Proposed changes could “tie the hands” of the Business Improvement District.

Sure, zoning might not be the most exciting topic out there but these changes could affect your drinking, your parking and your property values. So, it might be worth a few minutes of your time.

Ok, catch me up 

Two years ago the Zoning Update Task Force was formed with members from the Planning Commission, Borough staff and outside consultants, Thomas Oeste, Esq. and Ray Ott, and the directive to update the Borough of West Chester Zoning Code, a document that was originally drafted in 1988. Well, a lot has changed since Rain Man ruled the box office and Mr. Escalante’s “Kimo” taught us anyone could do advanced math if they just put their mind to it. In order to stay relevant during all that time the code has been amended – and amended, and amended. So part of the committee’s directive was to put like and like together, address any inconsistencies and generally just clean things up. They also compared the current code against the goals of the comprehensive plan and came up with four areas in particular where they see potential for changes to be made.  

The new simplified zoning map. Click for the original.

1. Breweries, Wineries and Distilleries are being regulated to the Industrial District. 

In order to abide by the Comprehensive plan’s directive to limit the number of bars and drinking establishments in the downtown area the proposed zoning ordinance would relocate any new breweries, wineries and/or distilleries to the Industrial District. These are entities without a liquor, hotel or eating license, instead these businesses would hold a manufacturing or limited brewery, winery or distillery licence. Broken down in terms of today’s businesses Iron Hill would not be affected but establishments like Levante, Wrong Crowd and Artillery Brewing could be. 

Before I render judgement, where exactly is the Industrial District? 

Good question. So according to the newly updated Zoning maps, the Industrial District is located in the southeast end of town between E. Union and E. Rosedale Streets and S. Adams and S. Bolmar Street.  (See ID on the map above.)

Also permitted in the Industrial District manufacturing, warehousing, and storage.

So what are the concerns?  

Concerns on this one are coming from two camps:

  1. The BID. The downtown business district feels this change could limit their ability to attract innovative craft brewers and vintners and put West Chester at a disadvantage when compared to neighboring communities such Media, Kennett Square and Phoenixville all who are experimenting with new craft beverage concepts. “The Borough could be tying our hands behind our back if we are limiting ourselves here,” BID Executive Director John O’Brien said at a recent public meeting on the Zoning Code. 
  2. Residents in Ward 2 (the southeast end of the Borough) are concerned about late night foot traffic coming from these establishments and through their neighborhoods.
  3. Craft drink loving residents across the Borough. Ok, so none of these folks actually turned up at the last public hearing but I am sure if they had been there, they would have been incensed. 

Are there any other options? 

Support on keeping this provision as is is mixed. “I’m personally in favor of allowing these uses in the town center. Our experience with those types of institutions is they are not the problem children,” Borough Council President Michael Galey said at the public meeting of craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries. He suggested these businesses could be allowed in either the Town Center or Commercial Service (CS) District on a conditional use basis, meaning if they met certain requirements as set by Borough Council. Requirements such as they have a public facing component and if they respect certain hours of operation. An entity interested in simply manufacturing would be welcomed in the Industrial District.

Mr. O’Brien of the BID also singled his support of such a change.

2. With the exception of single-family dwellings, parking specifics are being removed from the zoning code. 

Public art installation by semi-anonymous street artist Cassius King.

What? No parking requirements? This is still West Chester, right?

Yes, and no, parking requirements are not being removed. The Task Force is just suggesting they be handled differently. Instead of spelling out specifics in the Zoning Code, they want developers to conduct a parking analysis and include proposed requirements based on this data for the Borough to review. The changes are being made to simply the code and better match parking needs with parking demand. No need to require spaces that will never be utilized. 

That makes sense. Are there concerns? 

A few. One concern is this does not do enough to address the Borough’s current parking shortage. Some residents feel the current two off-street parking spots per single family dwelling (which continues as the norm in the updated code) is not adequate to address the lack of street parking. 

Others worry that this gives developers too much opportunity to “whittle down parking requirements.”  

 “It’s not a big section but I think it sets the stage on how we want to see future development fit within the historic streetscape character of the Borough.” 

 Ray Ott, AICP, West Chester Zoning Update Planning Consultant
Uniform, tree-lined streets set as the standard in the Borough.

3. Plan for pedestrian friendly streetscapes

The code is adding a new section titled “General Design Standards.” While this section is new, it takes requirements currently existing for the town center and applies them to additional districts including all neighborhood conservation districts, the commercial service district, the mixed use district and all overlay districts.

The goal is to create (uniform) pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined streets where homes and businesses smartly face the street greeting residents and passers-by. 

What is required:

  1. Buildings must be oriented toward the principal street address. That means no facing the alley unless it is a second building on the property or there is no other street to orient to, then these buildings may face the alleyway.  
  2. You’ll need to mind your setbacks. According to the new code, “Front yard is a required dimension based on existing setbacks unless otherwise specified.”   
  3. No parking in the front of the property. This goes for businesses as well as residences. Those with alley access and those without.
  4. Sidewalks and street trees. Under the new zoning code both sidewalks and street trees will be required of all new construction, residential and commercial, in these zoning districts. 

What are the concerns?

Not a lot of concern here except the proposed code treats all establishments equally. It was raised in the recent public hearing that maybe there are some entities you’d prefer to have set back? Locations like strip clubs or sex shops both which are zoned for the Commercial Services district, or the areas on Hannum Avenue and East Gay Street that welcome visitors to the Borough. 

What are the proposed changes?

There are no proposed changes to address this at this time.  

4. Changes to how minimum lot size is calculated 

To simplify things the Task Force has proposed changing from a set required minimum lot size to a minimum lot size based on the median lot size on the block on which the property is located. 

Ok, so what exactly does that mean? 

New calculations shift subdividable parcels from the NC-1 district to the NC-2 district.

It means your ability to subdivide your property will depend a lot on which neighborhood you are in. The original Zoning Code had seven density subcategories, three in the Neighborhood Conservation District -1 (NC-1) (A, B, and C) and four in the Neighborhood Conservation District-2 (NC-2)  (A, B, C and D). The new code just has two, one for the NC-1 district and one for the NC-2 district. 

While the number of total subdivable parcels will increase from 202 to 248 under the new code. There are big differences in where those subdivisions can occur. Under the new calculations the number of subdividable parcels in NC-1 is reduced from 36 to 13 while, that number increases from 166 to 235 in the NC-2 district. 

What are the concerns?

The new calculations would cause some owners to lose their ability to subdivide their property while others would gain it. These changes could negatively or positively affect the property value depending on which side your property lands. An update that, as one resident pointed out, will effectively declare winners and losers in the zoning game. 

What’s next?

TBD. There is another public hearing scheduled for this week (Thursday, March 25, 5:30 p.m). I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these issues are revisited. The brewery requirement in particular seemed to have support from several members of Borough Council to consider alternative ideas. On the rest we’ll just have to wait and see.

If you would like to learn more or have concerns about any of the proposed changes, Thursday will likely be your last chance to have a say. You can find the webex information on the homepage of the Borough website. The complete updated zoning code here.

Can’t get enough ordinances? I’ve broken down the latest Tree and Trash requirements for you as well. You’re welcome.

New to the blog? Follow along for the latest from West Chester.

One thought on “4 Things You Should Know About the Proposed West Chester Zoning Code

  1. “…they want developers to conduct a parking analysis and include proposed requirements based on this data…” We see this in action every time Toll Brothers wants a big development: they hire their own experts who–what a surprise–say the development presents no parking or traffic problem and, of course, no burden on the school system, no water runoff problem, no construction noise, no air and water pollution… And then the municipality is on the defensive. Much better to have clear rules!

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