August 28, 2010

Why would you want to ban the corner grocery?

The closer I look at Dryden zoning - both the existing zoning and the proposed zoning - the more I wonder about the value of zoning. I recognize that it's a compromise, meant to keep people with no interest in their neighbors from wrecking the place, but sometimes...

I've gone to Brookton's Market a few times lately in the morning with Sungiva. It's kind of out of my way (7 miles), but I needed to take pictures in the area, and any time I'm in Brooktondale and they're open, I stop.

Brookton's Market.
Brookton's Market.

It's not your average convenience store - for one thing it has produce. It has a comfortable place to sit in the front, complete with child-size chairs that Sungiva loves and children's books she explores. They combine a small grocery store with a deli, desserts, and coffee shop, creating something very comfortable that I'd love to see in my neighborhood.

Seating at Brookton's Market, Brooktondale.
Seating at Brookton's Market, Brooktondale.

The main complaint I've heard about the place is that it's expensive. I suspect that's true compared to Wegmans or Aldi, but if I compare it with its typical gas station peers you get either more or better for your money. (Yes, I drink gas station coffee nearly every day.) It's strange how a space that invites you to stay awhile can have an effect, especially if that space isn't all formica or plastic, and the impact of seeing produce in a universe typically filled with processed food is huge.

Looking into Brookton's Market.
Looking into Brookton's Market.

So great, this is a very nice model, and you certainly could build it where Dryden's convenience stores are now. We're not banning anything in Caroline with Dryden zoning, right? So what's the problem?

A place like this would be great in Ellis Hollow, maybe near the Ellis Hollow/Ellis Hollow Creek intersection, which has lots of subdivisions to its east. That intersection is 4 miles to the convenience store in Slaterville Springs, 4.3 miles to P&C in East Hill Plaza, 5.4 miles driving to Brookton's Market, and 5.5 miles to Ludgate Farms over on Hanshaw. The neighborhood certainly could support the slightly higher price of the food, and avoiding five mile trips is generally a good thing. When gas prices are high, a local source of food would be an even better thing.

Nope. Not allowed, period. From about Stevenson Road south and almost to Hollister Road east (except on German Cross), the southwest corner of Dryden is currently zoned R-B, the most restrictive zoning in the Town. It's slated to be zoned RR, Rural Residential, the most restrictive zoning available, or CV, conservation, which still doesn't allow retail. The list of allowed uses for R-B is short enough that I don't mind typing it:

Section 701. Allowed Uses.

  1. One family, two-family dwellings

  2. Farming, farm buildings, gardening, nurseries, greenhouses and the raising of livestock and poultry.

  3. Existing farms; roadside stands for the sale and display of farm products provided that any such stand shall be at least 50 feet from the road center line. (See Section 1502.3).

  4. Educational buildings, churches, community buildings, and other semi-public structures.

  5. Private garages.

  6. Home occupation of a professional or service nature when such activity is located entirely upon a residential lot and operated by the person living in said residence (see Section 1502.5)

That's all that's allowed - except that by special permit you may be able to have "not more than two employees" for a home occupation. "Professional or service nature" means that you're not selling objects. The new zoning is barring "Retail Business - Any establishment selling goods to the general public for personal and household consumption."

I understand that Ellis Hollow might not be seeking convenience stores, and that it's difficult to write zoning that allows certain kinds of stores while prohibiting others. Still, it seems odd at best that Ellis Hollow residents are forbidden short trips to buy food.

(Yes, it is possible to request a change in law when a specific project becomes a possibility, but it is much more involved than requesting a variance or even a special use permit.)

The only real bright side I can see is that maybe this would encourage someone to build such a thing in Varna, where it's likely to be allowed however the zoning turns out. That would be good for me, but not really the right answer.

Posted by simon at August 28, 2010 7:47 PM in , ,
Note on photos


KAZ said:

I think you've hit on something important--the place where zoning intersects personal taste. When our friend in OH builds a development, he has the right to demand certain materials, colors of paint, even allowable plantings or roof pitches. People moving in sign a contract that requires their adherence to the rules. We might love to have a Brookton's Market nearby while cringing at the notion of another QuikMart, but can we arbitrate that distinction through laws? Obviously, some places do (e.g., Nantucket or other, similarly quaint New England communities). But it's hard to pretend that it isn't both exclusionist and classist.