A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Zoning: The fix falls short

Written March 8th, 2014 by Hasso Hering
"Vibrant and pedestrian friendly"? It doesn't seem likely on a rainy day.

“Vibrant and pedestrian friendly”? It doesn’t seem likely on a rainy day.

About two years ago Albany Mayor Sharon Konopa had the great idea to form a task force that would comb through the city development code and recommend changes to make it easier to open or run a business. On Wednesday the city council will hold a hearing on the result, a list of revisions so long and detailed that it requires a 140-page staff report to explain them.. So much for good intentions.

The recommended changes do indeed relax a number of zoning and sign regulations, but in most cases they also establish procedures and safeguards to make sure the changes don’t go too far or lead to conflicts. What they don’t do is reduce paperwork or simplify the development code in any sweeping way.

They don’t for example, reduce the bewildering number of zoning districts in favor of more general safeguards to keep conflicting uses somewhat apart. But why even keep them apart if there’s no likely conflict? If somebody wants to live in an apartment above his workshop or store, why not? If somebody wants to manufacture widgets in an unused portion of a supermarket, who cares? Why should apartments be in a different part of town from houses? If we just had laws against bothering your neighbors with noise, smoke or trash or by taking away their sunlight, wouldn’t that be enough?

It would not be enough for the governing class, which wants to control how things develop. Consider what the development code says about the zone called “waterfront district”: “The WF district is intended to transition Albany’s Willamette River waterfront into a vibrant center characterized by a variety of housing choices and a mixture of housing, office, and retail uses. Development and design standards will result in great neighborhoods, a pedestrian friendly environment and an enhanced community image.”

No room in that description for what actually has kept the riverfront moderately alive if not “vibrant”: a lumberyard, an old brewery and a new one, a couple of small manufacturers and a hardware outlet for the construction trade, none of which would survive by depending on pedestrians. The zone is unrealistic, to say the least.

Equally utopian is the so-called “Main Street District,” which the council has just used to justify its rejection of a new kind of business, a bottle and can redemption center. The code says the district “is intended primarily as an employment center with supporting commercial and retail services for residents and employees in the area. Retail, restaurant or night uses that impact surrounding residences are discouraged.” (“Primarily”? The city staff thought that meant exclusively.)

And retail services relying mainly on people living and working nearby are doomed in today’s economy. The zoning no longer works, if it ever did. It should be abolished. The plan that emerged from the business-ready task force doesn’t do that, and because of that it falls short. (hh)

4 responses to “Zoning: The fix falls short”

  1. Ray Kopczynski says:

    While your commentary may have some merit, do remember the task force was formed with a limited set of goals and definitely not to be a comprehensive remake of the zoning code[s], etc. Stakeholders took much time to come up with the makeover as will be finalized Wed. evening. That is all good. And if it doesn’t do everything you wish, well, that was what they were charged to do. Heavy-duty changes can still be done, but would/will be a considerably more massive undertaking. (Think of all the “process” to sign off on all of the State land use goals a few years ago…)

  2. Jim Clausen says:

    Both of your examples show the intent of the present regime. They want the law so vague that it can mean whatever they want it to mean. This is typical of the progressive thinking that has a stranglehold on our community. This is typical of how they maintain control over the populace, rewarding who they want to reward and throwing to the dust heap those who disagree.

    “The WF district is intended…” What does that mean!? If their “intention” changes, does this mean they just willy nilly change what they’re doing? “…an enhanced community image” Who decides what a “community image” is? The city council or the people living in it? Are they trying to manufacture what we are to become? Are they steering our decisions and way of life? This is government managing its populace through manipulation and intimidation.

    What we have here is a concerted effort by Sharon and Sharon’s “task force” to make the law so vague it can mean anything they want it to mean. This is NOT by mistake, this is a deliberate attempt to make the law mean whatever they want. This is socialism at its worst…

    • tom cordier says:

      The political class indeed. The overly regulated/defined Development code does nothing but provide an excuse for hiring people who want to manage every aspect of business. Those employed to manage everything act in ways to justify more regulations. The Council itself must step into this arena to strip away the layers of bureaucracy fostered by the employed bureaucrats. Come on Council don’t delegate this–correct the situation.

  3. Bill Kapaun says:

    Remember when “Task Force” actually meant something, like we sent a naval task force to crush the Japanese fleet?
    Now they are just meaningless words to describe another COMMITTEE.


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