Publisher's note: The author of this post is Julie Tisdale, who is City and County Policy Analyst for the John Locke Foundation.
Wilmington's Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on changes to the city's zoning ordinances on January 29th. The proposed changes should be welcomed.
They also reveal one of the major problems with zoning.
The planning commission will be voting on 11 individual changes, and they're mostly minor amendments to details of the existing code.
- One would allow small shops to locate in areas currently zoned only for offices and industrial operations. This absolutely makes sense if you want it to be easier for people to walk from work to lunch and back again, as is the current trend.
- One would change a section of code that "has the unintended consequence of de-incentivizing parking decks in favor of less desirable surface parking."
- Another would increase height restrictions on buildings, but only if a special permit is issued.
And so it goes. This is the problem with zoning. Our cities look different than they did 30 years ago. They even look different than they did five years ago. New employers come into town and change commuting patterns. Or a business that's been around for decades closes up leaving land that would be perfect for new housing. Or Uber emerges and changes the way people think about getting from one place to another.
None of that is predictable and so, with the best will in the world, planners can't anticipate what the needs and desires of a community will be a year or two or ten from now.
I commend Wilmington and any city that updates its code to make planning and zoning better meet the needs of the local community. But maybe we should consider the restrictions we put in place to begin with. The fewer zoning restrictions cities have in place, and the lighter the touch of those that are used, the less city councils will have to make these sorts of amendments, the fewer unintended consequences will arise, and the more creatively property owners will be able to use their property.