Anyway, I have been concerned about the prevalence of chains in our community, and would like to see a greater local entrepreneur presence. This yearning brings to mind two questions: Do entrepenuers want to do business in Columbia/Howard County? And, How can we facilitate local business people?
I believe the answer to first question is unequivocally, YES. Local business people have quite a bit of success here in Columbia. From Mrs. Z’s to JK’s Pub and on through Jessie Wongs, Hickory Grille, Frisco Grille and Cantina, and Sushi Sono (owned by a fellow Running Brook resident, YAY!).
But how to foster this spirit. A few months ago, I discussed the work being done in Clarendon, VA. One aspect of the development in Clarendon was the local governments effort to keep local businesses in play. The solution reached in Clarendon was to allow developers a couple of more floors in exchange for leasing to local businesses on the ground floor. I am unsure if this could work in Columbia, given the current round of alto-flu going around, but I have hope that we will all recover. In my opinion, forty feet of height is not a bad trade-off for local flavor. I also believe the opposite case, forty less feet of building and more TGI Tuesday-bees is a recipe for blah, blah, blah.
Going beyond the Clarendon model, I have found another idea that may be appealing to my fellow Howard County Zoning Wonks out there (isn’t it time we had a name to rally around?). A recent post on the Cool Town Studios blog “How can I keep chains out of my neighborhood?” recalls a movement to limit chains through zoning mechanisms. (In a quick aside, please check out the Cool Town Studios environment. There are lots of great articles on beta communities, triple bottom lines, cool towns, the creative class, and many other topics. It is truly a great, innovative place.) The zoning is known as Formula Business Restrictions.
There is also a link to the following website:
This website contains many examples of local communities that have employed Formula Business Restrictions. The City of Coronado, CA is a representative example.
This city of 24,000 in southern California has two zoning ordinances that limit formula businesses. A formula business is one that is required by contractual or other arrangement to maintain a standardized array of services or merchandise, and standardized architecture, uniforms, logos, decor, etc.
The Formula Restaurant Ordinance provides that the city shall allow no more than 10 formula restaurants. New formula restaurants must obtain a special use permit, may not locate on a corner, and must meet design standards.
In December 2000, Coronado adopted a Formula Retail Ordinance. The ordinance notes that the unregulated proliferation of formula retail stores would frustrate the city's goal of maintaining a unique and diverse retail base, and limit opportunities for small, local retailers. The ordinance requires that formula retail businesses obtain a special use permit from the city. Approval hinges on demonstrating that the store will contribute to an appropriate balance of local, regional, or national-based businesses and an appropriate balance of small, medium, and large-sized businesses. Formula businesses must be compatible with surrounding uses and occupy no more than 50 linear feet of street frontage.
A group of property owners challenged Coronado's formula retail ordinance shortly after it was enacted, but a California Appeals Court upheld the law in June 2003. In its decision, the court stated that the ordinance does not violate the US Constitution's commerce and equal protection clauses, and is a valid use of municipal authority under California state law.
Now, I am not advocating that Howard County just use the Coronado, CA ordinance verbatim. We should have a discussion, and find our own level of comfort when balancing small, medium, and large retailers and trying to find the right mix of local, regional, and national chains. In fact, if done right, this type of ordinance may help direct businesses toward our village centers.