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New zoning category may help cities plan waterfront development

By: Stephen Deal / Published: Nov 11,  2014

Though it is easy to view land use as a simple application of residential, commercial and industrial uses, there are many instances where a fresh regulatory approach is needed to accommodate a sudden market change or trend. In the 1990s, the sudden proliferation of master-planned traditional neighborhoods meant cities had to craft traditional neighborhood development ordinances to accommodate a form of desired development that zoning, at the time, wasn’t prepared to address.

Here in the 2010s, there is yet another unique form of development that has prompted yet another unique planning response, which is the mixed-use industrial district.

Tech innovations such as laser cutters and, in particular, 3D printing point to a future with an increasing number of small, nimble tech firms. Generally requiring 5,000 square feet or less, these new companies will also be considerably cleaner than what we usually associate with manufacturing and production. A small retailer could essentially be a small producer as well, with the vast majority of products being produced in-house.

When city planning was just emerging as its own profession, the negative externalities of heavy industry often meant that housing and manufacturing were essentially treated as incompatible with each other and were kept separate. Increasingly, that is no longer the case, and small manufacturing firms are now being seen as key components in the community development and place making process. Of course there are other unique industrial uses and situations where a mixed-use industrial process can clarify a city’s planning goals and intentions.       

Here along the Gulf Coast, with our thriving seafood industry and active harbors, a mixed-use industrial zone may help encourage the diversity of uses that make for an active and thriving waterfront. While this activity can have a distinct industrial component to it, the hustle and bustle of a busy harbor is a component of life many people are attracted to and want to be a part of. Shrimping and other forms of aquaculture are key components of regional character, and cities and towns are always looking for ways to highlight their special relationship to the water. The inclusion of mixed-use industrial into the policymaking mix may not only help cities capture emerging industries, but also work towards creating thriving working waterfronts that serve as valuable amenities to residential homes and communities. 

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