With concerns about the number of empty buildings in the historic downtown area, the town’s economic development committee met Wednesday to discuss re-installing a downtown retail overlay district.
In addition to the planning board, three residents and three commissioners, Ginna Gray, Sam Laughery and Mayor Pro Tem James Parham continued a long-standing discussion on how to populate the empty buildings on Main Street and draw businesses that would generate both foot traffic and sales tax.
The downtown retail overlay district, or DROD, existed before the United Development Ordinance was installed in 2009 for the purpose of preserving a portion of the downtown commercial zoning district. The idea was to encourage retail, personal service and financial service business uses.
When the UDO was established, the DROD was dropped. But the committee is looking to draw the lines once again in a smaller area to only allow retail businesses that would draw significant numbers of visitors.
The thought behind dropping the DROD, said planning director David Bergmark in an interview, was that having “somebody is better than nobody” in hollow storefronts.
Staff and the economic development committee is now reconsidering that philosophy.
“We want to generate businesses that help each other,” Bergmark said, by keeping stores close to each other and ideally sharing customers.
The suggested district would cover property between Second Street to the south, Fourth Street to the north, Pine Street to the east, and Cypress Street to the west. This would be smaller than the old district, which reached north to Wendell Boulevard.
Bergmark said this was to protect the current businesses – such as vehicle services and churches – that might fall under the new restrictions and allow them to expand.
The planning staff is suggesting prohibiting gas stations, funeral homes, post offices, day care centers, warehouses, hospitals and vehicle services among other non-retail businesses. They also would want to prevent administrative offices, residences and community service organizations from using ground-floor space.
Under the current standards, a used car salesman could open a business in the Agave Mexican Bar and Grill parking lot, the committee discussed as an example.
Although there were not enough committee members present for a quorum, and therefore an official recommendation, the conversation leaned toward approving the changes with some concerns.
JoAnn Wright, co-owner of Kannon’s Clothing, said that she would consider the changes.
“If we could fill that, what we have now, we would be doing good,” she said.