In Mechanicsburg, zoning change could allow new personal-service businesses
If you're sitting on plans to open the next big dog-grooming business, barber shop or nail salon and you've been eying Mechanicsburg's downtown, you could have more options in 2014.
A proposed change to the borough's zoning ordinance could make its way to council for a vote in February and, if passed, would expand the types of businesses allowed in the central downtown to include personal-care businesses.
"Business owners have really pushed council to change that," Borough Manager Patrick Dennis said.
When Mechanicsburg changed its zoning ordinance in 2010, the borough limited the types of businesses allowed in an approximately four-square-block district around Main and Market streets by requiring a retail component. That change was designed to bring codes in line with the comprehensive plan, in which business groups and the borough were trying to promote the development of Mechanicsburg's downtown with retail.
However, 2013 is a different world from 2010, Dennis said. The restrictions on types of retail in the district — called the Commercial Main and Market District — could prevent some landlords and businesses from selling and leasing properties, he said.
"In some ways, Mechanicsburg is looking to adjust to the ways the economy is working," said Jeff Palm, executive director of the Mechanicsburg Chamber of Commerce.
Under the 2010 ordinance, existing personal-care businesses were grandfathered in and could remain where they were, but if they wanted to move across the street to a bigger location, they couldn't, Palm said. Office and retail locations couldn't become personal-service businesses.
Flexibility is better in an economy that's changing, he said. And small businesses that have repeat business on a regular basis can only be good for Mechanicsburg.
"Those type of businesses bring people to town on a constant basis, and the traffic will bring other business," Palm said.
Greater diversity of business types in a downtown can also help improve property values by giving landlords greater options for leasing their properties, said Jamie Pascotti, president of Hampden Township-based Realty Management Associates. The real estate brokerage and management company represents clients in Mechanicsburg.
Small-business retailers often have a hard time competing with their larger counterparts outside a downtown, he said, and that can generate too much turnover in downtown buildings.
"Barbers and salons have a better chance of surviving," he said.
And if they draw business into the downtown to help small retailers, there's a better chance of building owners keeping successful tenants for longer, Pascotti said. Stable tenants increase property values, which gives landlords a greater resale value later on, he said.
"You can help stimulate the economy," he said.
For Mechanicsburg property owners, the change would improve their chances of leasing the ground-floor commercial space.
"It gives you more tenant opportunities, because now if (businesses) realize they don't fit the zoning, they're not going in there," said Linda Willis, who owns two commercial properties in the CMM district at 71 and 73 W. Main St.
Those buildings are converted residential buildings constructed in the late 1800s with commercial space on the first floor and apartments upstairs. They've been offices for a long time, Willis said. They're not necessarily conducive to retail and restaurants but could work for a personal-care business.
Willis has been addressing the subject of the zoning change with the borough for nearly two years now and is glad officials are taking the idea serious, the 50-year resident and former insurance business owner said.
February is the earliest the borough council could vote on a final change to the zoning ordinance, because of edits, mandatory review periods and hearings, said Jason Foster, Mechanicsburg's zoning officer.
Pittsburgh-based consultants Environmental Planning & Design are finalizing the proposed changes, which also include updates to residential zoning. The company could have it ready for the borough planning commission to review Dec. 23 at the earliest, Foster said. But it's more likely the planning commission would look at the ordinance changes in January, after the holidays.
"It wasn't in the final form that the planning commission wanted to see," Foster said.
When that final form is ready, the borough plans to move forward with the zoning changes. And some property owners expect it to be a helpful nudge to downtown Mechanicsburg.
"I think it's important to have our storefronts filled," Willis said, "and help our building owners."