Tag Archives: Zoning

Gaming the Economic Development System

Once again, it appears that “build it and celebrate it” no matter the past sins (or future consequences) reigns supreme among economic developers. While hyping an announcement of more jobs and new construction in Greater Lansing, the fact that the insurance company in question challenged its property taxes using the “functionally obsolete building” scheme in 2010 was conveniently overlooked (see article in City Pulse).

Source: freep.com

If you are not familiar with the “functionally obsolete” tax game that is being employed most often by big box retailers, the claim that is made is their building is “functionally obsolete”  because it was specifically designed and built for their purpose and no other entity could possible adapt it. Needless to say, the whole argument is rather sketchy, but unfortunately, state tax tribunals have been swallowing it hook, line, and sinker. This argument might be plausible or reasonable if the structure was 20+ years old, but it is also being made for newly/recently constructed buildings. The story in the May 8, 2013 edition of City Pulse is an example of the same scheme being used for an office building. Exactly how hard is it to move cubicles, desks, and partitions?

The professional planning community needs to address this issue and fast. If a building is to become so dysfunctional (or functionally obsolete) so quickly, should it be approving for construction in the first place? And if it means the local property taxes are going to soon take a backhanded hit in the process, even more reason to deny the project unless the applicant certifies the building will be erected In an manner that is not dysfunctional (a.k.a. functionally obsolete).

Most special use (or conditional use) permit approvals require a community to determine whether the use “will not be detrimental to the economic welfare of neighboring properties or the surrounding community.” If the proposed building is to become “functionally obsolete” within ten years, no realistic or reasonable decision maker should approve its construction. Otherwise, all they are doing is losing badly at a zero sum game.

– Rick Brown

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Live RB2AB: Zoning for the Arts

The Director of Cleveland’s City Planning Commission and a private developer tackled zoning issues in artists housing today at the second annual Rust Belt to Artist Belt conference being held in Cleveland through Friday.

The city of Cleveland updated its comprehensive plan a few years ago to include special live-work space overlays that allow artists to make their homes in areas zoned for light commercial activity. Arts promotion of this type is considered to be important to the local economy because Cleveland has a surplus of industrial space that is well-suited to conversion for artists. Furthermore, the arts have played an important role in revitalizing a number of Cleveland neighborhoods.

Arts and cultural attractions have been used to help revitalize The Detroit Shoreway, Little Italy, Tremont, Collinwood, and the Superior Arts District. In many of these neighborhoods the city has supported community-based revitalization efforts by providing money for a streetscape project.

Artists lofts are particularly plentiful in the Superior Arts District, where warehouse space is widely available. Tower Press, The Arts and Crafts Building, Loftworks and The Tyler Building are all artist live and/or workspace concentrated int his area.

According to Cleveland Planning Director Robert Brown, the best places for live-work space are places that have classic architecture, large windows and are in a “cool place.”

“You have to have an inventory for buildings,” Brown said. “One thing we’ve got int Cleveland and we’re happy to have is a great inventory of buildings.”

Under the live-work zoning, all parking and yard requirements are eliminated. At least 50% of the space must be dedicated to workspace. Although traditional residential zoning will allow home-based work, it does not allow the resident to sell items out of the home. Live-work spaces are designed for the creative entrepreneur.

Sometimes there is tension between the artists and industrial tenants, Brown said. “The people moving in have to acknowledge that you’re not going to have the same degree of quiet that you have in the suburbs.”

But the question of whether a building will be reserved for industrial or residential space, is generally left to the market, he said.

Private developer Cliff Hershman, owner of The Loftworks Building, on East 4oth and Payne Avenue in Cleveland, presented about his experience rehabbing a historic warehouse for artist studios and homes.

Live-work space for artists at Loftworks

Live-work space for artists at Loftworks

Hershman bought his 1906 building, a former electrical car factory, hired an architect and performed a large-scale renovation. Today the building houses a ceramic artist, a jeweler, a tattoo artist as well as non-art uses like an adpotion agency and a accounting firm.

Unfortunately, Cleveland’s building code has not evolved at the same pace as the zoning code, and a performing a renovation requires a a great deal of back-and-forth with the city’s building department.

The process, he said, got him thinking about what it means to be an artist.

“It’s not just and artist-artist,” he said. “It’s people that have a sensibility, that want to be an urban pioneer, that want to be part of a community. It’s great to have a mixture.”

The rehabilitation process is also delicate, according to architect Brian Fabo of Fabo Enterprises, Inc.

“There was a lot of balance between respecting the client’s need and respecting the classic architecture,” he said. “As much as people want to come in and redo space, once you take it out, it’s gone.”

home_1Looks pretty good to me.

More from the the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture‘s RB2AB conference tomorrow…



Filed under architecture, Art, Economic Development, Headline, Urban Planning