Sunday, August 12, 2007

Zone defense: The lowdown on mixed zoning and downtown living

(Today's post comes from Generalissimo)

An eco-conscious college professor happily moves into a Cleveland downtown apartment from the suburbs. He’s thrilled that he won’t have to drive to work and many favorite attractions are within walking distance. The newly leased luxury apartment meets his needs, for he’s meticulously asked all the right questions and heard the right answers. Well, that is until 4 a.m. rolls around and there’s jackhammering outside his window. This goes on not for a day or a week but for more than two months. Putting it nicely, he hits a breaking point.

Come one more noisy 4 a.m., he loses it and telephones his councilman, who happens to pick up. How can this be, he screams at his councilman, sticking the phone out the window to let him have a sampling of it. The official answers tepidly, that the area has mixed purpose zoning. And, well, the construction in the street is considered commercial so that the hours are not as restrictive as in a residential zone. Furthermore, the city has plans to replace several water pipes, which is anticipated to take two years. The echo and reverberation of heavy construction equipment will certainly reach the professor’s apartment for many, many months. (Not so funny, but in the middle of metal rapidly breaking up asphalt, one could hear a pin drop.)

The moral of the story is to remember to ask about zoning ordinances in before renting that luxury apartment or buying that dream condo. Don’t trust the leasing agent, instead call city hall. Agents and realtors are not likely to tell you about such things. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they don’t know themselves. Securing knowledge is priceless. Ask about noise ordinances, construction ordinances, and pending city projects. These factors could be deal breakers.

Generally speaking commingling businesses and residences makes for good urban policy. The theory being that close proximity stimulates an active local marketplace. Having convenience at one’s doorstep is simply wonderful. There is an intangible quality of being able to walk to a coffeehouse or restaurant. Nothing compares to it, especially for those of us stuck in cars, buses, trains or planes most of the week. We get the chance to socialize, walk around and spend time outside. And jackhammering at 4 a..m.., well there’s nothing like that either.


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