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City aims for more walkable commercial areas

City Council’s economic revitalization committee is looking to attract commercial businesses but with a vision.

The city is ripe for development with locations in commercial districts that include areas along Washington Boulevard, and portions of Newberry, on Arch and West Fourth streets, said Gary Knarr, city zoning officer.

“A lot of businesses don’t want to have customers park to the rear of stores and walk to the front entrances,” Knarr said.

The committee, which recently met to discuss ideas for development, said design needs to include pedestrian-friendly corridors and plans.

“The majority of their client base lives within walking distance of their stores,” Councilwoman Liz Miele said, referring to a Dollar General under development at 305 Washington Blvd.

“In a number of neighborhoods we have a high pedestrian-user base and we want pedestrians to feel safe and access businesses,” Miele said.

Councilman David Banks said the city has older models for development. “For a long time it was whoever came to us ‘we were happy to have you come here.’ “

“Developers will look at the set of standards … how we want the shopping districts laid out,” Banks said. “People want to shop in areas where they can have more pedestrian access.”

But there are limits. Councilwoman Bonnie Katz said developers will flee if they find zoning in the city too onerous with too many hurdles to clear.

Skip Memmi, the newly hired director of the city Department of Economic and Community Development, said the developers need to have more input and be partners with the city in progress.

The administration has been finding any vacant lots zoned for non-conforming use. These include vacant lots that are broken up in several parcels. “You want a lot consolidation for development,” Knarr said.

Councilman Adam Yoder said the city was behind schedule a bit on updating what vision it wants. The zoning needs to align with what the community wants to be, he said.

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