Monday, May 06, 2013

NO711's zoning amendment is better than a special zoning!

The NO711 zoning amendment -- to require all chains including banks go to the local community board for approval before opening -- would not only give the community board a chance to deny a chain where the community doesn't want it, but it also gives the community board leverage to negotiate with a chain store as they do with bars for their liquor approval. Stipluations could include wage scale, aesthetics, range of merchandise -- just about anything could be put on the table. It would give far-reaching power to the CB, a radical idea, but a necessary one if NYC is not to be given over entirely to corporatocracy.

So if McDonald's wanted to open two stores within a couple of blocks in a neighborhood where you have to walk a mile for a supermarket, a dry cleaner, a bike shop or ten miles to a credit union, or where there's a community center that's been waiting for an avaiable space but can't quite meet the chain-store-rent, the community board would be able to consider denying yet another McDonald's. But if Fresh & Co wanted to open on Delancey Street where the community welcomed it, the community board could still negotiate the signage, the hours, maybe even the payscale.

A special zoning that restricts chain stores (like the one CB3 is contemplating) doesn't allow for negotiations. It just says, x many is too many. Not only does that exclude any negotiation, it's also too inflexible. Times change. In ten years, any number chosen today is likely to be either too many or too few. One of the most depressing facts about urban planning documents is how quickly they become out of date, irrelevant or constraining.

But our zoning proposal can never be out of date -- it's maximally flexible. All it really says is, the community board can have a say -- any say, for or against -- if it wants. It wouldn't have to say anything. To paraphrase John Rawls, it's a piece of perfect procedural planning, a thing of urban planning beauty. 

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