Zoning is a powerful tool for cities. It shapes development and establishes priorities for how land is used. It can subtly shift social patterns that lead to a better life. But, left to languish, it can have the opposite effect. And that's why zoning needs to be updated-as the City of Cleveland Heights did this week-to reflect the values of its community.
In Cleveland Heights' case, a progressive citizenry wanted to ease up on strict separation of residential and commercial uses that define many suburbs. They also wanted more environmental, social and equitable transactions.
And so Cleveland Heights will allow lawns to be plowed under for food gardens, downspouts to be disconnected from the sewer system and rain barrels or rain gardens put in to conserve water. And it joins the city of Cleveland as the second city in the region to allow (up to four) chickens raised for eggs. It also allows farmers markets, greenhouses (no larger than 400 sq. ft.), live/work spaces and renewable energy systems in commercial districts. It clears the way for shared renewable systems like district geothermal and solar.
The city recognizes that many people get to and from places that are less than 2 miles away, trips that can easily be done on a bike…if there's a convenient place to park. And so it now requires bike parking and shower facilities for new and renovated commercial spaces larger than 25,000 sq ft.
It establishes standards for multi-family housing above storefronts with two mixed-use district categories. The goal is "to offer incentives for creative high density commercial, residential and mixed-use development projects in areas that have special characteristics or special redevelopment opportunities as designated in the City's Strategic Development Plan." Buildings can rise to three or four stories (65 feet) at a density of fifty-eight (58) dwelling units per acre. It's enough density to promote vibrant, well-connected (by transit) places. The city also restricts building set backs from the street, and doesn't allow parking lots in front of corner buildings.
The city is also sending a signal that it's less interested in big box 'power centers' by revising minimum parking requirements that often lead to oversized parking lots. It's a move designed to promote more walkable, vibrant centers and less auto-dominated places.
Perhaps more cities will be inspired by Cleveland Heights' example-they will keep their zoning but make it more relevant and responsive to how people live today. Just as we recognize there's strength in diversity, zoning doesn't have to be a one-size-fits all solution.