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Smart planning with new zoning districts

Earlier this year, the Rochester Planning Commission began looking to rezone several areas surrounding the city's core downtown area. The new districts, including a River's Edge District, Downtown Edge District, Mixed Use districts and others, aim to expand residential and commercial uses in the areas surrounding downtown while restricting more industrial uses.

Overall, the districts, three of which have already been approved by city council, aim to put an economic and visual focus on the downtown area by creating mixed-use developments that expand and support the city's downtown. The goal of the districts are also to expand the city's tax base, both inside the Downtown Development Authority's (DDA) tax capture area – which is used primarily for infrastructure needs in the downtown area – as well as a portion of land outside of the DDA's Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district.

The districts work in conjunction with the city's long-term master plan, which moves the city away from its former industrial and manufacturing uses and into more commercial friendly and office uses that work well to support the downtown area.

The city is working to implement a total of five new districts. Once all are completed and approved by the city council, the city plans to amend its zoning map and implement all of the districts simultaneously.

The new districts show a logical and balanced approach to planning. The most successful downtowns of today, and the foreseeable future, are those that support a mix of residential and commercial developments. By utilizing the natural enhancements, such as the Clinton River Trail, the Clinton River and the Paint Creek, and providing a blend of walkable residential and commercial areas, Rochester will draw in both residents and visitors from other communities.

To ensure the success of these new zoning districts, Rochester Planning and Economic Development Director Nik Banda will be asking city council for authorization for an economic analysis to be conducted, which will include the impact of future development on infrastructure, traffic, business and residents in the downtown and surrounding districts. That analysis will be used to determine more specifics on where and what development projects will work best in the future.

The approach being put forth by the city may be new, and possibly concerning to some longtime residents who feel “priced out,” but it represents the future of Rochester. As such, it's important for the city to determine its own future by the types of development it will permit, rather than simply accepting offers to expand the tax base on a first-come, first-served basis.

While industrial and manufacturing may have served the city well in the past, such developments have left environmental problems that the city is still cleaning up, and which have stymied new development. The current approach to planning is one that ensures development well into the future that will benefit all of the community, both inside and out of downtown.

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