Regulation of Use Changes – Why So Complicated?

I am in the process of converting a bedroom in my home to an office.  Simple, basic conversion that I would guess, millions of Americans do each year, right?  No problems with setbacks, parking, etc. that would affect the health, safety and welfare of adjacent property owners.  However, if a downtown building desires to change a use from office to residential, suddenly hundreds are red flags are thrown. Considering that the downtown office market in most cities has decreased over the years due to the migration to the ‘burbs of our cities, and therefore the supply for office in our downtowns is far greater than the demand for office.  This is an unhealthy situation, that I feel cities could mitigate by modifying their codes.  An ease of conversion could provide incentives for these vacant buildings to be occupied again.  In a perfect world, every city would modify the coding in their downtown core to a flexible code (or form-based code), that creates a more friendly process for basic interior conversions of use.  Many cities across the country have accomplished this for their downtowns, including Colorado Springs.  Other cities have taken it a step further, including the City of Denver which is currently modifying the entire City Code into a form-based code.  The City of Miami, FL just finished their city-wide form-based code known as “Miami 21”.

Office tenants have vacated their downtown buildings for places like this "Office Park" that insults the nomenclature of "park". Image courtesy of Bing.com.

The current Euclidian code, the code that the vast majority of our country’s towns and cities have in place, requires a process that actually enables suburban sprawl to occur by making urban infill a difficult process. Even a simple conversion, such as residential from an office use in a downtown building to be converted to residential, is in most instances at least a 6-month regulatory process. In our new Colorado Springs FBZ (form-based zone) for downtown, changes from office to residential and vice-versa can be processed in less than 30 days, and in most instances, approval is not necessary. I am a person who is not against regulation and I feel that it has its place, however when regulation spreads our resources to the exterior of our cities like a cancer and disincentives the use of the heart of our cities, it makes our cities (and inhabitants) unhealthy.

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