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City amends commercial zoning laws

Williamsport’s zoning laws have been amended, making it easier on developers who want to bring small business into the city commercial districts.

Recent change to the zoning law by City Council targets commercial zones along Washington Boulevard and in Newberry on West Fourth Street.

“We want to bring zoning in line with what we want to see in our community,” Councilwoman Liz Miele said.

Developers are now required to:

• Provide pedestrian access from a parking area outside the business by requiring developers to build sidewalks from the lots to the entrance of the facility.

• Ensure setback of the new buildings is closer to the street facing the entrance, giving the blocks a more harmonious look to other buildings on it.

• Require any multi-level structures to have lower-floor retail space to incentivize small business development.

• Remove an extra step for builders seeking a facility with a drive-through, such as a restaurant, bank, pharmacy.

“This is all part of a broader strategy to attract bleed-over businesses that would provide business to one another if you have a more walkable environment,” Councilman David Banks, chair of the economic revitalization committee, said.

“It is also the goal of business generation,” he said. “We will keep at it.”

“More and more across the U.S. and perhaps across the world, it is becoming a bit of a game for municipalities to use their ordinances to define the sort of community that they want to be,” Miele said.

“What we are attempting to do, slow but sure, is bring our zoning ordinance in line with the sort of development that we want to see in our community,” Miele said. “That gives us the power to build a walkable, bikable and liveable community in a way other avenues don’t,” she said.

The latest updates were spurred on by “huge input we saw that from Dollar General on Washington Boulevard,” Miele said.

Miele said she is hopeful the new language will make it possible for the “laypeople to say, ‘I want to buy a building, but what do I do?’ “

Moving forward, she suggested, the committee work with the administration and planning commission on how to bundle permits, to explain in clear language zoning and incentivize small business people who can’t afford an army of lawyers to meet the requirements in city zoning code.

Council President Randall J. Allison said the work by the committee will continue.

“Anytime we can streamline and simply process for developers and builders it is a priority,” Allison said.

The amendments, he said, should make it easier for developers to go by the law and make sense for residents by improving their quality of life, he said.

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