Thursday, November 21, 2019

Rezoning projected to help Columbia's commercial tax base

Columbia is in desperate need of commercial tax base. That's according to Zoning & Planning Officer Jeff Helm and is the apparent reason for the borough's rezoning push. Helm made the remark at Tuesday night's Planning Commission meeting in response to a question by Councillor-Elect Sharon Lintner. Lintner had asked why rezoning was necessary.

In-home businesses and assessments 
Rezoning will not affect the tax assessment of residential properties unless an in-house business is added, Helm said. Some types of "invisible" businesses (for example, internet-based) are already permitted in-house under current ordinance.

Commission member Justin Evans said properties will be assessed according to use. "If you turn it into commercial space, the value of a thousand square feet of commercial space is going to be significantly higher," Evans said. Helm added that spot assessments could be triggered when permits are sent to the county office and there is a significant change in a property.

Lintner asked if neighbors will have a say if a resident opens an in-home business in a newly rezoned area. "Will the neighbors have an opportunity to say anything about that or will it just be automatically allowed? Could they object to what is going on in there or would they even have the opportunity to know what is going on in there?" she asked. Helm replied, "Presently we have no control over the downtown commercial district in terms of retail type uses."

Councillor-Elect Heather Zink said it was her understanding that an in-home business would be allowed unless it did not meet the zoning map and the current text of the downtown commercial zoning. She noted that residents wouldn't necessarily know and wouldn't have a say in what businesses are operating in their neighborhood. "If it meets those criteria, there would be no need for a hearing or a variance," she said.

Helm said such issues need to be examined and modifications made where necessary. "We need to look at some of those issues and we plan to do that," he said. "We understand that there will be some impacts, but we're hoping that we can modify those impacts based on text amendments and tabular use amendments in those areas."

Helm admitted that parking could become an issue in rezoned areas. He said the borough is looking through residential areas right now for parking possibilities for properties that may be affected by rezoning to downtown commercial. Backyards and off-street parking areas that are currently unused or under-used could be included to reduce parking problems. Parking hours of use could be regulated, he said. "Those are the kinds of things that could be added to the text amendments to the zoning so that there would be hours of operation that might allow a nice mix of in-and-out."

More to be done
Planning Chairperson Mary Wickenheiser added that there's a lot to be done yet. "The map is just the start," she said. If rezoning is approved, the language of individual ordinances will undergo changes necessary to reflect what will and won't be permitted in a particular zoned area. Wickenheiser said there are more zoning changes coming that would change the wording, which in turn, would determine whether a certain business is permitted or if a special exception is needed. Helm added, "There are some business possibilities with residential properties right now. This would allow some expansion of that for families that wanted to make a little extra money."

Lintner asked "And you don't see the change lowering anyone's property value?" She noted that an owner might want to sell in the future, but property values could be affected due to an undesirable business next door. Helm said "I think we'll have to wait and see what kind of businesses and what kind of definitions we can put together to actually make those types of opportunities assets, as opposed to negative neighborhood liabilities."

More varied uses
Helm said rezoning could allow some businesses more varied uses. "One of the reasons is that we need - we are desperate for - commercial tax base in this town. So, this will pull in some areas that have buildings that presently have very restrictive commercial uses." As an example, Helm cited riverfront commercial areas at Second and Chestnut that do not allow significantly broad and varied business uses. In addition, those areas are not close to the river and are closer to the downtown commercial area. Helm said that for those reasons and the fact that they are along the western gateway into town and a state road, that, "It makes sense that we capture those properties and make them more varied in terms of their uses."

Helm concluded, " If we just think about the negatives that this potential downtown moving to other areas would cause I think we miss the opportunities to grow this community in a way that makes it more desirable for young professionals to move into."

More information on the proposed rezoning is posted on the Columbia Borough website HERE. (Scroll down.)

Wickenheiser said that Helm, Borough Manager Rebecca Denlinger, and she plan to attend the November 25 meeting of the Lancaster County Planning Commission, where the matter will be discussed further.


Radical rag said...

Im against the 400 block of cherry street cause to me that would mean the church that already thinks they own the block,would have more power, and they ruin the parking all over this street, so its a bad idea for 400 block of cherry

Columbia Homeowner said...

It’s a bad thing all around. Commercial means higher taxes and with that means taking property via eminent domain. Which means lawsuits and less residents. We already have issues with parking especially on North 2nd where all the renters from Walnut street come and park on Our street. Taking up our parking when we are already limited due to garages and Peerless Hardware and obviously the bridge. Maybe the slumlords need to be checked and whipped into shape for illegal practices and renting out homes to a million people who have 10 cars per one home. Regulate them. And those who have in home businesses wouldn’t tell the borough they had it due to way over priced taxes for being in business. Not worth it. PUT YOUR RESIDENTS FIRST PREFERABLY YOUR HOME OWNERS.