Shaping Jamestown’s Future through Zoning Reform

by | Feb 5, 2015 | Renaissance Reflections

 

Buffalo Greencode1

Form diagram of a residential district (N-3R) from Buffalo’s draft Unified Development Ordinance, an example of a form-based zoning code.

Huge shadows cast by a growing forest of skyscrapers. Overcrowded tenements next to smoke-belching factories. Garment sweatshops encroaching on the mansions of millionaires.

These and other pressures led to the adoption of America’s first citywide zoning ordinance 99 years ago in New York City. It was a revolutionary and controversial effort to control the nature of change in a city evolving at blistering speeds.

This experiment in controlling land use and development was mostly successful, creating a more predictable and orderly city. Interest groups as diverse as housing reformers, public health advocates, bankers, insurance companies, and real estate developers broadly agreed on the benefits of New York’s zoning code within a few years of its passage, including the separation of incompatible uses and the tapering of tall buildings – producing the distinctive silhouette of Art Deco skyscrapers.

Hundreds of other cities soon followed suit, spurred in part by advocacy from Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, a Stanford-trained engineer who saw zoning as a way to promote business through the protection of real estate assets.

Jamestown’s first zoning ordinance was passed in 1922. Simple in scope, it divided the city into two classes of district: business and residence. The following year, it was revised into three classes: residential, mercantile, and factory.

Amendments in 1955, 1969, and 1998 produced what we have today, with 11 zones that make distinctions between single-family, two-family, and multi-family housing, and several classes of commercial and industrial land uses.

As in most communities that were well established when zoning was introduced, Jamestown’s zoning ordinance had a limited impact at first. Because zoning districts largely reflected existing land use patterns, the ordinance had the effect of freezing those patterns in place. Uses that were incompatible to newly drawn districts were simply grandfathered to allow a fair transition to a new use at some point in the near or distant future.

The areas most influenced by the zoning ordinance were on the city’s periphery. Development there followed the use, setback, parking, and other regulations that were being incorporated into zoning codes throughout the U.S. These regulations, over time, led to the homogenous, car-oriented development patterns that shaped most of the country after the 1940s. Think of the difference between downtown Jamestown and today’s Brooklyn Square – an area largely developed in the 1970s – and you get an instant sense of how development has been shaped by zoning.

Many city planners now agree that conventional zoning codes are flawed. By strictly separating land uses, instituting minimum parking standards that often lead to acres of unnecessary pavement, and a number of other formulaic and often arbitrary restrictions, traditional zoning has become a barrier to redevelopment and a hindrance to the creation of healthy and vibrant communities. Places shaped by modern zoning tend to be ugly, uninspiring, and difficult to navigate without a personal vehicle.

In Jamestown or any city, flexibility is important. As markets and economies change, a city should be able to accommodate changes in how people live, work, shop, and move around. By keeping development patterns and land uses frozen, and by enforcing an urban form that ignores the human scale, traditional zoning has produced cities that resist change and opportunity.

Prohibiting a slaughterhouse from opening next to a house makes sense. Segregating all uses from each other, making it nearly impossible to live without a car, and hindering the reuse of buildings and land doesn’t make sense.

In his recent State of the City address, Mayor Sam Teresi called for a long overdue update of the city’s zoning ordinance. He’s right. As boring and inconsequential as zoning may seem, it has a huge influence on the future shape and function of every block and neighborhood.

Many cities are undertaking zoning reforms today, and many are looking in the direction of form-based codes. These are zoning and development codes that place less emphasis on how buildings and parcels are used and more emphasis on physical form and how a building fits in with its neighbors. The outcome of this approach – cities that are more beautiful and functional – is a step in the right direction.

It’s a step currently being followed in Buffalo, one of the largest cities in the country to develop a form-based code that incorporates goals from numerous citywide and neighborhood plans. To learn more about Buffalo’s efforts, visit www.buffalogreencode.com.

Jamestown has already shown an ability to adapt its zoning code in recent years through recognition of community gardening as a legitimate primary use of vacant lots – bringing flexibility to the reuse of land. By following the examples of communities now instituting form-based codes, it can go much further toward producing a place that is adaptive well into the future.

–Peter Lombardi

This post originally appeared in The Post-Journal on February 2, 2015, as the JRC’s biweekly Renaissance Reflections feature.

 

Recent Posts

2024 Downtown Building and Business Improvement Grant Now Open!

Are you looking to adapt or improve your business?Is the downtown building you own not living up to all of its potential?The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation’s Building and Business Improvement Program(BBIP) may have the necessary resources. The program is a 50/50...

ArtScape Jamestown Opens Its 2024 Call for Artists and Sponsors

The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation is again partnering with Chautauqua Art Gallery and the City of Jamestown Parks Department to create an outdoor public art gallery in downtown Jamestown, N.Y. Artists of all ages who live in Chautauqua County or within 35 miles of Jamestown are invited to participate in this juried art competition.

Now Taking 2024 Reservations for Winter Garden Plaza

In 2023, we hosted some fantastic events at Winter Garden Plaza. For music, we hosted Third Thursday concert series and the Whirlybird Music & Arts Festival. We were also able to partner with Jamestown Pride, Jamestown Juneteenth, and the YWCA for programming in...

Hey lover of Jamestown! We need your input!

The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation is excited to be partnering with Main Street America to do some research, planning, and implementation to improve downtown Jamestown. Part of this work involves getting community input through a survey. Survey Link What is Main...

Host your event in Winter Garden Plaza

Vibrant downtowns have a range of events, big and small, that draw visitors and local residents to enjoy community assets, patronize local businesses, and add vitality to public spaces. To stimulate new and better events in downtown Jamestown, the Jamestown...

ArtScape Jamestown Opens Its Call for Artists

ArtScape Jamestown is inviting local artists to submit their work for a new public art program between now and April 7, 2023.  The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation is partnering with Chautauqua Art Gallery and the City of Jamestown Park's Department to create an...

Historic Tax Credit Workshop: February 15th via Zoom

Do you have a property in one of Jamestown's Historic Districts or looking to purchase property in one of them? This tax credit zoom workshop is for you. Earn tax credits for property improvements. Feb. 15th 6:00 p.m. Join Preservation Buffalo Niagara, the...

2023 Grants for Building and Business Owners Now Open!

Are you looking to adapt or improve your business?Is the downtown building you own not living up to all of its potential?The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation’s Building and Business Improvement Program(BBIP) may have the necessary resources. The program is a 50/50...

What kind of “winter place” should Jamestown be?

We recently hosted "Jaime the Storefront Guy" for a workshop for downtown business owners and community stakeholders. Jaime shared some wonderful insights, and the attendees had great takeaways. There was a dynamic conversation around several subjects, but one was...