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Planning commission questions need for storefront protection zone

Written by Vicky Taylor, Public Opinion Online | Mar 5, 2016 10:00 AM
chambersburg borough hall.jpg (600x340)

(Chambersburg) -- The non-profit group representing Chambersburg's downtown business owners and merchants brought their idea of a storefront protection zone to the borough's Planning and Zoning Commission again Tuesday, but commission members had several issues they wanted clarified before considering the proposal.

Sam Thrush and Alex Rohrbaugh, two volunteers who developed the downtown storefront protection zone concept for Downtown Chambersburg Inc., proposed a Storefront Protection Zone that would encompass Main Street from Falling Spring Creek to Washington Street and Lincoln Way from Second Street on the east to the Conococheague Creek on the west.

It would also include the entire Memorial Square area in the center of town.

They defined a storefront as the area between the property line and the main facade of the building when the building is located within 25 feet of the property line. A storefront building would also include a ground floor elevation with a high percentage of transparent or glass windows to create visual interest from the adjacent public sidewalk.

Thrush said the storefront protection concept came about during discussions at DCI on how the downtown core could be improved. He described it as "downtown reinventing itself" in an attempt to revitalize that particular business district.

Downtown has taken a hit over the years as shopping centers and malls cropped up in Chambersburg and the Greater Chambersburg area, drawing business away from downtown, he said.

The target area is in Chambersburg's Central Core zoning district.

Thrush and Rohrbaugh said most cities don't have a central core district as large as Chambersburg's, which covers just over six square blocks in the downtown area.

They suggested uses of ground-level buildings with storefronts in the proposed zone be limited to things such as retail businesses, restaurants, drinking places, art galleries, audios and photography studios, fitness and recreation establishments, personal care shops, banks, visitor welcome centers, museums and, under certain conditions, churches.

The downtown area already has some of those businesses.

The limitations would not apply to the upper floor of a business, or to parts of the main floor of the building that had side or back entrances.

Commission members had many questions, and at least one member expressed concerns that limiting uses for downtown businesses would limit how landlords could use their properties.

"Would we be saying to landlords 'if you can't find a tenant with a business on this list, you can't rent (your property)?" asked Mark Miller, a commission member who owns a downtown gift shop, Gypsie.

Miller said all of the uses on DCI's list would be "great additions" to the downtown area, but he questioned the demand for many of those types of stores downtown.

Thrush and Rohrbaugh said the idea of a storefront protection zone was inspired by the way larger cities, such as Seattle and San Francisco, revitalized their downtown areas.

Miller questioned the relevance of comparing downtown Chambersburg to such cities.

The problem in Chambersburg, he said, is that there is not a demand here for "higher and greater" use like that of the two cities mentioned by Thrush and Rohrbaugh. The pair had also talked about other larger cities closer to home, such as Hagerstown, Maryland.

"Those cities don't have the development problems we have here," Miller said.

Thrush said the discussion -- the third time in as many months DCI has approached the commission with the idea of a Storefront Protection Zone -- was preliminary. In the final analysis, it would be up to the commission to decide it the idea is worthwhile and if so, send a recommendation on to borough council.

DCI will provide a final report to the commission next month.

If a storefront protection zone were to happen, it would require a change to the borough's zoning ordinance, which would require a public hearing before the changes could be adopted.

Vicky Taylor, 717-26204754

This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between Public Opinion Online and WITF. 

Published in Adams County, News

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