently approved by the City Council, seeks to encourage retail uses, rather than offices, in ground-floor spaces fronting on CDM in the commercial district. This will benefit the city by increasing tax revenue from those properties, and will benefit downtown businesses by creating a more inviting, pedestrian-friendly environment. Existing non-retail usages will be grandfathered in and need not be converted to retail as long as the existing use continues with no increase in scale.

The new ordinance, which replaces an Emergency Ordinance due to expire on 3 March, will allow exceptions for cases in which the ground-floor space cannot reasonably be converted to retail use.

“The council’s approach is brilliant because it encourages the commercial people who know how to get things done to work with the City in developing possibilities” comments commercial-property owner Tricia Smith. Referring to the city’s additional interest in revising the zoning of the business district, she agrees: “A carrot will produce much better results than a stick.”

“We need a healthy mix of office, retail, restaurant, service, and other uses” says Jen Grove, Executive Director of the Del Mar Village Association, echoing the 2007 Revitalization Report by Kennedy Smith. “Horizontal zoning is just one piece of the revitalization puzzle. We need to encourage reinvestment in the downtown and provide incentives for viable businesses in the Village.”

The Kennedy Smith report also emphasizes the crucial role of “retail contiguity – the placement of retail businesses next to one another. Commercial storefronts are intended to blur the public space of the sidewalk and street with the private space of the store within, visually inviting shoppers inside. When shoppers come upon a storefront that does not conform to this pattern, they perceive that the retail district has ended and that they should turn around, rather than continuing down the street.” As Kennedy Smith points out: “Communities that have successfully enacted ‘horizontal zoning’ ordinances almost always have as much or more upper-floor space available for office and residential uses as they have ground-floor space available for retail uses.”

Discussion of horizontal zoning generally focuses on the perceived desire of the city for enhanced tax revenue, but for many the role of such an ordinance in nurturing the retail environment is of at least equivalent importance.


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