The Town Board continues to ponder whether to reinstitute a downtown overlay district, change the existing downtown mixed-use district – combine the two.
The commissioners seemed to side with foregoing the overlay route and tweaking the development rules within the DMX district during a meeting last week, but failed to reach any formal conclusion on the matter.
The discussion was a continuation from meetings held late last year, on ways the town can prevent undesirable businesses in its historic shopping area.
“The whole reason we came up with the overlay – trying to bring that back – was fear that you’re going to have users move into existing vacant buildings that don’t generate any foot traffic and as a result they really hurt our existing businesses,” Planning Director David Bergmark said.
Overlay districts allow towns to apply additional developmental rules on top of the rules in place for the underlying zoning district – in this case the DMX.
The planning board in October turned back the staff’s proposal to revive the overlay district, albeit one covering less space than the overlay the town had in place several years ago. The boundary as presented would include mostly properties along Main and Third streets.
As they did in November, Town Board members last week debated options for limiting uses including bars and nightclubs and vehicle sales and service, and the possibility of rules that would restrict the ground floors of buildings to retail and certain kinds of office uses.
“What happens is when you try to apply the restrictions on uses in the entire DMX, a whole lot of them don’t make sense anymore – it would be way too restrictive,” Bergmark said, explaining the staff’s asking about the overlay option.
An alternative option Bergmark proposed would apply just four restrictions in the entire DMX: storage or indoor storage warehouses, hospitals, metal product fabrication and general retail over 50,000 square feet.
“This is better than nothing,” he said. “This alternative really just avoids a few things that we really wouldn’t want. The (overlay option) is trying to create downtown to be more of what we want, and you can try to do something in-between. You can try to take that overlay as well and pare out a bunch of uses that you’re not comfortable with.”
Storage was one use most of the board agreed would not advance the town’s vision for downtown.
Town Manager Teresa Piner said the affordable cost of many downtown buildings make them a feasible option for someone to use for storage.
“The bigger you make (the overlay district), obviously the harder it is to regulate anything,” Commissioner Jason Joyner said. “If we’re trying to take out storage, let’s just say we don’t want storage. ... Let’s focus on what we know is downtown and say what we don’t want, and let’s try not to, like (Commissioner) David (Myrick) said, go squirrel hunting with a cannon.”
Myrick asked why not move the proposed northern boundary of the overlay district from Wendell Boulevard down to Fourth Street. Commissioner Ben Carroll said he liked that idea, but Mayor Ginna Gray said the downtown district, to her, starts at Wendell Boulevard.
“I’m not trying to exclude anybody, just in my mind right there at Fourth Street is kind of where downtown starts with the storefronts and everything,” Myrick said.
Bergmark said staff proposed that to a previous Town Board, which had concerns that it appeared such a change was being tailored with special interest for Universal Chevrolet. Moving the boundary to Fourth Street would leave Universal off the overlay map.
Both options Bergmark presented included rules that vehicle sales uses cannot occupy more than 16 percent of the DMX district and must include at least 3,000 square feet of interior showroom space.
“We don’t want to negatively impact one of our biggest downtown businesses,” Bergmark said. “The way it’s written should not negatively impact Universal. It just means that you’re not going to get another car dealership come in unless it is a significant investment.”
But Joyner said if the boundary is at Fourth Street, the board will find itself back in the same situation that prompted that idea to fail the first time, “because people felt like somebody was being excluded.”
“If you leave it like it is, then you put in 16 percent and a 3,000-square-foot room, then that’s a carveout and you’re making a special exception to try and protect one business,” Joyner said. “If you’re trying to get rid of storage, draw the line line where you want to and say ‘storage.’”