Millville Town Council made a move at its Tuesday, Oct. 23, workshop meeting toward changing its zoning code to set perameters for “small scale” shopping areas.
The council discussed a draft ordinance that would amend the Town’s zoning code to allow developers to build multiple buildings on parcels that are between 2 and 4 acres in size. Each building would have the option to house one large business or multiple smaller ones.
This is in contrast to the Town’s current zoning code, which only allows one single-use building on lots in its C-1 commercial areas. The proposed amendment would allow for more flexible uses of land in the town’s business areas. It also offers an alternative to “strip”-style shopping centers, according to Town Manager Debbie Botchie.
The proposed amendment offers perameters for a “town center” model that would be beneficial to residents as well as business owners, Botchie said. Instead of multiple businesses with multiple entrances along Route 26, or strip malls with large parking lots in front, the “town center” model would call for multiple smaller buildings (no larger than 10,000 square feet), with a central parking area, which could be divided into shops and/or offices of varying sizes.
For comparison, Botchie pointed out that the Dollar General store in town is about 9,800 square feet.
“We don’t have a downtown like Berlin (Md.),” Botchie said, adding that by adding the “small scale” shopping center to the zoning code, residents and visitors could park in one spot and visit a number of businesses or offices.
Eric Evans, Millville’s Code and Building Official, used the example of four lots adjacent to the Millville Volunteer Fire Department on Route 26 which, if developed separately, could have four separate entrances, which would bring more backups to Route 26. “That’s four entrances on 348 linear feet,” Evans said.
Evans also said that such development would have to meet stormwater management requirements for each parcel, which can add quite a bit to the cost of development.
Botchie said the proposed zoning would open up more flexible possibilities for development which she thinks is inevitable in the town. “It’s going to happen, before we realize it, because of Beebe” (the future South Coastal Campus on Route 17 which will house an emergency department and a cancer treatment enter), Botchie said. “Getting things like this in place is going to help us along.”
Evans said that is what he hopes the new zoning category would accomplish. “I like to think way outside the box and try to look at different things, and I try to plan for the future,” he said.
Town attorney Seth Thompson pointed out that under the existing zoning, those four parcels Evans referred to would each have a business sign in addition to the four entrances, “and each one’s going to be bigger that the others.”
Millville’s Town Engineer, Andrew Lyons — of George, Miles & Buhr — agreed with Evans and Botchie, and added that the proposed zoning change would allow for a more “walkable” town, because such development would include interconnected sidewalks. The new “small scale” commercial zoning category would also include requirements that would make such development more attractive, which falls in line with the design standards approved by the council in 2011.
Lyons pointed out that there are already single parcels that include several buildings of mixed use, including the one where Bonkey’s Ice Cream and Taco Taco are located.
“It does seem like it would benefit smaller businesses,” Thompson said. Under the proposed zoning, there could be a larger business, such as a restaurant, in one building or more buildings, while other buildings in the center could be divided in a variety of ways to accommodate different types of shops as well as service-related businesses and medical offices.
“It actually is a win-win situation for the town,” Evans said. Town resident Davide Mueller said “overall, I think it’s a great idea,” even though he expressed concern that it might mean that development in the town could occur more rapidly.
During the workshop meeting, town officials discussed potential additions to the proposed amendment, including regulating sidewalk sales within such shopping areas so that shoppers can walk from place to place unimpeded.
The council also announced that there will be a special meeting of the council and the town’s Comprehensive Plan Committee on Tuesday, Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. The meeting was rescheduled from Oct. 11.
By Kerin Magill