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South Dakota Rural Enterprise Opportunity Roundup - Cultivating desirable businesses downtown

What powers does a local government really have over protecting a historic downtown district from being overrun with "undesirable" businesses? By undesirable, I am referring not just to a type of business, but an excessive quantity of a certain type of business (4 real estate offices to every 1 non-real estate business). While the obvious answer is zoning, is this really the best approach? Does anyone have any experience with an affordable housing type strategy, where the town would condemn/purchase a section of the core of downtown, then resell with appropriate deed restrictions?

Let's examine the Historic District situation from a gardening perspective.

How does your garden grow? Well, it seems you're concerned about some "weeds"--introduced, exotic species that are crowding out the more desirable users. Having 3 T-Shirt shops on one corner would still be retail but could be just as detrimental to the district. It may not be that an office use is "undesirable", but that too many concentrated of one type out competes the ground-floor retail that drives foot traffic and creates a Historic Downtown District experience.

Are you applying the right fertilizer? What are the incentives encouraging office uses? retail uses? How about herbicide? Or is this an Organic garden? Zoning could keep offices out, but there are also performance standards for parking, etc. Exclusionary zoning is the sort of herbicide that in small doses seems to help, but too often gets over-applied and kills the entire garden.

John C. Shepard, AICP
Southwest (MN) Regional Development

For your first question, I am not sure of the best approach for limiting the number of low traffic businesses in a downtown district. My experience was with law offices in the downtown but there was little we could do other than encourage them to move to the second floor. Generally speaking, real estate agents seem to migrate towards lower rents since their locations are relatively unimportant so as downtown becomes more popular they will move to less expensive areas. As for the affordable housing, does your town have a shortage of housing options? If so I would suggest investigating them. Low income housing typically does not lend itself to a vibrant downtown since lower income people are not the target demographic of most downtown businesses. If you want to acquire the buildings, and you do not live in AZ, then you can always try to form a downtown TIF district. Through this and CDBG funds you could acquire buildings for redevelopment.


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