Zoning changes bring supermarkets to urban areas. Should Springfield do the same?

Medina's Supermarket in the North End

Medina's Supermarket in the North End

We’ve previously blogged about how New York City is addressing the lack of fresh food in poor communities by creating a pushcart business model. Last week, the New York Times reported on a complementary approach being tried in Pennsylvania. There, the city is providing tax and other incentives for supermarkets that locate in areas where access to fresh food is lacking.

New York is working to implement a similar system of incentives, including a set of zoning incentives such as relaxed regulations for new high rises that include supermarket space. Zoning regulations are often significant barriers to investment – it’s often expensive to secure enough land for the parking spaces required by the zoning code, for example, and these kinds of additional expense may be enough to make a relatively low margin business like a supermarket an unprofitable investment. In densely populated areas where many people would walk to a supermarket, if they had one, the number of required parking spaces may be excessive.

Zoning changes are particularly useful for bringing in socially beneficial businesses because properly considered policies can lower barriers to investment but can be changed without great expense. There is a zoning ordinance modernization proposal on the table for next Monday’s city council meeting that takes some steps in the direction of greater flexibility. It might be even more beneficial, however, if more exceptions were made for fresh food suppliers in the areas of the city that currently lack them.

During a series of focus groups with North End residents, agencies, and leaders conducted by The Springfield Institute for The North End Campus Coalition over the last few weeks, residents on “the other side of I-91” seemed to consider a walkable supermarket like Medina’s their highest priority.

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2 Responses

  1. I encourage everyone to support the new zoning proposal that is being addressed at City Council. It reflects a desire expressed by residents to make Springfield more like a series or walkable urban neighborhoods.

    I will say that even the current zoning ordinance is not heavy in its parking requirements especially when compared to other similar sized communities. As a former Springfield planner, we always wanted parking maximums because developers always overbuilt parking on their own. We constantly requested them to go on “parking space diets” which were most often ignored. It is the developers who believe that parking is gold and the more the better.

    I also want to take exception to the statement that “zoning regulations are often significant barriers to investment”. Zoning was created to protect the health, safety and welfare of the communities they serve. I have found that more often poorly written zoning ordinances are an entry point for lots of poorly planned investments. If zoning is a barrier to investment- it is for the purpose of protecting quality of life. If zoning is older and has not kept pace with changes in a particular area, in Massachusetts zoning can be proposed for ammended by 10 registered voters. This has been done quite successfully in Springfield. I would also argue that neighborhoods need to work closely with city planning and economic development to create a plan for future development and create comprehensive zoning changes accordingly. This has happened in the North End and all over Springfield. The last comprehensive set of neighborhood plans in Springfield were completed in 1997. These plans led to over 400 zone changes that were neighborhood driven.

    Zoning is a catalyst for great development when it is well written and relfects a community driven development plan. Support the need for zoning and support the new ordinance.

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